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Sephora Launching ‘Asia Store of the Future’

The 4,585-square-foot location will open in Singapore on Sept. 23.

PARIS – Sephora will launch what it calls the “Asia store of the future” in Singapore’s Raffles City Shopping Mall on Sept. 23.

In Asia, where digital ecosystems and adoption are much more advanced than in other parts of the world, Sephora executives started brainstorming well before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“We sat down and said: ‘What would it look like if we created a store where technology was the heart of the design and being used to really unlock consumer journeys?’” explained Alia Gogi, president of Sephora Asia. “That was really the problem statement we started with.”

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Layered on this soon after was the health crisis, which accelerated the ideation process, since retailers had to understand quickly the reasons why consumers would return to brick-and-mortar stores after a period of buying online.

“No longer can stores be a point of transaction, because you have so many digital touch points to be able to transact,” she continued. “So experiential retail is going to be absolutely critical.”

Sephora, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, led two focus groups – one in Shanghai and another in Singapore.

“We started to ask a lot of questions about consumers’ expectations around store experiences. ‘How do they find technology?’” said Gogi. “Because a lot of times we find it gimmicky technology, and actually we need to have humanized technology.”

Consumers shared numerous insights.

“As a result, we bucketed three different areas of themes: space, digital and the human element,” she said. “We came up with these three areas that we wanted to shift in the store.”

People wish to be inspired when they consider visiting a store.

“What the brand represents is very important,” said Gogi. “Then, when they enter the store, they want to be helped with the navigation.”

So Sephora decided to go heavy on curation in the 4,585-square-foot location.

“It’s something we’ve always done throughout the world, but you’ll find in this store there is a very strong tone of voice around what we believe are curated products and themes that are on-trend,” said Gogi.

Also to help decision-making are slim-lined product assortments and Scan to Interact, which is unique to the location, too.

“This is the technology inside the mobile app that allows the customer to scan all the products through either barcodes, or we’ve got QR codes in certain areas of the store,” she said. “That takes them directly into our ratings and reviews page.”

Consumers had shared that the ratings and reviews page had played an important role in purchasing decisions.

“So now the consumer in the store has access to 1 million ratings and reviews that we have been able to consolidate from across the world, including Asia, and [can] make a choice on their own,” said Gogi. “It’s going to take time for adoption, obviously, but something that’s going to be very powerful.”

There are interactive Play Tables for skin care and makeup. When one enters the store, an area addresses seven skin-related concerns, and Sephora has created a product assortment merchandised according to those. A table has technology called Lift and Learn, which allows people to lift up a product, causing in-depth content about the item to appear on a screen.

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Another learning from the focus groups, especially in China, was that consumers feel there’s an intimacy and vulnerability linked to beauty shopping, especially for a first purchase or with a skin diagnosis. That helped inform the store’s design elements, including the curtain wrapping around the Beauty Studio or the privatized area for facials.

“That’s a big game-changer,” said Gogi of the consumer insights, adding they may be specific to Asia.

Skin services include Perk By Hydrafacial, a non-invasive facial treatment using resurfacing technology. Tech-wise, there is Skincredible 2.0, a handheld device with a camera that takes photos of three parts of a face then evaluates skin conditions and gives product recommendations based on those assessment results. The first version was pioneered in Singapore, rolled out to the U.S., and this is the latest version, with the firepower of more algorithms to help with personalization.

“The dream is ultimately to have that linked into our member profile, so that consumers can then have what we call a score of their skin,” said Gogi. “They can come back to the store again and actually see if their score is getting better.”

Younger consumers in the focus group said they’re greatly inspired by social media, especially makeup looks there. However, they generally don’t know what products can give a specific look.

So in The Play Table interactive area, people can shop and purchase by popular look with video tutorials created by a “Sephora squad.” Here, color cosmetics are arranged by look. At launch, two will be featured on the table, but Gogi imagines that number could grow up to 50.

“We’re going to carry on evolving it, and see how that continues,” she said.

Inspired by the U.S. stores, in the Beauty Studio in Singapore, Sephora is launching three different versions of paid services.

“It just elevates our credibility, and the notion of value that comes with the service,” said Gogi.

Part of what unites the beauty community in the new store is The Beauty Live Studio, found in the back. It will hold free classes for consumers, who can book online through the mobile app.

“We’ll have about 50 classes over the next two months,” she said. “It is the first in the world. So the store becomes a ground not just to buy, but to really have an education around beauty.”

There will also be hair care services. Free, 15-minute hair consultations are planned to diagnose scalp and hair conditions, as is a dry styling service.

Because consumers today are obsessed with a two- to three-click checkout process and don’t want to wait on lines anymore, this will be the first Sephora location to go cashless. Beauty advisers are to have mobile POS handheld devices through which payments can be made.

A mix of personal touch and tech is key.

“One thing really important about this store is it’s an innovation hub,” said Gogi. “We’re going to learn, iterate, tweak and get it better before we ever consider any rollout. That’s something Sephora has never done before.

“We are very good at stores, but actually to create a store where you can try new things and really be able to test and learn before you go further is something we haven’t done,” she said. “This store will do it.”

Singapore was chosen for the new retail concept’s first location due to its diverse and cosmopolitan population. It’s where Sephora holds the dominant position, has a base, as well as a tech and digital team of 100 people.

Next up is an opening in Shanghai, slated for 2023.