Skip to main content

Sephora’s Artemis Patrick on Differentiation, Driving Results and Diversification

The retailer's global chief merchandising officer has an innate understanding of what shoppers want — and how brands can best serve them.

Artemis Patrick is known in the beauty industry as the consummate brand whisperer, but there is nothing quiet about her impact on the business.

Since joining Sephora Americas as the director of e-commerce merchandising in 2006, Patrick has catapulted through the ranks to reach her current position of executive vice president, global chief merchandising officer of the worldwide enterprise.

During her tenure, Sephora became the prestige market leader in the U.S. and the region has become Sephora’s largest worldwide, with a strong balance between digital and brick-and-mortar sales.

Related Galleries

In August, Patrick shed her U.S. responsibilities to focus solely on the worldwide business, with the mandate of spurring Sephora to a leading position in key global markets like Germany, the U.K. and China.

She’s off to a fast start. Earlier this month, Sephora detailed plans of its reentry into the U.K. market, transforming Feelunique.com into sephora.co.uk, with brick-and-mortar set to open next March.

Granted, this isn’t Sephora’s first foray into the U.K. It first launched there in 2000, opening nine doors before shuttering them all in 2005.

But the beauty landscape has changed dramatically and Sephora has learned from past mistakes — both geographically and in terms of categories.

Take fragrance, for example.

When Sephora opened its very first outpost in the U.S., fragrance was front and center.

Literally.

A large red circular fragrance organ dominated the store, with row upon row of scented oils lined up to enable shoppers to explore their olfactive preferences, flanked by shelves with bottles of perfume arranged alphabetically by brand.

Today, fragrance is still a central player in Sephora’s overall strategic vision — but under the aegis of Patrick and her team, its approach has changed considerably.

Sales have followed suit. Fragrance is one of Sephora’s biggest growth categories, a trajectory that started before the pandemic and has continued unabated.

“Before the pandemic, our fragrance business was quite strong. There is no question that, across the board, fragrance has grown considerably and continues to do so post-pandemic,” said Patrick, who was honored with the Fragrance Foundation’s Circle of Champion award on Tuesday evening.

“Sephora has gone from an alphabetical order of fragrances for men and women to a true and complete understanding of beauty aficionados and their love of fragrance,” said Linda Levy, president of the Fragrance Foundation. “It has been a big transformation for the business. They’ve delivered on the programs and products that answer their customer’s needs, with an assortment of brands ranging from large to small that offers a lot of discovery to interesting formats like travel-sized sprays.”

Sephora’s intimate knowledge of its consumer base paid off handsomely during the pandemic, when fragrance sales really started to soar. That growth mirrors growth in the overall prestige scent category. According to NPD, prestige fragrance sales grew 14 percent this year through August 2022 in the U.S., with more consumers spending more money in physical stores.

“During the pandemic, clients saw fragrance as an everyday tool to feel good and lift spirits rather than saving it for a special experience. And it’s not just personal scent, but also home fragrance as a form of self care and a way to separate their work space from their living space in a world where those lines were being blurred,” Patrick said. “We’re also seeing fragrance as a means for people to connect with one another, on TikTok, for example with #perfumetalk.”

You May Also Like

The surge of interest on TikTok denotes an even larger driver — an influx of Gen Z into the category. “Sephora has the power to recruit a younger demographic,” said Charlotte Holman Ros, president, North America, for Parfums Christian Dior. “Their beauty enthusiast is highly engaged in all categories, but especially with fragrance, we have recruited a younger client to Dior.”

Ros noted that Dior’s launch of J’Adore Parfum d’Eau, an alcohol-free interpretation of the blockbuster scent that claims to be as intense and long-lasting as an eau de parfum, has performed especially well at Sephora since its launch earlier this year.

“Sephora really understands how to curate and assort and merchandise the category in a way that creates excitement for their consumer,” Ros said. “They are bringing new customers into the category and Dior is benefiting.”

Patrick noted that top designer brands in luxury, including Dior, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, are resonating well with younger consumers, as well as hip indie brands like Boy Smells and Deadpool, whose innovation both olfactively and in terms of format are connecting meaningfully, she said.

Sephora is also expanding the category beyond just the traditional juice. New formats — such as Nest New York’s Perfume Oils and Sol de Janeiro’s Perfume Mist body sprays — are selling briskly, Patrick said, as are new home fragrance technologies, like wall diffusers and portable diffusers. In the meantime, travel sprays and traditional sizes continue to sell.

“At the end of the day, fragrance is all about self-expression,” Patrick said. “”We always believe in storytelling. Whatever your brand story is, whatever your truth — it’s about creating that authentic connection with what you’re trying to say.”

Patrick is known in the industry for having an innate understanding of consumer desires, which has enabled her to work with brands to not just capitalize on current trends, but to create them. Brands who work closely with her say it’s a skill she and her team apply to the fragrance category.

“Artemis is a person who is very curious — about people, products, brands,” said Laura Slatkin, founder and executive chairman of Nest. “She listens, she is interested and she is fearless. She doesn’t hesitate to act on an idea. She knows how to dive into a concept and she believes in what she’s doing. It’s very refreshing, because it’s so energetic.”

In 2011, when Nest was primarily a home fragrance brand, Sephora eagerly supported its transition into fine fragrances, and more recently, this year, was a champion of its launch of Perfume Oils.

“We thought it would double our business in two to three years,” Slatkin said. “It doubled in nine months.”

Slatkin noted that Nest worked closely with Sephora prelaunch, in so-called “kitchen meetings,” working on everything from olfactive profiles to marketing plans. “They want to do things that are new and different, and they have conviction in their opinions,” Slatkin said of the Sephora fragrance team. “They stand behind and get excited about product. There is so much energy in the organization and Artemis is the person who has created this culture.”

That ethos is infused into the store teams, too. “The amount of effort that goes into launching a brand at Sephora is enormous and the amount of information that you’re required to give them so that they can educate their beauty advisers is highly impressive. It is what makes them such a unique channel of distribution,” Slatkin said. “All companies strive to create this kind of culture. Very few succeed at it.”

In her new role, Patrick is looking to accelerate the development of such brands globally. “We are the only global beauty retailer in the world and we have an amazing opportunity to crate more win-win scenarios for all of our brands, regardless of their size and how long they’ve been with Sephora,” she said. “We’re going beyond accelerating the rollout of our brands, and focused on developing our global strategies for categories like clean and sustainable, for hair care. We have made amazing progress at a regional level, but we can really up our game if we approach it as a global strategy.”

Other categories that Patrick said hold great potentially globally are those that relate to self care and wellness, including body care, at-home dermatological inspired treatments and spa tools, candles and home fragrance and intimate care.

Sephora is also accelerating the worldwide expansion of exclusive brands. In the U.K., the just-launched e-commerce site features numerous exclusives, like Tarte Cosmetics, Ilia, Makeup by Mario, Gxve by Gwen Stefani, Skinfix and One/Size by Patrick Starrr. Makeup by Mario is also launching in the Middle East, while Patrick said she sees huge opportunity for Rare Beauty and Haus by Lady Gaga.

“It’s important for us to act even faster when we’re taking our brands global,” Patrick said. “Consumers all over the world know what is selling in the U.S. and U.K. We want to do it a lot faster for our brands and make it a win-win. That is a huge strategy for us.”

Still, when asked how important global brand exclusivity is to Sephora, Patrick demurs. “We like to say differentiation,” she said. “There has to be a reason for being — whether in the form of an exclusive brand or collection or a differentiated marketing program that we partner together on.

“This is where brands who are broadly distributed can play in Sephora in a bigger way,” she continued, citing fragrance as an example.

“It could be a new and exclusive travel spray or differentiated marketing — our merchants sit in the kitchen with a brand and plan two years out. It’s so important,” Patrick said. “We don’t want to be in the promotional or discount game, and the only way to win when you’re not going down that road is to bring differentiation in a new way.”

Despite the volatility of the global markets, Patrick is bullish about the upcoming holidays, across all categories. Makeup’s resurgence continues — “we are seeing full face come back to life,” she said — noting blush is blowing up, while newness from Nars, Charlotte Tilbury, Kosas, Ilia and Saie is selling briskly.

After a decade of double-digit growth, skin care continues to have “strong momentum and is growing faster than the rate of the market,” Patrick said, while body care is gaining steam.

In terms of fragrance, “we don’t foresee any slowdown,” she said, noting that a higher penetration of Beauty Insider loyalty program members are buying scent.

Under Patrick, Sephora was the first beauty retailer to sign the 15 Percent Pledge, and continuing to support brands founded by Black and brown people is a priority, especially in a category like fragrance. “The reality is there are not many Black founders in fragrance, and we share a mission with the Fragrance Foundation to change that,” Patrick said. “We launched World of Chris Collins and Jackie Aina’s Forvr Mood, and our team is working closely with them to build the momentum and business. It’s not just about launching, but long-term success.”

She added that the 2022 participants of Sephora Accelerate, the brand’s incubation program, includes its first fragrance brands, House of Foster. “We want to continue to elevate Black and brown founders in this category,” Patrick said. “It is definitely underrepresented.”

Patrick is also focused on representation on a global basis, increasing its number of Chinese-based beauty brands in that market, too, for example. “We want to be the most inclusive beauty retailer by insuring that our product assortment reflects the diversity of the regions and people we serve,” she said. “The theme is common across the globe, but how it comes across in different markets will be regionalized for that customer.”

That is an attitude which sets Patrick and Sephora apart, and earned them the accolades of the Fragrance Foundation. “It is truly pace setting,” Levy said. “Artemis is truly special. Brands say she really becomes part of their success at Sephora. That’s a big deal. It’s one thing to bring them in and another to help them achieve their goals. She is a real partner.”