Although the brand first debuted in France over 50 years ago, Sephora had a dwindling presence in the European market in the mid-2000s. The prestige beauty brand abandoned operations in the United Kingdom in 2005. With just a few stores open in the UK at the time, Sephora cited high rent and competition as its reasons for exiting the UK market.
But after a 20-year hiatus, Sephora’s leadership team now feels it’s the right time to re-enter the UK market. While it’s been strategizing a return to the UK for some time, the brand’s new Global Chief Brand Officer, Steve Lesnard, says 2023 will be the year Sephora fully re-enters the UK.
The former Chief Marketing officer (CMO) of The North Face worked with Sephora’s team to launch a full omnichannel experience for UK shoppers, bringing the best of in-store and online shopping back to the United Kingdom. Learn why Sephora returned to the UK, as well as the details of its omnichannel campaign that launched in time for the holiday shopping season.
Steve Lesnard on Sephora’s Omnichannel UK Launch Campaign
Lesnard’s team strategized Sephora’s return to the UK to occur during the shopping frenzy of Q4. The brand took a three-pronged approach to build hype for its release by acquiring FeelUnique, launching a pop-up activation event, and creating the omnichannel “Express All of You” campaign.
Although Sephora exited the UK market nearly 20 years ago, its leadership team always wanted to return. As UK creators gained popularity on platforms like TikTok, Sephora’s C-suite saw the desire for self-expression growing in the UK market.
After its exit from the UK in 2005, many Sephora customers flocked to UK beauty retailers like FeelUnique. Since Sephora lacked data on UK shoppers, it acquired FeelUnique in June of 2021 as part of its return to the United Kingdom.
The £132 million deal brought FeelUnique under the Sephora corporate umbrella, but it also gave Steve Lesnard’s team access to FeelUnique’s one million shoppers in the UK. Sephora used the data to learn more about the UK market, which was pivotal to Lesnard’s omnichannel strategy.
But Sephora didn’t want to keep FeelUnique separate from its brand. On October 17, 2022, Sephora merged FeelUnique with the new sephora.co.uk website, along with the brand’s new shopping app for UK users. Sephora also transferred rewards points to FeelUnique customers to reward their loyalty and incentivize Sephora purchases from UK shoppers.
“Express All of You” Campaign
As a multicultural hotspot, British identity is constantly changing. That’s why Sephora wanted to highlight how beauty aficionados in the UK could use Sephora’s products as a form of self-expression. It partnered with the award-winning design studio and marketing agency, AKQA, to launch its “Express All of You” campaign as part of its return to the UK.
Steve Lesnard shares that “Express All of You” leaned into the power of beauty and self-expression for the UK’s multicultural audience. The goal was to celebrate all of the cultures and identities in the UK — and show how prestige beauty brands like Sephora help everyone express themselves.
Launched on October 18, 2022, “Express All of You” coincided with the digital launch of sephora.co.uk, which went live on October 19, 2022. Steve Lesnard’s team created both physical and digital components to make for a truly omnichannel experience, which included:
- Ads in tube stations
- Bus stop ads
- Ads on the black taxis in London
- TikTok influencer partnerships and activations
- Online videos
Sephora even created a giant 3D animation on the massive screen in London’s Picadilly Circus. As a result, Sephora and AKQA generated 115 million online impressions and 132 million offline impressions during the campaign launch.
“Our’ Express All of You’ campaign celebrates the truth that being British means being many different versions of oneself, the unfixed, undefinable, and uniquely experimental definitions of what beauty can be in the UK,” Steve Lesnard says. “We are so excited to be launching in the country with such a campaign and look forward to continue celebrating the UK’s unique tapestry of cultures and identities, while always inspiring Brits to unleash their beauty power.”
One Marylebone Pop-up Event
Sephora also hosted a pop-up event the day after activating the “Express All of You” campaign. On October 20, 2022, the brand took over two floors and the outdoor space of the posh event space, One Marylebone. It not only hyped UK shoppers for Sephora’s return to the UK, but it also served as a who’s who in the European beauty and wellness space. The free event featured A-list attendees like Mario Dedivanovic, Maura Higgins, Ashley Roberts, and Neelam Gill.
Lesnard’s team brought new beauty products and makeup to the pop-up, which also featured master classes by makeup artists like Patrick Starrr. Designed to coincide with the “Express All of You” campaign, the One Marylebone event gave curious UK beauty fanatics a true inside sneak peek into the Sephora UK experience.
What’s Next for Sephora?
Sephora’s UK launch is a harbinger of the customer experience to come. Steve Lesnard’s team is currently working on an omnichannel shopping flow where shoppers will enjoy an equitable experience, no matter how they prefer to shop. This is part of Sephora’s greater plan to stand apart from competitors through the power of omnichannel marketing. With new leadership and a new approach, Sephora is re-entering the UK with a refreshed point of view. Steve Lesnard shares that the brand has more tricks up its sleeve for 2023, too.
Sephora plans to open several brick-and-mortar stores in the UK, which will open in the Spring of 2023. It plans to open four stores in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Glasgow, although Lesnard hasn’t shared the specific addresses of these new stores just yet.
With the holiday shopping season approaching, Steve Lesnard shares that Sephora plans to roll out more products to the UK market. With well over 1,400 prestige brands and Sephora-exclusive products, shoppers won’t have any shortage of choices. The beauty brand plans to announce more brands in its online store and app in November of 2022.
But one thing is already apparent: Steve Lesnard’s two-decades-plus of experience has propped up Sephora’s international efforts, placing them right where they need to be for global deployment and long-term presence. In addition to his magic touch with consumers, the new Global Chief Brand Officer also focuses on Sephora’s attention to a sustainable environment, decreased energy consumption, and 100% ingredient transparency. Sephora once exited the UK, but it’s emerged stronger than ever and poised to take advantage of consumers’ cravings for quality experiences in an omnichannel environment.
About Steve Lesnard
Steve Lesnard is a veteran in the product and brand marketing industries.
Originally from the French island of Corsica, Steve Lesnard earned his MBA in the United States and traveled around the world for his work. His uniquely global perspective and background in product, marketing, and technology allowed Steve Lesnard to work in some of the world’s most prestigious companies.
Lesnard served as the CMO and Global VP of Product Creation at The North Face before joining Sephora, and served as general manager of one of the largest athletics brands in the world, driving a $5.3 billion business and leading two Olympic marketing campaigns before his time with The North Face.