It’s 10am and the doors to Sephora’s Champs-Élysées flagship are opened to an expectant queue of customers in the heart of Paris.

Guillaume Motte

Guillaume Motte: ‘We are beating the market. If you look at it another way, we are the growth’

People have already been gathering outside and soon are streaming into the store, where their progress along a red carpet into the heart of the shop is clapped by the staff.

The shoppers’ enthusiasm is infectious, electrifying a store environment that already exudes energy from its design, strength of product display and excitement about the range.

Sephora, the beauty specialist owned by LVMH that is growing globally across the world including the UK, has been doing well financially. LVMH’s selective retailing division, of which the business is part, posted a sales uplift of 25% in 2023, which was described as “another historic year” of sales and profits for Sephora.

But, as Sephora chief executive Guillaume Motte put it at this week’s World Retail Congress: “The numbers are a consequence.” They result from a sense of purpose that drives the retailer.

Motte, who took up the top role at Sephora in January 2023 and before that held other roles there and at LVMH, says people tell him he “picked the right job” because the beauty market has been so strong. The market might be helpful but he emphasises: “We are beating the market. If you look at it another way, we are the growth.”

Driving the market is a testament to the power of Sephora’s culture, its “north star”, which Motte says is built on four pillars – product, experience, community and team.

Sephora by numbers

  • Markets it operates in: 35
  • Points of sale: 3,000
  • Brands: 500
  • Staff: 52,000

Product: curation and inspiration

Sephora’s assortment is key to its appeal. While a beauty retail powerhouse, Sephora does not aim to have the broadest range. Instead, says Motte: “We curate. We have a strong point of view.”

About 50% of Sephora’s sales are exclusive products and the retailer frequently teams up with partner brands, often start-ups, to deliver the most exciting range to customers.

One brand was launched by a former store greeter, while the founder of clean beauty brand Drunk Elephant “turned up at our office with a bar of soap – it is now a leading brand”.

Motte says: “For us, the word ’partner’ is not a gimmick. Many of them wouldn’t be where they are today if Sephora hadn’t partnered with them.”

As a global business, Sephora also helps ensure product appeal by recognising and celebrating the diversity of customers through, for instance, accelerator programmes for women entrepreneurs that include business advice as well as money. Motte says: “Diversity and inclusion have played a big part for us. We made sure we made special efforts to walk the talk.”

The retailer also taps into social media to identify hot products. Areas in-store are badged ‘Hot on social media’ and Motte says: “It’s where the trend is; it’s the newspaper of beauty.”

Experience: ‘We believe in entertaining retail’

As a pioneer of try before you buy in cosmetics, Sephora has a heritage when it comes to strong customer experience.

Today, while it’s an omnichannel retailer, stores are where Sephora puts the onus on creating memorable experiences, as exemplified by the Champs-Élysées branch.

Motte says: “The heartbeat of Sephora is our stores. We believe in exciting, entertaining retail – boring retail is dead, exciting retail is alive and kicking.”

Excitement comes not only from the VIP reception that customers are given, or the highly curated offer enticingly and accessibly displayed in a distinctively designed store, but from the use of complementary technology such as for skincare consultations.

Motte says: “We’re investing in technology so that the beauty experience can be enriched. It’s a way to make stores relevant.”

Sephora Paris storefront

Customers get the red carpet treatment at Sephora’s new flagship store on Champs-Élysées, Paris

Community: ‘Come and play with us’

As well as rewarding experiences in the shops, Sephora customers become part of a community through events such as the Sephoria festivals, incorporating everything from sneak previews of new brands to beauty masterclasses.

Motte says: “We have 160 million customers – that’s a critical asset. We aim to pamper those customers by giving them extraordinary experiences. Customers are invited to come and play with us.”

Originally launched in the US, Sephoria has since been rolled out to Shanghai and Paris.

Team: ‘Reponsibility to inspire’

Sephora’s staff are the ultimate foundation on which it is built and Motte is emphatic about their importance. He observes: “The consumer is going to remember the engagement, the passion of the team.

“Retail is a people business but it’s one thing to say it, another to do it. We have a responsibility to inspire our team and help them grow from within.”

Ways in which Sephora has sought to walk the walk are in practical, valued changes such as to working patterns – particularly in a world of hybrid working when those with office jobs might be able to choose when they come in. Sephora has made changes in some markets such as enabling store staff to have two consecutive days off, like the weekends others enjoy, or has reduced the number of working days from six to five.

Motte believes Sephora’s culture makes it different. He says: “When I visit stores I always hear the same thing, in different languages – ‘protect our culture, build our culture’.”

To some, that might seem a long way from the daily practicalities and pressures of retail. But Sephora is growing impressively and Motte says: “That growth tells me we’re doing something right.”