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[update 2] Inside the Sephora at Kohl's Omnichannel Partnership

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Sephora at Kohl's will provide the department store with a prestige beauty partner while also expanding Sephora's customer reach.

Update 2: In December, Sephora and Kohl's announced a partnership that will bring 200 Sephora store-in-store experiences to the department store retailer in the fall of 2021, expanding to at least 850 locations by 2023. These shops will supplant Kohl's existing beauty departments.

To get an inside look, CEW's Jill Scalamandre (president, bareMinerals, Buxom and Shiseido Makeup) sat down virtually with Michelle Gass, CEO at Kohl’s, and Jean-André Rougeot, president and CEO of Sephora Americas, to discuss the collaboration and its significant impacts for the beauty retail market.

Describing it as a "Harry Potter magic wand," Rougeot said the partnership provides instant access to 65 million Kohk's consumers.

Rougeot noted that Sephora reacted to the pandemic initially by boosting convenience and consumer safety through new services such as Klarna, Instacart and buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS).

In contrast, he said, the Kohl's deal was not pandemic-driven. Instead, the partnership helps solve the challenge of reaching out to a broader group of consumers and regions in the United States. Specifically, the deal allows Sephora to break out of urban areas and malls where it is firmly established. 

Describing it as a "Harry Potter magic wand," Rougeot said the partnership provides instant access to 65 million Kohl's consumers.

Gass added that the Sephora presence will have a halo effect on other product categories.

Likewise, Gass noted that Kohl's had its eye on beauty well before the pandemic. Citing the statistic that 70% of Sephora customers are women, Gass said she was looking forward to tapping into consumers' desire for elevated beauty.

Going alone and building beauty competencies internally would have been difficult, said Gass. The Sephora deal made that process much easier by partnering with the "best of the best."

Echoing Rougeot, Gass noted that Kohl's locations are typically off-mall, meaning there is little footprint overlap with existing Sephora sites. This means that both retailers can serve as beauty destinations without audience cannibalization.

She added that, amid the current hype around e-commerce, physical retail is being "underappreciated"

Gass added that the Sephora presence will have a halo effect on other product categories.

Rougeot explained that more than 100 brands will join the Kohl's program and will feature the same customer experience shoppers expect from Sephora. The executive stressed his blief that "prestige cosmetics need to be sold in a certain type of environment" with a visual statement and knowledgeable help from staff.

As for Sephora's own store strategy, Rougeot said that he would focus on neighborhood stores in urban settings, adding that he remains a "big believer" in physical retail for beauty.

Gass noted that 90% of Kohl's stores generate more than $1 million in cash, driven by the convenience of store placement. She added that, amid the current hype around e-commerce, physical retail is being "underappreciated"

200 Kohl's stores will add the Sephora experience by the autumn.

As the pandemic winds down, Gass noted, people will be excited to get out into the world. Kohl's will be part of that experience.

Rougeot pointed out that the partners' combined stores total 1,500, thereby placing most consumers within 10 miles of a partner store for BOPIS and in-store visits. In this way Sephora has essentially tripled its doors.

He added that this address the fact that many Sephora shoppers do not currently live within a reasonable distance of a Sephora store.

Rougeot expects the Kohl's customer, which includes suburban residents and parents, will be excited by brands such as Olaplex and Fenty.

Looking to the near term, Gass reiterated that 200 Kohl's stores will add the Sephora experience by the autumn, in addition to the launch of the combined online experience.

Previously: On the heels of Ulta Beauty's partnership with Target, a new Sephora at Kohl's partnership will bring 200 Sephora store-in-store experiences to the department store retailer in the fall of 2021, expanding to at least 850 locations by 2023. These shops will supplant Kohl's existing beauty departments.

The in-store experience will feature testing and discovery zones. The shops will be staffed by Sephora-trained Beauty Advisers.

In 2021, Sephora will launch on Kohls.com in 2021, featuring more than 100 prestige beauty brands. Sephora will thereby become the sole beauty portal for Kohl's. The integrated e-commerce experience will allow Sephora.com shoppers to find the nearest Sephora or Kohl's locations .

The deal allows Sephora to tap into Kohl’s 65 million U.S. customers, though it lacks the wide-ranging reach of the Ulta-Target deal, which brings prestige beauty into a booming essential retailer.

Sephora has 500 stores in the Americas, while Kohl's has more than 1,150 locations in 49 U.S. states, reportedly "with very limited overlap between the two store networks," per an announcement.

Sephora purchases at Kohl's and Kohls.com will be eligible for Sephora's Beauty Insider loyalty rewards benefits. Kohl's will also offer in-store returns, store pickup and curbside pickup.

Update: On a Q3 financial results call, Kohl's CEO Michelle Gass said:

...We continue to see Beauty as a significant incremental opportunity for us and have our sights set on at least tripling our sales in this category.

While only a modest low single-digit penetration of our business today, we’ve driven steady growth of nearly 40% over the past 5 years. We know customers want a bigger and bolder beauty experience at Kohl’s. We are seeing meaningful outperformance in our elevated beauty shops that we’ve just recently expanded to 62 stores. We are pleased with the response we are seeing with the newness we’ve introduced to customers as well, including our recent launch of Lauren Conrad Beauty.

With the clarity of our new strategy and serving the active, casual and wellness needs of the family, we will be innovating and experimenting in new ways to serve our customers. One example of this is our Curated by Kohl’s platform that we are expanding this holiday to 300 stores. And we recently began piloting a new concept called the Wellness Market in 50 stores and online.

The wellness market is a way for us to introduce new categories to see how they come to life. It includes everyday products across home, beauty, personal wellness, baby and pet care with an emphasis on sustainable attributes. This umbrella of wellness affords us the opportunity to experiment with many different products and we are already getting good initial insight into areas like baby, pet and household supplies. Our strategy gives us a clear lane to experiment, and we are excited to pursue many new opportunities.

Previously: “The Kohl's and Sephora partnership will bring a transformational, elevated beauty experience to Kohl's from the top global name in beauty,” said Michelle Gass, Kohl’s chief executive officer. “This new collaboration is an excellent example of two customer-centric, purpose-driven companies leveraging each other’s strengths to make aspirational beauty far more accessible to millions of customers all across the country. It’s an extraordinary time of change, and I am thrilled to partner with Sephora, a brand that shares our values and our passion for innovation and reinvention. Today’s announcement is a perfect illustration of the bold moves we are making at Kohl’s to accelerate our growth and reimagine our future for the next era of retail.”

“At Sephora, delivering a strong client experience through passionate employees is at the heart of who we are, and we are thrilled to find a partner who shares this identity," said Jean-André Rougeot, president and CEO of Sephora. "This is not a pop-up collaboration, but an investment our brand partners can rely on for the long-term; as a company with a history of sustained decades-long partnerships, Sephora has every confidence in the future of this collaboration and the unique experiences it will bring to consumers across the United States.”

Rougeot continued, “Our partnership will be built on expanding our complementary reach and scale in-store and online, creating customer-centric, prestige experiences, collaborating on new innovations, and living our shared values. We fully believe Kohl’s is the ideal partner to bring this vision to life.”

“I am delighted by this new partnership which is perfectly aligned with our worldwide vision,” said Martin Brok, global president and CEO of Sephora. “Great brands are always looking for new ways to serve their customers and innovate, even in dynamic times. With Kohl’s we will be able to bring Sephora closer to where our customers want us to be, offering them one transformative beauty experience that integrates our prestige product offering, our values and our communities, in a place where they come to get inspired and fulfill their lifestyle needs. This partnership also shows our confidence in the future of omnichannel retail and ideally positions both Kohl’s and Sephora to seize tomorrow’s opportunities, today.”