Millennials Buying Beauty: Sephora Proves It’s All About the Experience

Posted by: Cherryh Butler

The beauty industry is a rapidly growing market in the United States. In fact, Mintel found that spending by adults between the ages of 25 and 34 will increase by 6 percent from 2014 to 2019.


Sephora is a visionary beauty-retail concept founded in France by Dominique Mandonnaud in 1970. Sephora’s unique, open-sell environment features an ever-increasing amount of classic and emerging brands across a broad range of product categories including skincare, color, fragrance, body, smilecare, and haircare, in addition to Sephora’s own private label.

When it comes to activating millennial beauty shoppers, Sephora is one company getting it right, as I saw firsthand this past week when I visited the store in hopes of upgrading my beauty routine. I’ve never spent much time or money on makeup; I had always bought it as an afterthought when I shopped for groceries or when running other errands, usually at Target, Walmart or CVS. Unless I happened to be at the mall when Clinique was giving a free gift with a $29-purchase, I have never been one of those women that spends more than $11 on foundation.

I’m not alone; Mintel found that 41 percent of consumers bought their beauty products at mass merchandisers. It’s convenient and inexpensive, which is hard to beat. High-end makeup brands can’t compete on price, so they must provide more engaging experiences to capture the attention and dollars of consumers who are happy to buy their makeup at a grocery store.

Enter Sephora. Now that I’m nearly 35, I thought it was time to get some “Big Girl” makeup. Several friends told me about the personalized experience they received at Sephora, so I thought I’d give it a try; I wasn’t disappointed.

Two sales girls greeted me when I arrived and were very excited to help me find the perfect foundation. One associate, Lida, took me over to a makeup counter that had a built-in iPad. To “learn about my skin tone,” she took three pictures of my face, which told us that my skin had yellow undertones. Based on that info, the iPad predicted a few brands that world work best for me. After testing the products in the store, I chose my favorite, spending $50 on one bottle of foundation and $20 on the brush she used to apply it. Although it was seven times the amount of money I usually spend on foundation, it did not faze me – I was confident about the purchase.

If Lida had simply given me her own recommendation, I doubt I would have ponied up that kind of cash for makeup. The technology she used made me feel confident that I was finally getting the perfect color and weight of foundation for my skin, and the hyper-customized experience allowed me to feel confident that I was purchasing the exactly right product specifically for my skin.

Customize a unique experience

Most millennials will spend more if their shopping experience is something that can share with others but is still unique for each customer. I told several of my friends about my experience and posted a photo of my new makeup on Instagram. I was able to share an experience that was designed specifically for me.

Don’t leave out the men

Millennial women aren’t the only demographic ripe for these types of experiences in the skincare world. According to Mintel, men of all ages are investing more than ever on skincare products. Seventy four percent of men that participated in the Mintel study said that being well groomed makes them feel more attractive. On average, these men spent $107 in the last three months on beauty products, which was $12 more than the female participants. Mintel also predicts that their spending will grow at a slightly faster rate than females.

The bottom line

Beauty products are serious business in the United States. In fact, retail sales of beauty products reached $38.1 billion in 2014, representing a growth of 1.8 percent over the previous year, according to a January 2015 Mintel study. The biggest opportunities lie within the skincare space but brands will need to create innovative experience-based ways to stand out from their competitors. Concentrating on millennials, which are second only to baby boomers when it comes to spending on beauty products, is one way to break through the noise.

Photo via Flickr: Mike Mozart

About Cherryh Butler

Before joining Barkley this year, Cherryh spent her career as a journalist writing for a variety of publications, including American Fitness magazine, The Kansas City Star and Her 4-year-old son makes her a "Millennial...See Cherryh's full bio.