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The Cosmetic Worlds Collide

Friday, November 30th, 2007

It used to be that one had two options for cosmetics and skincare – the drugstore or department store. Both had their advantages and disadvantages. At the drugstore, you had a multitude of choices, all at reasonable prices. But, there was no opportunity for experimentation or exploration. If the lipstick shade you bought was within three shades of what the picture looked like, you considered yourself lucky.

On the other hand, department stores were just waiting for you to come in and try. Unfortunately, they were crawling with pushy, overdone sales people committed to their lines, not to you.

Enter Sephora. The current Mecca of cosmetic retail, Americans are absolutely spellbound by endless rows of testers, hard to find products, and unbiased staff. It’s like the Super Bowl of makeup. Each store is a mad house during every single business hour. They’re opening new stores across the country like they’re going out of style.

But there’s still something missing. What happens when you do need advice? You can stick your hand in that shiny gooey stuff, but where the heck do you put it on your face? And what is the difference between that $100 eye cream and that $100 eye gel? Even if you can find a staff member who’s not running around like a chicken with their head cut off, he or she’s probably not going to be much for education. It’s high-end product with low-end experience – like shopping Neiman’s at Target.

If you’re a lipstick whore (meaning you know your stuff), this is your spot. If you’re a novice, god speed. I still think there’s opportunity in this market for a different kind of retail. Space NK, a British upscale Beauty retailer, is opening 4 stores in the Tri-state area by the end of the year. They have 60+ stores in the UK, and are bringing their unique retail approach to the US. Hallmarks of Space NK are hard-to-find lines, education and trial, makeup-trained sales staff (that aren’t commissioned by line), and a chic, upscale atmosphere.

According to Space NK,

“We provide a highly edited selection of the best products from true innovators within the industry and this offering caters to many different
lifestyle choices. We employ highly educated sales associates and
expert make-up artists who enjoy working with customers.”

While my guess is that nothing about this store is a bargain, you do get to test the products with trained, unbiased staff in the kind of environment you’d expect when you drop $250 on 12 oz of goodies. Here you can escape the madness that is Sephora, and the stuffiness that is (enter favorite department store here).

While we wait for the right balance of self service vs. trained staff, of get-in-get-out vs. stay-awhile, and of try vs. don’t try, I can’t wait to see how Space UK does. It’s about time the beauty market went boutique.

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