Pure Beauty

Boots boss confesses to trying to sabotage Sephora's UK store opening

By Sarah Parsons | Published: 29-Mar-2023

Seb James, Managing Director of Boots, said the whole of his team focused on making Sephora's return to British retail 'a disaster'

Boots boss Seb James has confessed to attempting to sabotage rival Sephora's return to the UK. 

Speaking at industry event Retail Week Live about combating competition, the Managing Director highlighted how Boots has grown 200 basis points in market share in one year. 

"By using one simple rule: in the nicest possible way, if your competitors are struggling, put the boot in," he said. 

"And there's nothing like the feeling that I get in one of my stores when a new competitor opens up in the [same] mall.

"We had one recently in Westfield, and our whole team lent into the idea of making that launch a disaster. 

"And as a result, a whole flock of new customers came to Boots. It was very exciting."

After an 18-year absence from Britain, Sephora opened its first bricks-and-mortar outlet in Westfield London in March. 

"We grew 85% on the day. And the general message that was going around my store was 'up yours Sephora' and that felt very, very good," added James.

Sephora marked its return to the UK high street with a media event followed by four days of customer events. 

The French beauty giant also took over nearby underground station Shepherd's Bush with its latest campaign material to signal the store opening. 

Boots, meanwhile, paid to be on a billboard near the entrance to Westfield shopping centre describing itself as 'your no.1 destination for beauty'. 

It highlighted its product offering, including NARS, MAC, Kylie Cosmetics, Gucci and Sol De Janeiro. 

Boots also revamped its Westfield outlet to prioritise its beauty hall and held a launch party to clash with Sephora's return. 

The new cosmetics space features trending zones, discovery areas and consultation spaces with beauty treatments and services.

Fellow British beauty retailer Space NK also took Sephora's return as a moment to attempt to strengthen its positioning. 

It opened its largest-ever store in Westfield, shortly after Sephora announced its outlet location and invested in a huge billboard outside of the Shepherd's Bush station on the night of Sephora's launch party. 

The location of Sephora's first UK store was revealed in January after the retailer launched its e-commerce site in October 2021. 

Speaking to Cosmetics Business about Sephora's return to the UK, Sylvie Moreau, President of Sephora Europe and the Middle East, described how British retail is "not for the faint hearted". 

She continued: "The UK has some of the most engaged, experienced consumers in the world. It's a big battleground, so we come with humility."  

Sephora declined to comment on Seb James' claims.  


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