So Sephora thinks it can move to Australia and be a success? Do the big wigs of Sephora (which is the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy group) know anything about Australian beauty retail? Have they ever had any dealings with the sales assistants on Australian beauty counters???
Now, I don’t want to burn everyone with the same flame – I will say I’ve had some ordinary experiences at beauty counters – that’s to say, not amazing, but not awful either. One of my first MAC store experiences was when I visited MAC Chapel Street (Melbourne) back in 2007, and that actually was a lovely experience. I was doing some last-minute makeup prep for my brother’s wedding the following day, and the sales assistant gave me great advice for a few small items that would make a huge difference. MAC Select Cover-Up entered my life, and still remains to this day. I started my first make-your-own-quad eyeshadow collection (I got 2 shadows, and have yet to fill the quad with 2 more), and he gave me plenty of direction for an eye look to suit a bright red outfit (which isn’t the easiest thing to do). I’ve also had some decent service from the Sydney International Airport Duty-Free MAC counter, despite literally thousands of people browsing there on the way to their flight.
Unfortunately though, they are some of the only positive Australian beauty experiences I can conjure up in my memory. That’s a pretty sad report. I’m a regular shopper and browser, I often have money burning a hole in my pocket, and I’m a fairly non-confrontational personality type – I’ll burn you on Facebook or verbally to my friends, but that’s about it, I’m not going to shout and scream in store. So after over a decade of loving beauty and makeup, I think I can safely say that it’s not me, it’s you, Australian beauty counters. Why is getting a sample of a product you want me to commit over $50 to, like getting blood out of stone? Why do you insist on pursing your lips when I (or any other customer – I don’t think it’s personal) near your counter? Is your job not to sell and promote beauty products? Why do you think your company educates you on their products – do you think it’s only for your personal gain?
Today, I had a really aggravating experience at a Benefit counter. I had the day off work, and was really looking forward to checking out some new products; I’d even squirreled some money away, that was, lo and behold, burning away in my pocket. My sister-in-law joined me for some shopping, and as a fellow beauty enthusiast, I informed her of the #mascaraswap currently happening at Benefit counters. A friend had called me yesterday to tell me that she had swapped her $2.50 Essence mascara for a deluxe sample of a “They’re Real” mascara at Benefit. If they’re letting you swap your Essence mascara, then clearly there’s no judgement there. So off we went to Benefit, which was a concession within Myer.
Now, the sales assistant wasn’t getting any points for sales, but I’ll give her props for making me feel incredibly uncomfortable – she did raise the bar for snooty sales assistants. She was quite literally doing nothing when we entered (the concession is an entire section, similar to a MAC concession; not just a counter), and continued to do nothing while we browsed. But of course, she didn’t do nothing at a distance – she stood right next to us, while breathing over our shoulders. She offered no advice, no commentary; just silent judgement. I looked around for the #mascaraswap info, and there were probably close to 20 balloons promoting this offer. When we asked… OH, the offer ended yesterday. So, why are there 20 balloons still up? Hard day of nothing stopped you from deflating the balloons? Your Benefit boss came in and confiscated every single sample that remained yesterday at 5pm?
Although this experience was insulting, it’s not exactly an exception. I came home and discovered another customer had a very similar experience at the same counter (she burned the sales assistant on Facebook), except she was told the offer ended ages ago, and when she challenged her that the offer goes until May, she was told that lots of teenagers came in and swapped their mascaras, and the stock is now finished.
I think we all know this sales assistant just couldn’t be stuffed. But Sephora, take heed, this is the state of Australian retail. There are lots of retail staff that love what they do, are extremely helpful, and earn their keep and then some. But there are a huge percentage who are just like Miss. Benefit – forget the customer, and just enjoy their discount. I’ve experienced Sephora back in the day, when it was nothing special in the UK, I’ve experience Sephora in the US, Sephora in Europe, and Sephora in Dubai. Dubai’s retail is booming – they have a huge amount of migrants working their butts off, and reaping the rewards of a lifestyle in the UAE. The US experience is completely unmatched however. Samples are easy to get, advice is easy to get, product information is easy to get – they make it easy to spend your money. The question that remains a mystery to me is whether their staff get paid commissions – but whatever the US formula, it is working. It’s not enough that there are multiple brands in one store – beauty buffs don’t mind pounding the pavement to try new products. It’s not just that the prices seem reasonable – that’s just the way it seems relative to the Australian prices – but Sephora USA is not making its buck off Australian tourists. It’s competing against incredibly low drugstore prices, and somehow winning.
Sephora Australia, you interest me, but I’m not sold just yet. Let’s see what your sales formula is here, and how that materialises for customers.