What Is the History of Sephora?

Crystal Schwanke
Sephora storefront

Since its development in the 1970s, Sephora has risen to become a hugely successful chain of cosmetics stores. The company has shop fronts in countries all over the globe, and today, the Sephora name is synonymous with beauty, style, fun, and elegance. This store chain continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down, making cosmetics enthusiasts everywhere rejoice.

Sephora's Storied History

Part of Sephora's success is due to the company's ability to adapt and develop over time. From global expansion to creating a strong web presence, the company has made many changes over the years.

Before Sephora: Shop 8 - 1969

According to the company history, what is now Sephora started out as a small perfumery in Limoges, France, called Shop 8. Dominique Mandonnaud wanted to provide a place for customers to try out the products before making a purchase, something almost unheard of at the time. Products were grouped together by type, not brand. By 1979, 12 more stores had opened.

Sephora Begins - 1970

Sephora store in Paris
Sephora store in Paris

The UK's Boots PLC chain, which became the 38 Sephora-branded stores Mandonnaud would later purchase, began in Paris. This group of stores partnered with a department store group, Nouvelles Galeries. Unfortunately, these stores were not very profitable.

Shop 8 and Sephora Combine - 1993

Mandonnaud purchased the Sephora chain in 1993, according to the company history. This meant merging the 38 Sephora stores with his 12 Shop 8 stores.

Sephora's Brand Launched - 1995

In 1995, Sephora company history reports that it launched a brand of its own name. The Sephora brand included bath and body products.

Going Global - 1997

In 1997, Louis Vuitton and Moet Hennessey purchased the chain. Mandonnaud retired right around the time of his 50th birthday. Since that time, the Sephora brand has branched out into 30 countries across the globe. By 1998, Sephora had expanded into Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Poland.

Expanding in the United States - 1999

Sephora reports that they opened their first store in the United States in New York city in 1998 . Today, there are more than 250 stand-alone stores in the United States. Many of the stand-alone stores in the U.S. are found in large shopping malls.

Online Shopping - 1999

In addition to the company's impressive number of stores, Sephora now offers its products for sale on its website. According to the company, the U.S. site launched in 1999, and the Canadian version followed in 2003. While online customers cannot benefit from the company's in-store sampling program, the convenience of shopping online is a draw for many. Additionally, the online store may have brands and products that local stores do not. With the comprehensive return policy, shopping is mostly worry-free.

Customer Loyalty Program - 2003

We Are Sephora reports that in 2003, the company started its Beauty Insider program. This program allows customers to earn points as they buy. As points build, customers become eligible for small gifts. There are three levels you progress through as you earn points on your purchases: Beauty Insider, VIB, and VIB Rouge.

Sephora in Montreal, Canada
Sephora in Montreal, Canada

First Canadian Stores - 2004

Following the success of its online presence with Canadian consumers, Sephora reports that it launched its first Canadian store in Toronto in 2004. Like their U.S. counterparts, many Canadian Sephora stores are located in malls.

Beauty Bars - 2005

We Are Sephora explains that the company took the "try before you buy" idea a step further in 2005. That's when they introduced beauty bars , which became popular in Sephora stores.

Sephora Inside JCPenney - 2006

As part of Sephora's ongoing effort to reach as many beauty aficionados as possible, the company partnered with JCPenney stores in 2006 to create "Sephora Inside JCPenney," a store-within-a-store concept. There are over 485 of these mini-versions of the freestanding Sephora stores. They often do not contain as many products, but they still operate in much the same way with sampling and the Sephora Beauty Insider program.

Teaming up with Pantone - 2013

In 2013, We Are Sephora reports that the company teamed up with Pantone to create a shade selector. Not only does Pantone announce a "color of the year" every year, this addition to Sephora's makeup assistance repertoire allows you to select your features (eye color, skin color, and hair color) from a drop-down menu to create palettes that include the shade of the year in the most beautiful ways for you to wear it. Choose from several color combinations and get the step-by-step walk-through on how to recreate your favorites and which products to use.

Secrets of Success

The Sephora company is known for a few special characteristics, including the following:

  • One of the unique aspects to the development of the Sephora brand is the concept of in-store sampling, which began at the very inception of the chain and is central to their continued success.
  • Return policy: The company is well known for its flexible return policy that includes complete refunds, store credits, or exchanges.
  • Events: Some Sephora stores offer consultations and other events for customers and clients. These events vary by location.
  • Wide variety of product lines: You can find everything from Sephora's own brand to high-end brands of makeup, skin care, hair care, and more.

Sephora, Then and Now

Sephora has grown quite a bit over the last three decades. The company has forged ahead into several countries, making a name and a brand for itself. The cosmetics industry continues to grow, and it's very likely that Sephora will expand and grow right along with it.

What Is the History of Sephora?