Although “nimble” and “agile” aren’t two attributes I typically ascribe to the beauty industry, there’s something that feels decidedly “fast on their feet” about the way Ulta Beauty and Sephora announced alliances with Target and Kohl’s, respectively, just as the pandemic has upended American life as we know it.
Surely those plans were percolating well before Covid struck, and we’ve got several months yet to go before either of these buzzed-about retail ventures actually gets unveiled to the beauty-besotted public. But for this generally timid and slow-moving market sector, let’s face it, the Ulta Beauty at Target and Kohl’s + Sephora partnerships are most definitely our version of Operation Warp Speed.
Bringing Prestige Beauty to the Affordable Arena
Have you heard? Department stores are dead. Well, at least the deeply glamorous ones of yesteryear. But the newer incarnation, the “value” department store à la Target and Kohl’s, which marry stellar marketing with great merch at affordable price points, is doing just fine, thank you very much. Heck, because it also stocks groceries and other daily household necessities, Target was even deemed essential during last spring’s wave of retail lockdowns, and remained open for intrepid shoppers like me, a “Tarjay” addict if ever there were one.
They’re just so smart, these design- and trend-savvy value department stores. They know so many Americans crave style and spiffy merchandising, but would feel utterly lost and intimidated on, say, pre-Covid Rodeo Drive or upper Madison Avenue. And because they’ve steadily and successfully upped the style ante over the past decade-plus, largely through collaborations with high-end fashion and lifestyle brands, it makes perfect sense that they feel the time is right to align with prestige beauty via the premiere multi-brand retailers in this space.
They’re just so smart, these design- and trend-savvy value department stores. They know so many Americans crave style and spiffy merchandising, but would feel utterly lost and intimidated on, say, pre-Covid Rodeo Drive or upper Madison Avenue.
Need an inside-baseball “cheat sheet” to these exciting and potentially game-changing new retail partnerships? Your wish is my command.
Ulta Beauty at Target
Intended Launch Date: Second half of 2021
Initial Number of Doors: 100+
- Crystal Ball Future Plans: The goal, per Ulta Beauty president Dave Kimbell, is to eventually be in “several hundred” Target doors. In a recent Robin Report Annual Forum webinar with Robin Lewis on the topic of “Profits + Consumer Trends,” Kimbell shared that he expects Ulta Beauty and Target to undergo a post-launch evaluation period incorporating customer feedback before the concept is rolled-out in a “coordinated, sequenced” way.
- Footprint: 1000-square-feet, located adjacent to Target’s existing beauty departments
- Stated Rationale: In addition to its 1264 company-owned stores and an on-fire digital operation, “Our guests appreciate it when we give them new ways to experience Ulta Beauty,” Kimbell said of the Target shop-in-shop venture. In a statement, Target chairman and CEO Brian Cornell pointed out the retailer’s previous partnership success with Disney, CVS and Starbucks and said: “This matchup brings Ulta Beauty’s coveted prestige beauty assortment, category expertise and guest loyalty together with Target’s high-growth beauty business and the ease and convenience of our industry-leading fulfillment services.”
- The Special Sauce: With good reason, Target is excited about the possibility of incorporating Ulta Beauty’s wildly popular GLAMlab virtual try-on tool that allows guests to test shades before buying. Now more than ever, alternatives to traditional product testers are appreciated by germ-phobic customers.
Kohl’s + Sephora
Intended Launch Date: Fall 2021
Initial Number of Doors: 200
- Crystal Ball Future Plans: There are expected to be no fewer than 850 Kohl’s + Sephora locations by 2023, which is a sizeable chunk of the current Kohl’s door count of 1160. Add that to Sephora’s U.S. roughly 500 U.S. stores, and that’s major reciprocal brand-building.
- Footprint: 2500-square-feet, replacing existing Kohl’s beauty departments
- Stated Rationale: While it’s still a fraction of its overall sales (under 5 percent), Kohl’s has been transparent about its desire to beef-up beauty. For Sephora’s part, its ill-fated alliance with JCPenney clearly hasn’t dampened its enthusiasm for partnering with a value department store. But few would argue that Kohl’s isn’t a better ideology/ethos fit for Sephora. The product assortment is considerably hipper, and there’s no comparison between the two retailers’ marketing efforts. Kohl’s is out there, while JCPenney is nowhere.
- The Special Sauce: Brands, brands and more brands. It’s estimated Sephora will stock 85 percent of its 9500 SKUs in its Kohl’s shops. On the skincare, makeup and fragrance fronts, Kohl’s shoppers will be suddenly seriously spoiled for choice.