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In Sephora’s plan to win back buyers

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Sephora is hatching a plan to rehabilitate its image with shoppers of color who allegedly have racial prejudice in stores and a lack of products that meet their needs.

The plan, unveiled on Wednesday, includes cracking down on discrimination among its staff, doubling its assortment of black-owned brands by the end of the year and cutting back on third-party security forces. It is the most daring step taken to date by the LVMHin an attempt to reestablish its reputation with color customers who have not always had a “fair and consistent” experience in its stores or in the mass distribution sector, Jean-André Rougeot, general manager for the Americas, has said Wednesday in a statement outlining the action plan.

“We see that there is a tremendous business opportunity for us as a retailer to meet the needs of all of our customers,” said Deborah Yeh, Sephora’s Marketing Director for the Americas, noting that the company wants to create an environment where all buyers and employees feel welcome. “All retailers, Sephora included, have a financial incentive to do it right.”

For Sephora, this pressure is particularly urgent. It quickly lags behind its biggest direct competitor, Ulta Beauty Inc., in terms of sales. As recently as 2017, the two chains were neck and neck, with the two bringing in around $ 5.9 billion in sales in the United States,The dataof the National Retail Federation trade show. Just two years later, Ultarakedin $ 7.4 billion to Sephora’s $ 5.9 billion.

As part of Sephora’s multi-dimensional approach to re-engaging customers of color, it updates its zero tolerance policy to ensure that staff who exhibit racist behavior are consistently investigated . Ensuring that annual performance measures of company personnel are linked to diversity and inclusion goals will add accountability.

The question is whether that will be enough to convince people like Laquilla Coleman to try Sephora again. On her 21st birthday in May 2011, Coleman had an experience that she said rocked her.

When she walked into a Sephora in Dallas to do her makeup, Coleman, who is black, said the beautician asked her if she brought her own foundation. She hadn’t done it; she had expected Sephora to associate a shade with her face, like the other customers. The associate said she didn’t know how to do “dark makeup,” according to Coleman. When Coleman suggested that the employee only do her eyeshadow, a second associate stepped in and said he was uncomfortable treating her skin tone, according to Coleman. She left the store with the $ 300 she planned to spend on products used during the beauty session still in her pocket.

Interviews with more than a half-dozen current and former Sephora employees suggest Coleman’s experience was not unique. To a standalone Sephora inside a JC Penney located in a small town south of Minneapolis, the manager asked employees to follow Somali customers around the store and went out of her way not to help black customers who she said were not worth her time since they Would not buy any merchandise, said former employee Rachael White, who quit her job as a beauty consultant there in July. At a store in Arizona, a manager made several comments about a black employee’s lighter skin tone, according to an employee who asked not to be identified because she now works in a different location.

The company declined to comment on these specific allegations. “We have millions of interactions with customers and employees every year and we take all negative experiences seriously, investigating every complaint that comes up to us. These experiences do not reflect our values ​​or the values ​​of our partners, ”the company said in an emailed statement after the publication of this story. “We know we still have work to do, but our priority is to cultivate an inclusive experience and help move Sephora and the industry forward.”

Racial prejudice “occurs in all retail businesses,” Yeh said in an interview ahead of the study’s publication. “It’s unfortunate that people feel like they have to face up to spending their hard earned money in a store.”

Two in five U.S. retail shoppers say they’ve been treated unfairly because of their skin color, with black consumers 2.5 times more likely than whites to have this type of interaction, according to an online survey from 3,034 U.S. buyers and 1,703 retail employees. commissioned by Sephora which was also released on Wednesday. These situations have “lifelong economic consequences for a retailer,” Sephora wrote in its report, especially as 43% of black, native or colored shoppers say they are unlikely to return to a store afterward. such an incident. The investigation was conducted in June 2020, shortly after George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.

Corporate America publicly counted on the breed in the months that followed, with varying levels of success. While empty social media claims have backfired, companies’ goals to diversify suppliers and hire more people of color, including in leadership roles, could shake the needle. Some companies have gone so far as to reveal all of theirThe dataon the racial makeup of their employees. Sephora plans to share employee diversity progress twice a year on its website.

In July, 6.5% of Sephora’s leadership in American stores, distribution centers and corporate officeswere black. Ulta said in August that its management team was made up of 13% blacks.

“Retailers love metrics,” Yeh said of Sephora’s decision to commission the Retailer and Bias Survey. “The impacts of racial prejudice and unfair treatment need to start to be measured, just as we look at other aspects.”

Sephora has been trying to turn things around for a while. In June 2019, it closed all of its stores for a “hour-long inclusion workshop” after musician SZA, who is black, reported being followed by security inside a California Sephora. “SZA’s experience reinforced the importance of creating inclusive spaces,” the company said in an email after the story was published, adding that training had already been planned before the incident. Some have criticized the training as a signal of virtue rather than a hard-hitting change. That fall, Sephora commissioned the study published this week.

It went further in 2020,rearrange hisincubator program to focus on supporting minority-led beauty founders by improving their access to venture capital and grants. Sephora was also one of the first companies to sign the15% commitmentwhich calls on stores to increase the share of black-owned brands they sell to roughly match the percentage of the US population that is black.

Today, black-owned and black-founded brands represent just eight of the nearly 300 beauty brands the company sells, according to executive vice president and general manager of global merchandising Artemis Patrick. Launching new brands too quickly without the proper support could sacrifice the success of minority founders, she said.

“Anyone can launch a whole bunch of new brands,” Patrick said in an interview. “But my ultimate goal is to create a system in which brands thrive.”

An increased presence of black brands will improve shopping experiences for customers who have been historically under-represented, but this step alone doesn’t mean much if the population is skeptical of the practices of the retailer as a whole, said Lauren Napier, founder of a company that sells makeup. wipes.

“When black brands go into retail, black people – black women – support these people,” saidNapier, which does not sell inside Sephora. “Those same customers have to be treated well because if the product is in there, and someone in the store is acting like a jerk, then they don’t come back, which damages the brand.”

Coleman, the Dallas customer who went for her birthday makeup, said she visited a Sephora again in 2014 to purchase a gift for a friend – this one located at a JC Penney store. (When Sephora isexisting agreementwith JC Penney ends, he will move his in-store stores to Kohl’s Corp.) When Coleman went to the checkout, she said an employee suggested she probably couldn’t afford the items she was buying. As a result, Coleman now only buys from Ulta, where she estimates spending at least $ 150 per month.

“I wouldn’t even give them a third chance,” Coleman said. “It’s a shame because I miss Rihanna’s makeup that she sells exclusively to Sephora, but I refuse.

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