Sound familiar? Beauty retail giant to close up stores for one morning only

It feels like deja vu. Remember when Starbucks shut down its 8,000 stores for an afternoon to re-educate its employees with diversity training? It’s happening again and this time it is make-up and beauty giant Sephora.

On April 30 a Sephora customer shopping in a store in Calabasas, California claimed to be racially profiled. She wasn’t just any Jane Doe, though. She’s an African-American singer named SZA and an employee called security “to make sure she wasn’t stealing.” SZA posted about it on Twitter and explained that she had a “long talk” with the employee.

Fenty, by the way, is singer Rhianna’s line of make-up and that plays into the story, too. I’ll circle back to it. Sephora responded to SZA’s tweet. “Hi, SZA. We’re sorry to hear about your experience at our Calabasas store and appreciate you bringing this to our attention. We want to let you know we take complaints like this very seriously and are actively working with our teams to address the situation immediately.” So, more than a month later, Sephora will close up all its stores, the distribution centers, and corporate offices on the morning of June 5 to host inclusion workshops for its employees. This corporate decision was announced in a statement on Facebook. “These values have always been at the heart of Sephora, and we’re excited to welcome everyone when we reopen.”

The workshops are part of an initiative, “We Belong to Something Beautiful.”

“Sephora has always been a values-driven organization, but this is its first public articulation of what Sephora stands for and represents,” the company said in a statement to Fox Business. “We Belong to Something Beautiful builds on the many diversity and inclusion programs that have existed at Sephora since its inception, and has been in the works for at least one year.”

This will be quite an undertaking. There are about 1,100 free-standing Sephora stores and J.C. Penney shop-in-shops, with a total of 16,000 employees in the U.S. LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton owns Sephora. Sephora and Ulta are battling for first place in the beauty retail sales wars, with third place Amazon coming on strong. In March, Ulta announced its sales were up 14.1% in 2018 reaching $6.7 billion. LVMH doesn’t break out Sephora within its Selective Retailing group but highlighted Sephora’s growth as a contributor to its 10% corporate growth in 2018. Amazon is coming on strong, too. We’re not just talking about mascara and powder here.

Then there is Amazon. EMarketer estimates Amazon reached $16 billion in total health, personal care and beauty product sales, a 37.9% increase over 2017. Though only a subset of that total compares with Ulta’s and Sephora’s range, it is notable that health, personal care and beauty products is Amazon’s third fastest-growing category after food and beverage and apparel and accessories.

The beauty business is an extremely active one in terms of frequency of purchase, with some 70% of consumers making monthly purchases, according to Cowen’s Consumer Tracker. And in beauty retail, Ulta, Sephora and Amazon are the major players.

“We Belong to Something Beautiful” will launch as a marketing campaign this summer and fall featuring personal stories on “belonging and inclusion within the world of beauty.”

The company released the following statement as part of its new diversity and inclusion marketing initiative: “Sephora believes in championing all beauty, living with courage, and standing fearlessly together to celebrate our differences. We will never stop building a community where diversity is expected, self-expression is honored, all are welcomed, and you are included.”

This is not Sephora’s first attempt to boost its diversity and inclusion cred. In 2017 Sephora used its own employees in a marketing campaign to promote diversity. Last year, Rhianna launched her make-up line Fenty that caters to Gen Z consumers and women of color.

The beauty space as a whole has also made moves to become more inclusive. Ulta became the exclusive retailer selling Morphe’s James Charles pallette, and last year launched a campaign to highlight diversity in beauty. About a year ago, Target unveiled eight new cosmetic brands, which included more than 150 products designed for medium to dark skin tones. This came one year after Rihanna’s inclusive Fenty beauty line launched, and influenced the sector. Putting an emphasis on diversity and inclusion could bode well for brands with a large Gen Z and millennial audience — a demographic that tends to favor brands that incorporate it in their marketing and advertising.

As I mentioned above, Rhianna and her Fenty brand are in the news as Rhianna gave SZA a Fenty Beauty gift card when she learned about SZA’s experience trying to buy some of her products in Sephora.

Rihanna surprised SZA with a Fenty Beauty gift card after the “Love Galore” singer said she was racially profiled while shopping at a Sephora makeup store in California.

In a recent Instagram Story, SZA shared that Rihanna, whose real name is Robyn Fenty, sent her a handwritten note along with the gift card.

“Go buy yo Fenty Beauty in peace sis!” wrote Rihanna, who launched the cosmetics brand in 2017.

These kinds of mass closures won’t be possible for all large retailers but it looks like it’s becoming a trend. Starbucks reacted to a viral video and now Sephora is responding to a tweet. Social media is a force to be reckoned with, especially in customer service.