True empathy for the end consumer is the "unlock" in business. But that's not the framework most people want to play in, and that's why most businesses lose long term. - Gary Vaynerchuk
Sephora was the king of beauty retail for the last decade and then Ulta got serious about their growth and are giving Sephora a run for their money. They are distinctively different retailers. Sephora's stores are mainly in big box malls. Ulta's stores are mainly in neighborhoods, strip malls. Honestly, it's harder to physically get into a Sephora, but once you're in the store, the shopping experience is better. Ultas are easier to get in and out of, but frankly, there is no experience shopping in one.
The interesting part of this story is that neither one of these retailers focus on customer service. This leads us to the known fact that consumer experience is where the growth continues. The future of beauty retail? Possibly, it's boutique shopping in locations that do not require parking and entering a shopping mall. Boutique stores where customer service is the number one priority with a goal to offer a memorable shopping experience. But what is equally important is carrying the correct stock/inventory of the items. When a customer does come in to shop with you, they want to leave with the item they came in to purchase. The stores that are doing this now, in or out of cosmetics, are thriving. Customers want easy access to the store, a lovely shopping experience, knowledgeable salespeople and to leave having purchased the item that is desired. This is keeping empathy at top of mind for the end consumer. Not having empathy? Telling them that you will order the item online and have it shipped at no cost.
Regardless of whose currently winning between these two mega-retailers, there is a decline happening in retail when you take out the new store business. This is primarily because most companies are 'bottom line: sales goal' driven, with no imagination for the consumer experience. The companies that have true empathy for the end consumer as their goal will win the long game in the current market.