French cosmetics retailer Sephora has brought its innovative marketing approach to L.A. by opening its first local store in the Fashion Square mall in Sherman Oaks. The store is a kind of supermarket for upscale cosmetics, offering hundreds of brand-name lipsticks, eye shadows, fragrances, skin-care products and other beauty aids along with another 700 shades of private-label cosmetics. But what really distinguishes the retailer from department stores, which sell the bulk of pricey, brand-name cosmetics and fragrances, is its approach to selling or, more accurately, not selling. While department stores employ salespeople who work on commission and control what the customer sees, touches and tries, Sephora leaves its shoppers free to dabble as they please. Hundreds of colors of lipsticks, nail enamel, pencils and eyeshadows are lined up in open display fixtures. There also are skin-care creams and lotions for dabbing and dotting, and wooden sticks are provided to test fragrances so customers can sample whatever catches their eye. The team of 34 full- and part-time, non-commission salespeople and seven makeup artists offer and provide assistance when asked, but they don’t try to close sales. “If a woman wants to come in and not be bombarded by people spraying and touching her, this is where she can get that,” said Willie Melchor, regional director for the chain, which is owned by French luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Industry pundits and shoppers have long believed that because cosmetics salespeople are paid based on how much they sell, they should push products that consumers might not need nor want. Interestingly, Sephora’s experience shows the average sale in its stores is not much lower than the average at a typical department store cosmetics counter. At Sephora, a customer typically purchases about $40 worth of merchandise, while the range in department stores is $35 to $55, Melchor said. Sephora is not the only company turning away from commissioned sales help, said Nate Franke, a partner with the consumer products division of Deloitte & Touche. Retailers of everything from electronics to furniture are increasingly changing the way they compensate salespeople. And while there have been no studies to determine whether the strategy is working, Franke believes it is. “We’re seeing more of a trend of companies doing this, and the fact that they are doing it tells me it’s working,” Franke said. Sephora will open its next store at the Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks in the middle of the month, and it is currently seeking real estate in several other Los Angeles locations, including Beverly Center, Century City, Santa Monica and Old Pasadena.