Sephora, frequently lauded for its digital innovation in retail, has found a way to not only participate in the beauty industry’s digital revolution, but to push the envelope through various technological initiatives, both in stores and online. This is manifested in the retailer’s approach to marketing and internal organization, ultimately resulting in a seamlessly integrated online and offline shopping experience for the consumer.
There is more beauty content online than ever before, leading to an extremely informed generation of shoppers. Their purchasing decisions are 1) extremely responsive to the type of visual media they see on social platforms like Instagram and Youtube, and 2) often made long before they step into a store. In 2015, for example, there were 45.3 billion total beauty video views on Youtube . These videos often show young women, referred to as “beauty gurus” in the parlance of the internet, candidly reviewing and trying on products and brands. One such guru, Jaclyn Hill, collaborated with beauty brand Becca to create a highlighter – one that generated an estimated $20 million in sales during the second half of 2015 and was the biggest single-day seller in sephora.com’s history . Researchers found that 54% of women say branded visual content makes them feel interested in a product, and that 58% of in-store shoppers would rather reach for their smart phones for a quick check on a product’s reputation or price comparison rather than ask the salesperson , .
In response to these changes, Sephora’s marketing strategy has fully embraced the types of digital media that are already prevalent online. Sephora’s Youtube channel has 690,000 subscribers and produces content that’s very familiar to the average Youtube beauty video consumer . Instead of glossy, professional-looking content, it features personable store employees against a simple white background who give useful advice directly to the camera – all while shilling their favorite products (example: this video, with over one million views). By producing content that’s similar to what its customers regularly consume, Sephora gains credibility, trust, and mindshare.
Internal Organization and Investment
Sephora has been able to maintain its impressive digital dominance in retail in part because the company has made digital a core component of its internal organization and strategy. Julie Bornstein, a former Sephora executive, held both the CMO and CDO (Chief Digital Officer) positions. In her own words, “By merging teams, we make the most of our investments across all channels and do things more efficiently, more powerfully. We also move faster — which, in this day and age, is what makes all the difference. I firmly believe that this will be the way of the future. Marketing and digital must be hand-in-hand” .
Sephora also brought web development in-house, allowing it greater control and flexibility to adjust its online presence to emerging trends. As a result, it was one of the first retailers to develop a mobile site, which has seen +100% growth in mobile sales each year for 3 years running .
Integration of Online and Offline Customer Experience
Sephora has now moved on to the next phase of innovation: seamlessly merging the online and offline experiences of the typical beauty consumer. For example, Sephora is using bluetooth Beacon technology to push personalized messages to shoppers when they enter a brick and mortar store . Its app also enables customers to scan physical displays in stores with their smartphones in order to view content online, such as product reviews and tutorials . Finally, Sephora has begun to digitize personalized recommendations through its Pocket Contour app, which allows a customer to upload images of her own face and virtually try on products while receiving advice tailored to her face shape . Each of these innovations demonstrates a deep understanding of customer desires and an ability to adapt quickly to route customers’ changing behaviors through Sephora-owned digital properties.
Who: Appealing to Diverse Customers
Women of color have historically been underrepresented in the beauty industry’s marketing and product development. These women often resort to specialized “ethnic” aisles or alternate brands as the shade ranges offered by mainstream brands rarely serve this market. With the increased democratization of beauty content and knowledge, Sephora has a rare opportunity to attract and retain a whole new set of customers through more diversity in its digital content.
Where: New, Unfiltered Channels
While Youtube and Instagram are certainly more accessible than the magazine or television ads of the past, they still require a level of filtering and editing that serves to show beauty products in a positive light. In contrast, emerging digital media like Snapchat, Periscope, or Facebook Live embrace spontaneity and unfiltered, real-time imagery. Sephora should capitalize on these platforms to further promote the authenticity of the beauty claims of the many products it carries.
What: Augmented Reality
Though “Pocket Contouring” is a start, there is much more opportunity in the realm of augmented reality that could allow Sephora’s customers to try on products and shades before they ever step foot in a store. (Word Count: 817)
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