Sephora’s beauty is more than just skin deep

The retail industry is going through a period of dramatic transformation. While bricks and mortar stores continue to play an important part, it’s now just one of the many connection points between the retailer and the customer.

Indeed, looking at Australia’s online sales, the National Australia Bank’s latest Online Retail Sales Index shows sales grew by 27% to $13 billion over the year to the end of January and illustrates the strength in the online retail market. Approximately three-quarters of these online sales are from domestic retailers.  As online sales become a larger proportion of retailer turnover, retailers must ensure their online offering complements and supports their core business.

Channels are blurring

Customers are using their smartphones to price-check merchandise when they’re actually in the store. Shoppers jump from their smartphones, to tablets, to desktops to the physical store depending on the time of day to satisfy their immediate needs.

The experience has to be consistent

These days successful retail is about providing a fully-integrated customer experience that works across multiple customer touch points. It’s about delivering a connected and consistent retail and brand experience across all the places where the customers are – online as well as the bricks and mortar location. Successful retail is all about providing your customers with alternative ways to shop.

Just look at the digital prowess of Sephora, the cosmetics and beauty products retailer owned by Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Overseas the retailer is successfully straddling the online and offline world, and making it easier, and more fun, to shop for beauty. While Sephora is famed for its bricks-and-mortar stores that encourage customers to dip their fingers into pots of high-end makeup and luscious skincare, the retail brand is also something of a trailblazer in the digital space.

Mobile, social, and in store

Last year Sephora undertook a comprehensive upgrade of its web presence, added specialised search functionality, gave its mobile web and iOS app a makeover, and installed iPads in more than 100 of its bricks-and-mortar stores. The company also added ‘Pin It’ buttons to all its brand and product pages to streamline integration with Pinterest. Sephora sees it as an entirely new shopping experience with seamless mobile, social, and in-store activity.

Interestingly, by integrating with Pinterest and its overwhelmingly female following, a great many of whom are young, well-educated and well-heeled, Sephora is capitalising on immediately measurable commercial returns from social shopping. As an early adopter, the retailer discovered that its Pinterest followers spend something like 15 times more on Sephora products than Facebook followers. With its website overhaul, it made sense to integrate its product pages with the social media site and provide their customers with alternative ways to shop.

While Sephora doesn’t see the same commercial returns from Facebook, its following of more than 4.7 million fans actively engage with each other on the platform by sharing beauty tips and advice.

In the bricks-and-mortar stores, Sephora gives customers access to iPads which are pre-installed with the Sephora app to give customers access to the rich product details that are available on the store’s website. Customers can scan QR codes to access product information, see ratings, and read reviews. This includes customer-written product reviews which can be filtered by location, skin colour, skin sensitivity, and age. So while you’re in store you can look up if a particular product is rated for your particular climate, age group and skin type. You can review your purchase histories as well, just in case you want to buy exactly the same moisturiser, lipstick, or blush as you bought previously.

In designing the iPad app, Sephora ensured that users were given a full experience, not a cut-down version of the website. The magazine style layout allows customers to browse beauty content in the form of articles, videos and images. The app is integrated with Sephora’s ecommerce platform, so that any of the products that feature in the content can be purchased directly from the online store.

Showcase of omnichannel retailing

While the Sephora experience for Australians remains distinctly off shore, the company still provides Australian retailers with a showcase of omnichannel retailing par excellence. It shows us that if you make shopping more fun, more shoppers will come. Sephora’s online offering complements and supports their bricks and mortar stores; the retailer provides customers with alternative ways to shop and ultimately Sephora allows shoppers to jump from their smartphones, to tablets, to desktops to the physical store depending on location and the time of day to satisfy their immediate beauty needs.

 

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Simon van Wyk
BY Simon van Wyk ON 22 March 2013
Founder, HotHouse Interactive. Tweet him @Hot_House