Sephora – A Pretty Digital Face

mpenn    June 12, 2016

When it comes to purchasing makeup products today, the first company that typically comes to mind – and even conversation – is Sephora.  Approach most women and men who have carefully applied a swipe of indigo eyeliner or a dusting of rose-gold eyeshadow where they bought the product from, and you’ll almost always hear, “Sephora!”  In a world that is so obssessed with image and beauty, Sephora continues to build their customer relationship based on a simple ideology – understanding customer wants and needs, and connecting that customer with the right product.


It’s nothing new, really, but since launching a mobile app in 2012, Sephora has gained a strong upper-hand in the cosmetic retail industry by consistantly providing consumers with access to quality products and services – right at their finger tips.  With the advent of Apple Passbook, Sephora has once more risen above other cosmetic and beauty retailers; in this respect, providing Apple product users with a quick and convenient purchase process.

Applying with an App

As interactive apps continue to take the digital world by storm – in the last week, Mark Zuckerberg revealed Facebook’s latest photo app, which allows users to upload 360-degree photos to Facebook – Sephora has flourished in the tech world by offering customers a unique digital opportunity in the form of an Exclusive Feature – a “Pocket Contour” makeup tutorial, which utilizes the customer’s personal photo (of which we all, no doubt, have hundreds of on our mobile devices!) and provides a makeover on top of the photo, using personalized product recommendations that are based on the user’s skin type, tone, and facial structure.  By allowing customers to actually see what they may look like once the products have been applied, Sephora is meeting the ever-changing needs of its vast clientele, and let’s face it – who doesn’t want to test drive the product before purchasing it?

Johnna Marcus, one of Sephora’s directors of Mobile and Digital Store Marketing, describes their customers as “women who have shown historically that they adopt technology where it is useful”.  While the general customer experience within a Sephora store is typically quite positive, there is something to be said for not having to sneak out of the house, sans full-face makeup,  with a large-brimmed hat and wide sunglasses to go to Sephora and try on the makeup – instead, Sephora customers are able to “test” a variety of lip products by using the website’s Virtual Artist feature.  By uploading a photo of yourself, or connecting to the Live Try-On feature, you can browse through hundreds of lipstick and lipgloss shades without having to get dressed.



The Innovation Lab – Where Makeup Dreams Become Reality

Housed in a San Francisco warehouse is Sephora’s very own Innovation Lab.  Bridget Dolan, a 14-year digital marketing veteran of the company, describes this facility and its team as being focused on “envisioning the future of retail for Sephora, and making sure that we’re staying ahead of our clients and the different trends that are out there”.  Where once in-store display models came to be tested, the space has now been converted in to a veritable digital Wonderland, to “develop and test a broad range of digital experiences designed to inform and enhance shopping across web, mobile, and brick-and-mortar.”

Along with the launch of the Innovation Lab, Sephora introduced four new programs to its digital experience:

  • “Pocket Contour” – On a mobile device, a user can follow a contouring tutorial that compliments their personal face-shape;
  • In-store Beacons – After beta-testing the program in two San Francisco stores, it is now being unrolled in all Sephora stores.  This location-aware program allows users to opt-in to receive mobile notifications once in store, which will notify them of promotions and birthday month benefits, as well as reminders of in-store services such as mini makeovers;
  • Female Founders – Sephora stores will be introducting an augmented front-window display that features the women behind some of Sephora’s brands.  The face of High-powered cosmetic Queens such as Kat Von D. and Laura Mercier will be displayed on a screen which, when a user hovers their phone over, the story of the founder and the brand will automatically play, once more connecting the customer with the brand;
  • Flash – This is Sephora’s version of Amazon Prime, and allows purchasers to enroll in a two-day shipping program for an annual fee of US $10.00, or overnight shipping for US $5.95.  At the time of this post, this program is not available in Canada.

Lessons for Others

While it is clear that Sephora has embraced “digital innovation” with regard to its marketing and customer engagement experience, it is important to note that the company has worked hard to embrace its customers, and to really listen and then respond to their beauty and cosmetic needs.  By determining their needs, Sephora is then able to meet those needs by providing a high-quality digital experience, along with products and services that so often help to define how a person feels about themselves.

By continually staying ahead of trends and products, Sephora is able to maintain its position within the beauty retail industry.  By offering customers an opportunity to be a part of nearly every level of the shopping experience – from product development to testing to purchasing trends – Sephora has proven that the digital relationship with its clients is just as vital to maintaining that relationship as a face-to-face shopping experience in a store.

Organization: Sephora Canada
Industry: Beauty, Retail, Online Retail
Name of Organization Contact: Terry Yanofsky, Senior Vice President and Country Manager - Sephora Canada

Authored by: MPenn

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