How One Beauty Giant Drives In-Store Mobile Engagement


Beth Perry

I love shopping at Sephora – both in the store and online, in part because of their unbiased service from beauty experts, but also their interactive shopping environment and the innovation they’re so well known for.

So naturally, I was really looking forward to hearing Mary Beth Laughton, senior vice president of digital at Sephora, speak at Shoptalk on mobile trends, how to drive in-store mobile engagement, and how retailers can use advanced technologies and personalized applications to better engage consumers as they shop in stores. Their expertise in this area just earned them a 2016 Internet Retailer Excellence Award for Mobile Commerce.

From using augmented reality to test lipstick shades to experimenting with beacons, Laughton gave some great examples of what Sephora is doing these days, as well as fantastic recommendations about how to consider introducing new technology and best-in-class mobile engagement.

Most Promising Mobile Technology

Sephora doesn’t just bring new technology to its stores for technology’s sake – there has to be actual value to the consumer. In short, the technology has to either fill an existing gap or enhance an experience.

One technology the company’s been talking about a lot – because it can do both – is radio-frequency identification (RFID) , especially since as tags start getting smaller, sensors become more powerful. At Sephora, the company sees RFID doing everything from allowing mobile checkout in the store to giving consumers a really seamless way to access product information.

“It’s one of those technologies we definitely have our eye on,” Laughton said.

Are Beacons Overrated?

Laughton said she considers beacons, which can peg your location and deliver an in-store coupon, somewhat overrated. While some major retailers are already using beacon technology, 70% of consumers don’t even know what beacons are and only 3.4% have ever engaged with one.

That doesn’t mean Sephora is ignoring beacons. In testing, it has found that when a “really personalized, relevant” message can be delivered, a shopper will actually engage with the beacon. Laughton said one message that really resonated was this: “Remember those couple of products you were looking at and put into your cart when you were shopping online? They are available today in the store that you’re standing in right now.”

Laughton admitted there are privacy and security concerns when engaging consumers directly via personal notifications. Transparency and being “super clear” about the value to the consumer is key. Laughton said even with beacon messages, Sephora has seen “pretty high” opt-in rates because the benefits are very clear.

“We’re constantly monitoring it, but consumers are open to it if they get value in return,” Laughton said.

What IS Best-In-Class?

Just what does best-in-class mobile engagement mean? Sephora thinks about it as a three-step process:

  1. How can we use mobile to get her into the store?
  2. Once she’s in the store, how can we use mobile to enhance her experience and make it better?
  3. Lastly, how can we use mobile to “basically digitize her experience” and capture data and information to make her next visit to Sephora even more relevant?

Here’s a good example. Sephora sends a mobile, personalized push message to a customer telling her there’s an opening for a makeover at the beauty studio at her local store that afternoon. She can click through the push message to get to the reservations page and easily sign up for an appointment.

Later that afternoon, while getting her makeover, a sales associate engages her with one of Sephora’s in-store digital technologies, such as Color IQ. The system scans her skin and gives her a specific skin tone number that she can then match with products to know which foundation or lipstick would be best. The customer could put her Color IQ number in her phone and later scan products she really liked.

The ideal end use case? Sephora would take the customer’s Color IQ number and product information and serve up “really relevant” recommendations when she comes for her next visit.

Pocket Contour App Supports Classes

The company has received positive feedback from store directors about its Pocket Contour mobile app, which is geared toward clients coming into it stores for one of Sephora’s most popular beauty classes on contouring.

The class is pretty complex. Instructors spend a lot of time taking everyone through all the steps, but then have to help each person while the rest of the class is basically just sitting there. With the app, the consumer can take a picture of her face, understand the shape, and then go through a series of steps that reinforce what the instructor has said.

“It’s a great example of mobile not only helping the consumer, but helping our store associates,” Laughton noted.

Testing Lipsticks via Augmented Reality

Sephora is perhaps most excited about its Sephora Virtual Artist, a virtual lipstick tester that allows the consumer to try on more than 3,000 lipstick shades using the mobile app and augmented reality.

This helps boost online sales because it links directly to products for easy purchase. But what’s been the most fun is seeing how it actually can impact the store experience.

In the past, a shopper may be overwhelmed by thousands of choices on shelves and spend hours testing shades all over her arm. Now, she can easily pull up Sephora Virtual Artist and try on various shades. It has a lot of promise for the company.

“That’s a technology that we’re going to continue to iterate on and develop other applications for because it just has such value for the consumer,” Laughton said.


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