Sephora shares tips, insight on crafting a retail customer personalization strategy

| by Elliot Maras
Sephora shares tips, insight on crafting a retail customer personalization strategy

Image courtesy of iStock

Brands and retailers are discovering numerous ways to make the shopping experience more personal.

Mary Beth Laughton, right, of Sephora, tells Rebecca Kaden that more than ever, experience is "king" for beauty care consumers

As beauty care products are among the most personal retail items, it's not surprising retailers in this segment are among the first to embrace technologies that enhance personalization.

Three experts in this area — each bringing a different perspective to the experience — shared their insights during a seminar, "delighting customers through personal interactions" at the recent ShopTalk conference at the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas. 

"Beauty is theirs to define and to celebrate," Mary Beth Laughton, executive vice president for omnichannel at Sephora, told panel moderator Rebecca Kaden, a general partner at Union Square Ventures.

Personalization experiences are making it possible for consumers to become their own authority on what products best meet their preferences, Laughton said. Hence, authority on beauty is shifting from magazines and influencers to that of other consumers; they are looking to their peers for validation and advice.

More than ever, experience is "king," Laughton said, noting 66 percent of beauty consumers prefer to spend money on experiences than on material items. In pursuit of experiences, clients today are constantly moving between the digital and physical realms in pursuit of their own definition of beauty.

Mobile is the "ultimate connector" for today's beauty consumer, she said, adding the boundary between the virtual and the real continues to blur.

Capturing data at customer touchpoints

Sephora captures data at all consumer touch points in its effort to guide clients through their journeys, which include in-store experiences and digital interactions. The company's customer relations marketing strategy is to provide personal messages based on the customer's behavior and lifestyle. 

One Sephora forum is the "virtual artist," an augmented reality experience that enables clients to virtually try on products and create dozens of looks for themselves. It includes virtual tutorials that detect features such as face shape and instructs how and where to apply product. The virtual artist is available on an app and on digital screens in the stores.

Another Sephora forum is the "beauty insider" community, a digital platform where consumers connect with one another via live chat to find inspiration, ask questions and get recommendations. The average chat response time is under two minutes.

Still another forum is the "store companion," an app that uses geofencing and serves as an in-store shopping companion as soon as the customer enters the store. The app gives the customer access to information on their past purchases, along with personalized product recommendations, reviews from other customers and information about store experiences happening on that particular day.

Lastly are the Sephora "digital guides," which include a digital skin care guide and a digital makeover guide. 

The company is able to capture data on what products the customer adds to their list or basket during all these different interactions, and uses this data to tailor future messaging. Nearly half of beauty consumers — 45 percent — expect brands to customize products and experiences to fit their personal needs, Laughton said.

It's not about the technology

Personalization, however, is not just about technology, but about the personal touch points, observed panelist Melissa Gonzalez, CEO of The Lionesque Group, which specializes in "experiential retail."

Melissa Gonzalez, right, of Lionesque Group, notes the importance of making personalization easy for the consumer to experience.

Gonzalez noted that her group, which calls itself "pop-up architects," provided customers at one apparel store the opportunity to take pictures of themselves and recreate book covers with the pictures.

The project increased in-store exploration, she explained.

"Investing in personalization helps the bottom line in numerous ways," she said.

One of the most important points for the retailer is to make sure the personalization experience is easy for the customer; it cannot require too many steps, Gonzalez said.

Do you have the resources?

Because many personalization projects require new technology, it is important for a retail organization to have a technologically proficient staff. Panelist Helen Vaid, chief customer officer at Pizza Hut, cited this as a key factor in her company's successful introduction of an algorithm based deal selection tool called Dealbot in the U.K. Dealbot reduced website page load times by 50 percent and increased orders significantly. Vaid also shared that a smaller team is usually more efficient than a larger one when introducing a new technology.

Topics: Consumer Behavior, In-Store Media, Marketing, Merchandising, Technology

Elliot Maras

Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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