Bridging the Gap Between the Online and Offline Shopping Experience

Author: Marni Edelhart

Sephora is one of the biggest beauty brands in the world and is known as being at the forefront of social and digital. While many brands are trying to figure out how to be a brick-and-mortar or e-tailer, Sephora has cracked both. Sephora believes in putting the customer at the center of everything, and using technology to blur the lines between the in-store and online shopping experience.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Sephora lives and breathes technology, eager to try new things and willing to experiment. The beauty brand was first to create a website in 1999 and is one of the first retailers to embrace a mobile app. With a presence and passion for the entire social ecosystem, Sephora has around 4.8M Facebook fans, 900K Twitter followers, 150K Pinterest followers and 400K Instagram followers.

We got to hear from Sephora’s VP of Interactive Media, Bridget Dolan, on how the beauty brand has successfully bridged the gap between the online and offline customer shopping experience.

How is Sephora re-vamping its brick and mortar experience to fuel purchases both in-store and online?

There are inherent advantages for both online and brick-and-mortar stores and we believe that the more these two can be blended together, the better the overall shopping experience will be for our clients. We’ve been focused on smart, useful ways to bring technology in-store, because we think of it as a digital form of customer assistance.

For example, our in-store experience includes SkincareIQ to help clients navigate to the best products for them based on their skin type and concerns, mobile POS for more efficient check-outs, and we’ve also created a device in partnership with Pantone called Sephora + Pantone ColorIQ. This revolutionary foundation matching service using Pantone’s color capture and measuring technology, is the first and only beauty system to scan the surface of the skin, assign an official PANTONE® SkinTone™ number, and match a scientifically precise foundation shade from Sephora’s 1,000 foundations, brands and formulas.

All of these things make the in-store experience that much more engaging and useful for our clients – which is ultimately what we want for them.

photo c/o Sephora’s Facebook page

How do you keep customers coming in-store to make purchases, instead of simply “showrooming”?

When you create a great experience in-store, customers will shop with you. Part of the thrill of shopping for makeup and other beauty products is getting to speak live with our experts, and try on all of the products – people want to experiment and get immersed when in-store. And we’re using technology to make that experience even better. We believe technology in-store has to actually help solve a problem, like getting checked out on a mobile device while sitting at our Beauty Studio after getting a makeover or getting access to reviews by scanning any product you pick up with your own iPhone, to create an elevated experience for the consumer. The key is to figure out where technology can add to the experience, rather than focusing on the appeal of an iPad sitting in a store, where the novelty wears off quickly.

How does Sephora view online customers vs. in-store customers? Are they the same/different?

At Sephora, we don’t think of the buyer’s journey as linear – customers don’t think of devices or channels separately; they seamlessly jump between them as time and context allows. Our clients are predominantly cross-channel shoppers, which is why we focus on making their experience between online and offline as seamless as possible.

The majority of our customers are women, and women are at the forefront of tech early adopters when it comes to retail. They are leaders in mobile and social commerce, and they are our customers, so we have the advantage of being able to test things out with them in a way that other retailers don’t.

We think bringing technology in-store creates efficiency, and as a consumer, you truly appreciate this. Sephora clients know the information they want is online, but they like having that catalog of information available in-stores as well.

What has Sephora found most worthwhile, and what’s next to come

What we’ve found most worthwhile is always being customer-centric – it’s our job to listen and pay attention to how they live their lives, and then bridge that to the shopping experience. We also focus on being at the forefront of new and hot digital/social tools, and creating ways to use them smartly and thoughtfully – those things have helped us keep our edge.

In terms of what’s next, we’re always looking at new technologies, constantly evaluating new ways to do things to enhance the customer experience. Social and mobile commerce are the future of shopping, so that’s definitely a huge focus for us.

When we re-launched Sephora.com in April 2012, we implemented a deep integration with Pinterest and were one of the first beauty brands to have the “Pin It” option on all of our product pages on the site. Pinterest was a natural fit – our products are beautiful, and Pinterest is such a gorgeous way to display and interact with our shoppers – but we also wanted to use it in a savvy and educational way. We continue to dare our clients to experiment and play with beauty – and pin products and ideas to their Pinterest boards.

Digital is in our DNA. We’ll always be looking for the best ways for our customers to love their time with Sephora.

About Bridget

Bridget Dolan is Sephora’s Vice President of Digital Marketing where she runs social media, mobile, digital store experience and business development. Bridget has led Sephora’s direct marketing efforts for the last 12 years, launching social site features such as Ratings & Reviews, BeautyTalk, SephoraTV and Pinterest, as well as expanding Sephora’s social presence and engagement in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram. Bridget is driving the vision for Sephora’s mobile strategy, for which Sephora secured the top spot in L2’s first Prestige Mobile IQ report. Prior to Sephora, Bridget directed online marketing at Eve.com, an early beauty start-up, and at the Left Field agency driving online advertising for clients such as Amazon, drugstore.com and Hotmail. Before she crossed into the online sector, Bridget worked in brand management for Castrol Sports, pioneering a co-branded line with Trek bicycles. Bridget started her career in marketing and research for Walgreens, testing store concepts and forecasting sales for the chain. She holds a BS in Accounting and an MBA in Marketing.

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