There are six reasons that I’m impressed with the Sephora brand – and all are tied to the cosmetic supplier’s integrated strategy and ability to draw a customer into its brand experience.
1. The Store Atmosphere Offers a Sensory Experience When you walk into a Sephora store, you feel so much energy and involvement. The staff, dressed in distinctive uniforms, are welcoming and ready help you, you hear upbeat and lively music, and see busy customers trying products for themselves in an easy, efficient way.
There are stations all over the clearly laid-out store that allow hands-on access to the products. It is the ultimate in customer involvement. The hands-on elements offered in Sephora stores include the fragrance identifier, InstaScent (once called Poof), that spritzes raw notes of a perfume to help customers determine which defining scent they like most, and the Color IQ handheld device which aides in identifying their Pantone Color IQ number to determine which products are the closest match with their skin tone.
2. Hand-Selected & Exclusive Product Lines Sephora has found a way to leverage the best classic and emerging brands in the world. The use of private labels at Sephora is limited in contrast to other specially retailers that have only private label assortments. As a result, Sephora acts as a cosmetic broker and can pick the best and most exciting lines and innovations from whichever brands have good offerings; unlike department stores where each brand controls the assortment and is motivated to display an entire product line. Another advantage of Sephora is that some of the exceptional top-brand products displayed are exclusively sold at Sephora.
3. The Digital Customer Experience is Easy, Educational and Fun The website is amazing. The site architecture is easy to navigate. The front page starts with intriguing sections like top gift favorites, editor’s choices, new arrivals, and top natural options. The digital customer experience is on-point. The BeautyTalk section provides a way to converse with others, including experts about makeup, skincare, fragrances and more. Sephora Virtual Artist is a virtual experience which allows customers to try on dozens of lipstick color variations in seconds, just like looking in the mirror. The Sephora Beauty Board allows people to post pictures that show the cosmetics and cosmetic fashions in action. Then there is Sephora|TV where you can see “how-to” videos.
4. A Cohesive Brand Experience In-Store & Online In the San Francisco model store (and soon to be in others), there are a dozen designated “Beauty Workshop” stations where customers can sit and watch Sephora|TV tutorial videos, practice using new products with Virtual Artist, and share content online. It’s the center of the new store’s concept design and a place where customers interact with the website features and can gain confidence in more complex make-up applications like contouring (the art of using bronzer, concealer and highlighter to create a sculpted foundation look).
5. The Mobile Experience is Top-Notch The Sephora mobile capability is in part the reason that L2, the digital innovation think tank, has for three years running ranked Sephora as the top specially retailer brand among some 70 brands with respect to its Digital IQ index. A mobile user can access the Sephora Virtual Artist, receive messages about events and new products, and activate most of the features available on the website. When in-store the user can use Apple Pay, scan a product to read its reviews and ratings, learn how many loyalty reward points a product can deliver, and receive personalized messages. Half of Sephora’s digital traffic is now through mobile (Source).
6. A Smart Customer Loyalty Program Sephora has a compelling loyalty program that goes across the online and storefront venues and offers a supply of relevant awards including products, makeovers, and classes. The loyalty program offers opportunities for frequent users to sample new products that they may not otherwise try, interact with staff of cosmetic artists for beauty makeovers, and further develop a relationship with the brand. The program, like that of airline mile point systems, allows consumers to advance to VIB (Very Important Beauty Insider) or to the VIB Rouge status with tiered associated benefits.
Sephora has really pulled ahead on the digital front – the brand is omnichannel oriented and keeps innovating. Further, because of the hands-on in-store and virtual experiences, the brand has an “involving energy.” On these dimensions, Sephora has outperformed three other retail brands that I also admire and have posted my take on why they are successful: Uniqlo, Muji, and Old Navy. It’s no surprise they’re a Top 10 brand on Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index – a consumer survey which ranks brands based on their relentless relevance in consumer lives.