Sephora stores carry more than two hundred brands, and beauty advisors must cater to the full spectrum of customer needs, from self-service product replenishment (“I’m out of my favorite lipstick and need a new one”) to beauty transformations (“I’m ready for a whole new look”) to playful experimentation (“I want to try one of those glowing highlighters”). They do it using tools the company has built to help with different customer paths. These tools help beauty advisors curate the brand’s vast number of products in a way that makes customers feel more certain they’re buying the right ones for their needs.
PAY ATTENTION TO CUSTOMER PAIN POINTS
Every industry has customer pain points, and in beauty, one issue rises above the rest: finding products that perfectly match someone’s skin tone. This is especially difficult with foundation, the product serving as the makeup “base,” which is applied to the face before anything else. The number of choices is overwhelming: Sephora alone offers more than 130 different foundation collections and 3,000 different shades. Women can tell you that it’s easy to buy the wrong shade of foundation because it might look great under a store’s fluorescent lights, but terrible under different lighting.
To solve this pain point and help customers feel confident about their choice, Sephora partnered with Pantone, the company best known for its color-matching system, to create a tool called Color iQ. Here’s how it works: a Sephora beauty advisor holds up a handheld device, about the size of a phone, to a customer’s face, capturing several different images of her skin. Once the images are captured, the digital tool assigns the customer a Color iQ number. Armed with her personalized Color iQ number, the customer can identify all the products that will match her skin tone across every brand Sephora carries. The technology has taken the concept of product curation to a whole new level and has been expanded to include additional product categories such as skincare and even fragrance.
HELP CUSTOMERS VISUALIZE THE END RESULT
Another area of the business that’s designed to drive customer confidence is the beauty makeover, a staple of the industry. Nobody wants a customer to walk away unhappy from a makeover, as I did in Las Vegas, because if she doesn’t feel great about the way she looks, there’s little chance she’ll buy the products that were used on her.
To increase customers’ confidence, Sephora created an augmented reality tool called Sephora Virtual Artist, which lets customers see photos of themselves “wearing” different makeup looks and products. Beauty advisors use this tool to allow customers to choose their favorite look before the makeover begins.
“It helps Beauty Advisors talk to clients about what they’re aiming for in advance,” says Laughton. “There’s this meeting of the minds . . . and it increases the client’s confidence.” This tool is also available directly to consumers through the Sephora website and app, allowing people to “try on” different looks and makeup colors at home, with augmented reality.
CLOSE SALES BY COLLECTING DATA
Sephora also has transformed the classic makeover experience into an opportunity to collect customer data. Beauty advisors scan information on the products applied during a makeover, and at the end of the session they send that information to the customer so she can buy the products and replicate the look. In this way and many others, Sephora is using technology to drive customer confidence in what was once the most analog of businesses.
IDENTIFY THE NEED BEFORE THE MEANS
The company operates an innovation lab in San Francisco and is constantly testing new strategies. When I ask Laughton about what lies ahead for the company’s digital strategy, she tells me there is no digital strategy: there is only a customer strategy.
“We start with the customer need,” says Laughton. “We don’t start with technology. We’ll look at the need and ask, is there a role that technology or innovation can play to address this? For example, we don’t have an AI [artificial intelligence] strategy. We have experiences that we’re designing to meet consumer needs that may happen to use AI technology. That’s the way we’ve got to think about it. We’re really careful that we’re not adding technology for the sake of introducing something new and shiny.”
Excerpted with permission from Winning Her Business: How to Transform the Customer Experience for the World’s Most Powerful Consumer by Bridget Brennan, copyright Bridget Brennan.