Sephora’s Julie Bornstein on “Owning Digital Beauty”

I recently visited Sephora’s website to look for a gift for my mom, having no idea what I might buy. Through simple filtering options coupled with relevant product information supported by reviews, I was quickly able to pare down gift ideas to purchase something that fit all of my expectations for a gift and more. Having recently re-launched their website to facilitate the customer experience, it was quite refreshing to do business through the website where I was not only guided through the gift buying process, but at the same time educated and entertained.

Now compare this with a recent in-store visit to the Mac makeup counter at my local mall. When my favorite face makeup ran out, I decided to make a special trip to the makeup counter to pick up a refill of Mineralize, only to learn that the product had been discontinued. When I asked why, the salesperson said she had no idea, she had no warning that it was going to be discontinued, and hadn’t heard whether or not it would ever be restocked. When I asked what I could replace it with that was similar, she suggested a completely different type of face makeup that, when coupled with a “special” brightener would mimic the look and feel of the previous type of face makeup. I soon realized I was walking out of the store paying nearly $70 for something watery and thin as opposed to the twenty-something I had expected to spend for the richer feeling, smoother product I’d come to love. After stewing about it for a few minutes, I decided to return the face makeup all together and was treated quite rudely.

So what did I do? I hit the web. First, I asked a few of my closest friends through email or texting what their favorite face makeups were. Next, I Googled “replacements for Mac Mineralize” on my iPhone only to find dozens of relevant blogs dedicated to beauty in general, or makeup in particular. Remembering my experience earlier in the week, I decided to revisit Sephora. I searched “Mineralize.” Instead of “no search results found” I immediately received three suggestions, and over 1,400 reviews on the first product that was returned in the search results. Wha la.

Sephora: Crafting a Holistic Customer Experience

According to Julie Bornstein, SVP of Digital at Sephora, my experience mirrors exactly the top two reasons why women choose to purchase beauty products: 1) interaction with a product, followed by 2) recommendations from friends. For more detail about how Sephora is keeping up with the needs and wants of their customers from the research phase, to the in-store experience, through to the purchase, watch this recent Brian Solis interview with Bornstein:

Sephora understands how to capitalize on the entire customer experience whether that be relaunching their website to optimize product search through intelligent filtering options, recognizing the need for a seamless shopping experience (between time spent online, via mobile devices and in-store), optimizing their digital strategy to facilitate the buying process, utilizing social media as a channel for customer service, or investing in the continuing education of their in-store employees.

In the video, Bornstein sheds light on how the company is leading the charge in terms of holistically optimizing their brand for customers. She states:

For us, digital is a means to enable the customer experience with beauty and we really see ourselves as the owners of digital beauty and that we have this huge community. We really are very focused on (the question of) how do you look at all the trends that are going on and make sure we’re there for our customer wherever she wants to be … whether she wants to be on her phone because she’s buying, or because she’s in a store and she wants to scan a product and read the reviews so she can see what other people are saying, or she is on Facebook and wants to get opinions from her friends on which is the best mascara because she’s getting married and wants a great waterproof mascara, all of that happens very naturally and for us digital is very much about facilitating it and its kind of about buying as easily as possible wherever you want. It’s about entertaining, it’s about educating, and it’s really all of those pieces that come together to make sure that its seamless and its fun for our client to interact with beauty.

For retailers who are wanting to cater to their customers more holistically, Bornstein suggests that companies first begin with a focus on making the shopping experience more fun, more efficient, and more simplified. Next, getting the right team into place and aligning passions with company goals is important. But above all, listening to the consumer should always be a focus and the basis for making decisions.

Now it’s your turn! What companies have you interacted with online that are doing an excellent job across multiple platforms? Are there any brands that may have a terrible website, but great in-store experience? Or a horrible mobile app, but great customer service? A great product, but a non-existent presence in social media? Where are you currently witnessing continuity vs. discontinuity?

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