LVMH’s Sephora has worked hard this year to wed its in-store and e-commerce properties to create a more seamless and unified shopping visit for the customer. The goal? A full-fledged omnichannel experience.
Leading this charge has been Mary Beth Laughton, who became executive vice president of U.S. omnichannel retail at Sephora in October 2017. It all started in January 2018 when Sephora debuted its Store Companion app, which serves as an in-store shopping companion as soon as the customer enters the store; it puts past purchase information and personalized product recommendations at their fingertips. More recently, the beauty retailer partnered with Google to bring the Google Assistant and Sephora’s YouTube content together on the Google Home Hub voice assistant device.
“I have been in this role for a little over a year, and pulling our stores and digital groups together with our consumer at the center has been our biggest accomplishment,” she said. “The whole philosophy starts with doing what is right for the consumer and making easy, personalized experiences for her across our channels.”
Speaking with Glossy, she shared her thoughts on where the retail landscape is headed, how digital experiences are fueling in-store innovation and why personalization is the future of beauty.
How has Sephora’s integration of the in-store experience and digital helped both sides of the business?
In today’s retail environment, “omnitude,” or approaching everything from the omnichannel perspective, is really critical because our consumer has high expectations. We cannot just deliver, but we need to over-deliver and make it really great for her. We want to serve the client the best way we can, regardless of where she is shopping with us.
How is the Sephora customer shopping?
Mobile is now at the center of everyone’s lives, so that is driving new consumer behavior. Our consumer starts with researching at home or on the bus on her way to work on our app. Then, oftentimes, clients do make their first purchase in brick-and-mortar stores. We see a mixture, though: Some shoppers only shop with us in the physical setting, while others see the store as an introduction — where she gets familiar with our brand — and then do all of their shopping online.
What technology has Sephora invested in this year?
A great example is our Sephora Virtual Artist franchise, which is our augmented reality application. We started that on our mobile web and app properties, but we have added more features. You can snap and try, where you can virtually try anyone’s look by uploading an image of it. Now we have brought all of this into our stores, as well: Customers can see Virtual Artists and “try on” a bunch of Sephora Collection products. It is now in 350 stores, which is a huge way we brought digital into the physical.
How have you linked the physical and online experiences?
We launched Happening at Sephora, which is a cross-channel initiative. It is a digital hub that showcases everything happening in our physical stores, like events, classes, services and brand launches. We are showing it online and through digital marketing to then drive traffic back into physical retail environments. And then, of course, when she is in the store, there are a lot of digital tools that draw back to that experience.
Are your store associates being trained on more digital tools?
Our Beauty Advisors know the best about beauty, and they now have a mobile phone in-store that has an application allowing them to interact with customers as if they were on digital. Our Advisors can capture if a client is having a makeover done in-store and all the products used on her, and then send her an email after the service, so [the customer] can re-engage digitally when she gets home and buy a few more of the products. It is about creating that personalized touch across all our channels.
How did your recent partnership with Google Home come about?
When you think about the history of retail, brick and mortar ruled the world. Then we had this internet age, then we had this mobile explosion, and we really do feel like we are entering this new phase of what we call distributive commerce — this idea that customers want to increasingly engage with brands and retailers in the same way they engage with their friends. Chat, text, social and voice assistance are where customers are spending their time, especially this younger generation. It is important for us to be a leader in these channels. The partnership with Google was a great one because we know beauty is visual; we were glad to hear that they were launching something with a visual component. A consumer can now access thousands of YouTube videos our Beauty Advisors have recorded and dive headfirst into whatever technique or issue they are dealing with in the comfort of their own home.
Personalization is an increasingly important trend in beauty. What are Sephora’s plans there?
Consumers are expecting personalized experiences; they expect that Sephora knows who they are and not just that they recognize them when they are online, but wherever they are interacting with Sephora. We have approached our strategy in a couple of different ways. One is more foundational: CRM marketing. If a customer abandons their cart, we are going to send them a follow-up email afterward — but that is what everyone is doing. What is more interesting is when we are able to capture unique and special data, like when we are able to use our Color IQ device to capture a customer’s skin tone in our physical stores. Then we can send her an email when she leaves with her Color IQ number and products, so she can shop online easily and then also send her mobile push messages with complimentary products for a whole look. There is a real opportunity there. The future is a very personal, in-person interaction that turns into a just-as-personal digital interaction, and vice versa.