Sephora: We Want Customers 'Showrooming' in Our Stores

The practice of "showrooming"—where customers visit a store and then look online to find a better price—has gotten a bad rap among retailers for taking would-be store transactions and moving them online. The executives at Sephora, however, are starting to rethink the whole showrooming practice and use it to their advantage.

Beauty shoppers in particular heavily rely on customer reviews and tend to walk the aisles of Sephora with their cell phone in hand. As a result, Sephora has revamped its mobile strategy to give the consumer what she's looking for while encouraging her to still bring her beauty treats to the cash register.

"We think the customers should use their phones in stores," said Johnna Marcus, Sephora's director of mobile and digital store marketing, at Retail's BIG Show hosted by the NRF. "Your phone is in your hand all the time, so we're using the mobile experience to transform the shopping experience."

In developing such a transformation, Sephora has emerged as a leading retailer when it comes to digital strategy. One third-of its e-commerce traffic comes from mobile and tablet devices, while its Sephora To Go app remains a huge success. Part of that success stems from the app's focus on nurturing loyalty among and providing convenience for Sephora shoppers. Participants in the company's Beauty Insider loyalty program can use the app to keep track of current store promos, past purchases, and loyalty points earned. Marcus says this has become one of the most popular features of the app, because if a customer is only a few dollars short of earning her next reward, she can update her shopping basket before she gets to the register.

"Our customers can use the app to track her Beauty Insider points, so while she's shopping, she knows how many she has and can shop accordingly," explained Marcus.

Information on past purchases is not only helpful for the consumer, but it's valuable for Sephora, too. It's not uncommon for a beauty shopper to lose track of the exact foundation shade or lipstick color purchased previously. For these types of repeat purchases, Sephora is able to intervene, look up the info at the register, and further drive that customer to make her purchase in-store.

"The Beauty Insider program helps us to understand her," said Marcus. "We then leverage the info to help her by accessing past purchases and building loyalty in the process. Personalization is baked into our loyalty model."

Another digital strategy that has worked particularly well for Sephora is a feature on the app and website called "Today's Obsession." Each day, the retailer highlights one beauty item that has been hand-picked and tested by one of its store associates. Marcus says the feature is so popular because it helps consumers who may be overwhelmed when they walk into a Sephora store to narrow down what beauty items to shop for.

As for what's next for Sephora? Location-based technology, such as Apple's iBeacon, has been popping up at retailers recently, and it just might be heading to Sephora, too.

"We aren't using location-based services yet, but we are looking at it," said Marcus.

Click here for more FierceRetail coverage from Retail's BIG Show hosted by the NRF!

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