Inside Sephora’s Mobile Strategy

Sephora was a fairly late adopter to mobile, only starting in 2010.

Now, less than three years later one-third of all traffic to the Sephora website is from mobile and tablet devices. Utility is at the core of Sephora’s mobile strategy, with the company’s apps and mobile Web site touting features like 2D barcode scanning to connect consumers to product reviews and help them make a purchase decision while on the go.

“We don’t think about it in terms of apps or Web, or mobile or tablet,” said Johnna Marcus, director of mobile and digital store marketing for Sephora, who spoke at Mobile Marketer’s Mobile FirstLook: Strategy 2013 conference. “We don’t like to think in silos. We think of the customer experience and then decide on the best technology that supports that experience.”

For Sephora, iOS is the technology of choice for both it’s mobile and tablet app. The apps are two very different experiences, with the mobile app focusing on the customer on the go or in the store. It has features like barcode scanning, where consumers could scan the 2D code on a product in-store to pull up ratings and reviews and other product-related information. The iPad app is a very different experience. It has a lot of Sephora’s branded content within it, with articles on beauty trends that are meant to inspire a purchase. One article, for example, is all about sapphire being 2013’s color of the year. There are links to Sephora products that come in sapphire.

Both the app for iPhone and iPad are targeted at Sephora’s most loyal customers, who can sync their Beauty Insider loyalty accounts to the app. This sync is the key to Sephora’s fluid approach to customer experience, meaning a person could research online and add a few items to their wish list and then access their account from their iPhone app.

“The Sephora customer’s purchase decision is anything but linear, moving in and out of a device based on what’s most convenient for her at the time,” Marcus said. “Beauty Insider is the glue so she can move between channels seamlessly.”

According to Google, 85 percent of people shop for a gift on one device and then make their purchase on another. To do so, 45 percent will leave an item in the virtual shopping cart, 45 percent will send themselves an email or link, and 32 percent will conduct a new search on a new device. That’s why Sephora made sure that its online and offline shopping experiences were more seamless during the 2012 holiday season than ever before, across pricing, functionality and promotions.

Sephora customers were shopping and converting on the go in December. Mobile orders were up 167 percent year over year and traffic to mobile was up 75 percent. That’s because Sephora did a lot to promote its mobile features. For example it blasted its SMS database to let them know that they could port their Beauty Insider card to Apple’s Passbook to instantly view their points and redeem them in-store. Since its launch on Passbook, Sephora has had more than 1.1 million app downloads. That’s most likely because of the app’s iTunes ranking due to featured placements for Passbook apps. As a result, Sephora has been able to get 400,000 new Beauty Insider sign-ups, with a significant portion signing up through the iOS apps.

In addition to promoting its mobile features via SMS, Sephora used push messaging via the iPhone and iPad apps to alert users about holiday shopping events and product launches. To make the Sephora gift-buyer’s life easier, the company had “Endless Aisles” in-store. It was a poster placed in stores with 11 gift ideas. Gift seekers could scan the QR code for a specific product to purchase and ship it directly to the recipient.

Gift cards are a big trend too. Earlier in 2012, Sephora rolled out gift cards across mobile and online. It then worked with Apple to let users suck the digital card right into Passbook. To take it a step further, for the holidays, consumers were able to take their physical gift cards and add them to Passbook as well. No more bulky wallets or worrying about forgetting about a gift card or losing it. Sephora used push messaging to let its Passbook users know about sales and promotions.

As you can see, everything that Sephora does in mobile rests its laurels on making the customer’s life easier. And so far it’s been working for Sephora, who has been recognized as a leader in mobile. The retailer gets it, plain and simple.

“Mobile and the physical stores are merging,” Marcus said. “Sephora’s priority for 2013 is to continue to evolve our mobile capabilities to enhance our client experience in areas like Passbook, mobile gifts, our apps and new innovations.”

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