Sephora's new retail stores will take cues from YouTube

Sephora’s new in-store retail model puts a real-life spin on makeup tutorial videos, which have grown massively popular on YouTube.

The beauty retailer already prominently places video how-tos in its mobile and online stores, and now, Sephora’s retail stores will bridge the gap between digital demonstrations and the in-store visit.

In its new San Francisco store, opening this Friday, Sephora has designated stations called the “Beauty Workshop,” where customers can watch video tutorials, take a class with a Sephora team member, and share content online. It’s the center of the new store’s design, and up to 12 customers at a time can sit down to watch videos, practice with new products and learn from Sephora’s team members.

The workshop helps enrich the experience for the customer who wants to sample the product. For Sephora, it’s where the company can turn buzzing digital trends in the beauty world into moments that both enable education and drive conversion. Sephora president and CEO Calvin McDonald, for example, pointed to contouring (which is the art of using bronzer, concealer and highlighter to create a sculpted foundation look) as a major makeup obsession that became a prime opportunity for Sephora’s expertise.

“People were sitting on the sidelines, watching other people’s contouring videos, not knowing how to do it themselves,” said McDonald. Sephora looked to social media to realize that people wanted to contour, but had no idea how to do it themselves. And most people won’t invest in buying the product — contouring requires a whole crew of makeup items and brushes — until they feel confident they can create a look at home.

The Beauty Workshop.
The Beauty Workshop.

“That’s where Sephora comes into play,” said McDonald. “When you demystify, people feel empowered to buy. This translates into her being more engaged in beauty, and that translates into her buying more items.”

Also featured alongside the workshop is Sephora’s digital Beauty Board, a shoppable screen that plays user-generated content coinciding with current trends. Visitors who sit down at the station can watch the looks go by for inspiration, and then pick up the exact products used. Customers can also share their beauty routines and accompanying products to stream on the board. A “People Like Me” search function filters the content stream to show specific skin tones, hair textures and more.

“It’s not digital for the sake of digital,” said McDonald. “It’s a combination of products, services and teachable moments that support our customers’ missions.”

More features in the new San Francisco store include fragrance identifier InstaScent (previously called Poof) that spritzes raw notes of a perfume to help customers decide which defining scent they’re most attracted to (McDonald noted that fragrance is one of Sephora’s under-performing categories). Digital Trend Tables show which online products are most popular and best-selling in real time.

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According to Deborah Yeh, Sephora’s svp of marketing, it’s about balancing the customer who’s there for the experience, and the one who’s there simply to run in and out for a purchase.

“Our [salespeople] can identify which customer is there to learn and which is there to get in and out,” said Yeh. “Technology can’t do that as elegantly, but we’re getting there.”