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Rachel Yap

Digital world of retail: What we can learn from Sephora

The retail environment has evolved into a complex marketplace. With digital technology, the retail space has over the past decade transcended beyond a brick-and-mortar store to an online shop or even (a store within) a mobile app. And this digital shift has brought along numerous customer marketing touchpoints: Websites, mobile apps, social media and emails are all par for the course.

While these channels seem daunting and complex, they can be beneficial to brands once they are orchestrated into a seamless and consistent brand and shopping experience, and made easy for even the most tech-challenged customer.

The new buzzword around town catering for this seems to be omnichannel retail. It’s basically a fancy word for smart marketing. I always believe that the smartest marketing is built around the customer (who they are, what are their motivations to buy, how they are consuming information, and what they find influential in swaying their decision) and then meeting their informational and emotional needs efficiently. It’s just that now, we have a big fancy name for it.

Many brands have tried to jump onto this omnichannel retail bandwagon, but not many make the cut. So what’s the secret to omni success? Before I hazard a guess, let me confess that I’m not a strategist or even a marketer. I’m a designer. But like most of you, I’m a consumer, and my colleagues will tell you I love to shop. From a consumer and shopper’s point of view, Sephora has got the omni secret sauce right.

Sephora is a one huge retail shop. I should know, for I’m a fan (and I have a big beauty cabinet in my bathroom to show for it). Whenever I need to buy cosmetic or beauty products, my 1st response is always to check out its website. I can always find what I am looking for. Apart from serving up the product shown on my device, Sephora seems to have an alchemistic knack for serving up all the information I need to make that informed purchase: Products reviews, assurance from the community of followers across the social sites and how-to tutorials that work in unison to entice and persuade customers like me to commit to a purchase and hit the “Add to Cart” button. They know how to build a successful eCommerce engine to close a sale while providing a branded experience.

And that’s not all. Once the deal is sealed, Sephora further nurtures that relationship by seducing us with their My Beauty Bag and Beauty Insider programmes. Here we are given personal tutorials and counsel on purchased products. It’s no wonder that we are always on the lookout for emails and messages from Sephora. It’s not just about making a sale. They know what I need after I’ve made the purchase, what my style is, and what my likes are. And I love brands that care and make the effort. Never mind that it’s calculated upsell (hey, I did say I’m a consumer.)

Another key point to their success is how Sephora makes it oh so extremely convenient for girls like me to gain access to them. You can be sure they are available across all digital platforms. So even if I need last min. advice on achieving that perfect look for a big event tomorrow, Sephora is the BFF who is always there to provide me with the help I need. They’re so, yep, omni.

Here’s just how omni they are in meeting me at my every point of need–informational and emotional.

So what of its brick-and-mortar store? In Oct 2015, Sephora extended its digital reign by launching its 1st Sephora Flash boutique in France. This brings the world of high-tech digital retail experience to a whole new level and blurs the boundaries between physical and online stores even further.

At Sephora Flash, you can enter the (physical) boutique and be greeted by a tiny robot, who gives you a card that serves as your virtual shopping cart. Fragrance testers, for instance, come with NFC (Near Field Communication), which triggers product information to be shown on tablets, installed by the counters, to drive product awareness and education.

Tiny floorspace? Not a problem. To borrow an old tagline from the Yellow Pages (remember them?), you don’t have to walk around much to shop…. You can literally let your fingers do the shopping. If the store does not have the desired product, shoppers can browse a digital catalogue of more than 14,000 products from 150 brands, and add products into their shopping cart via digital tags. They can pay either online or at the check-out counter, and then have their products delivered to their homes or pick it up in-store.

So why does Sephora go to such great lengths? Because they understand that the customer today expects a relevant and personalised experience to be delivered seamlessly through merging the physical and digital spaces. It’s how they live and how they shop.

And how is this done? By simply knowing the customer’s path to purchase, what their needs are and where to meet them at their points of need. Omnichannel marketing is done right when retailers understand and take on customers’ perspectives and meet them at the right point and time. And for that reason I will always click through Sephora’s emails to get the latest information for my next beauty buy.