chatbots


At Sephora, we want to give each of our clients an innovative and intuitive experience, no matter how they choose to interact with beauty. This is why our digital presence is rooted in innovation, with trailblazing features that aid the client on their beauty journey, like our Sephora Virtual Artist on our mobile app. It’s also why we built a bot earlier this year on Kik, a chat app that’s popular among U.S. teens.

Chat is a rapidly growing platform, ushering in the concept of conversational commerce — a new way in which content and the shopping experience converge. More than 1.4 billion people used a chat app in 2015 and collectively, more people are using the top four chat apps than the top four social media apps. Chat isn’t what’s next. It’s here.

We were the first beauty brand, and one of the first major retailers, to build a chatbot on Kik, which we released in the weeks leading up to the launch of their Bot Shop launch in April. Although we’re still in an experimental phase in which our bot strategy is best described as “test, learn and iterate,” we’ve gained some valuable insights on the ways in which chatbots facilitate engagement. Here’s a brief look at some of those learnings.

Bots are not that complicated (at least, they shouldn’t be)

In creating our chatbot, we worked closely with the retail team at Kik, who encouraged us to proceed with a single objective in mind. For us, that objective was to reach a younger demographic with an experience that’s engaging and educational. With our bot, we set out to help that younger client become acquainted with Sephora on their terms, in a conversational manner that feels natural to them in a place where they’re already spending time.

They’re a different kind of social

What works on Facebook or Instagram isn’t going to work in a bot, and that’s due, in large part, to the intimate nature of chat. Think about your own messaging habits, on iMessage or in other apps. Who are you talking to? It’s almost certainly a thoughtful list of close friends, colleagues and family.

The same is true for those using chat apps to communicate, and now, thanks to chatbots, brands can be a part of that exclusive contact list. But because the user must choose to have a brand on her list in order for it to be there, that presence is all the more meaningful, because rather than waiting for content on their feed, they are requesting to engage with customized brand content they want and need in the moment.

On the flip side, a bot enables a brand to have a two-way exchange — with any user who invites one. Compare that to a conventional social setting: although brands and consumers can communicate one-on-one on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, two-way, personalized conversations are not possible or available for the user on-demand, 24-7.

They thrive on experimentation

We’re always looking to connect with clients in innovative and unexpected ways, which is why we were the first brand to hold a sweepstakes on Kik. With the sweepstakes being a first, both for us and for Kik, we had no way of predicting the level of engagement we would get from it.

We were amazed at the level of engagement, which was significantly higher than standard contest metrics on social platforms. We were also thrilled that the sweepstakes enabled us to collect actionable insight from our users, all while giving them a fun and rewarding experience.

Continuing our “test, learn and iterate” approach, we offered our clients a chance to score one of 100 deluxe samples from Benefit Cosmetics. Instead of offering these samples as a giveaway or a sweepstakes prize, we held an auction, in which users placed bids using Kik Points. (Kik Points is a digital rewards program in which users earn points by opting to perform tasks, such as watching video ads.) Typically, users redeem these points for virtual goods, like stickers. This auction marked the first opportunity for Kik users to put them toward a physical good. Strong results surpassed all of our expectations generating high bids and extremely active engagement.

What’s next?

We’re thrilled to be one of the first brands to have built a branded chatbot on Kik, and even happier at the depth of engagement it’s driven. We have steadily infused our bot with newness — fresh content and first-to-market experiences — and will continue to do so.

Clearly, there’s no “playbook” for bots just yet, but we’re hopeful that by experimenting, learning and iterating, we will continue to uncover the potential in chat and inspire the rest of the industry while doing so.

Bindu Shah is vice president of digital marketing at Sephora.

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