, the Web site of the perfumery chain that bills itself as the beauty authority, is now entertaining other opinions.

The site has been updated to include a ratings and review section, complete with a five-star system.

This story first appeared in the September 4, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In addition to customers, Sephora staffers also can recommend their picks among the products, and brands can weigh in, mostly in answering questions in the Q&A section.

“For us, it’s giving the client as much access to information, and more access to our experts and employees,” said Allison Slater, vice president of retail marketing at the San Francisco-based Sephora.

“This is an extension of the in-store experience,” added Bridget Dolan, vice president of direct marketing. She was referring to the fact that sales associates are trained to answer questions about the whole range of brands. Both executives stress that opinions provided by customers, staffers and brands are clearly identified as such to ensure transparency.

On Aug. 28, the new feature went live on the Web site and, according to Dolan, thousands of reviews have popped up and hundreds of questions remain unanswered.

Customers can write reviews for all 14,000 items offered on the Web site with the added feature of video enhancement. Reviewers can attach two pictures to show the before-and-after effect, plus a five-minute video to demonstrate application techniques.

In addition, executives decided to provide context for the opinions. Reviewers are asked pertinent questions about themselves, such as hair and skin type and where they live to give an idea of climate. “If I know I have dry skin, I look for other people who have dry skin because their review is more relevant to me,” said Dolan.

Slater noted that the need to provide more information arose out of the retailer’s Best of Sephora event, in which customers vote for the best products in each of 30 product categories. “People can see the bestsellers and read the reasons why they are or why they are not,” Dolan noted.

One extra feature is a quickie guide. At the top of each review, after the heading “Quick Take,” are a few key words characterizing the product. For instance, of the 49 reviews attracted by Urban Decay’s $16 Eyeshadow Primer Potion, 48 of them used the term “crease resistant” and 34 included the word “creamy.”

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