Contouring how-to videos? Done. Instruments that can prescribe the best possible foundations and lipsticks? Check. It’s all in a day’s work for Bridget Dolan, vice president of Sephora’s Innovation Lab.
“The reality is that we are at a moment in time,” said Dolan during a high-energy presentation. “Soon, this is going to be what marketing is, and we’re all going to think mobile first.”
Dolan, a 15-year veteran of Sephora, spoke about the retailer’s Innovation Lab and its goals. “Our mantra is to think big, take risks, test fast and rapidly iterate,” she said. “The idea is to create a place for our team to come together with others to inspire the company culture, the DNA of really being true innovators.”
Dolan noted that her team “gets in the kitchen” with other companies — “the Googles and Apples of the world, so that we make sure we’re first to market with the things they’re cooking up.”
That includes augmented reality, a concept Dolan kept her eye on for six years before pulling the trigger. “The wi-fi in my stores was good enough, and it’s not crazy anymore to watch a video on your phone. All the pieces had to be in place. We are so close to having everything lined up to have immersive technology being part of our day-to-day life. And we need to make sure that we’re ready when these things break.”
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Dolan identified three emerging trends: digital storytelling, immediate gratification and edutainment.
“Part of being in the luxury business is that everyone has a story,” said Dolan. “If we’re not sharing them with our clients, how can they choose the brand? Clients are smarter and savvier than ever, and they have access to everything. We need to bring the stories to life. That translates to sales. Augmented reality can help her choose her own adventure.”
The second trend is immediate gratification. “Patience is a waste of time,” she said. “People are trained to want immediate access to everything these days. Why is that going to be any different for shopping?” One of the services Sephora offers on that front is flash shipping, she said — unlimited two-day shipping for $10 a year, and free to Sephora’s best clients. “It’s increasing the frequency with which she shops,” said Dolan.
So are technologies in store, such as Sephora’s Lip IQ, which suggests lip colors tailored to customers’ coloring; Color IQ, which does the same for foundation, and dry scent technology, which allows clients to smell fragrances without spraying themselves with it. As well, the retailer has just launched Sephora Virtual Artist, which allows customers to virtually try on 3,500 different lip shades. The suggestions can be shared via social media, as well.
Number three? What Dolan calls edutainment — a mash-up of education and entertainment. “The more we teach our clients, the more engaged she will be,” said Dolan. “We’ve found that 80 percent of our clients wish they knew more about beauty.” In response, Sephora has introduced YouTube videos and even a contouring app that instructs users how to apply the products on her own face, from an uploaded selfie. “You’ll see us doing that more and more,” she said. “It grows the category, and the whole beauty industry rises.” Next up, in March, will be an interactive game that teaches clients how to use color-correcting products, she said.