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Digital Download: Sephora Dials Into Community

The Beauty Insider Community will have a live chat feature on product pages.

All brands and retailers want to establish a dialogue with their customers — but Sephora wants to promote one among themselves.

Today will see the launch of a new platform, the Beauty Insider Community, with which Sephora encourages communication between its fans. The digital experience is now live on Sephora’s app and, with additional features rolling out Aug. 22.

The retailer already has maintained several community platforms on to date — from BeautyTalk to Beauty Board and ratings and reviews — but this is the first time community-centric initiatives will be aggregated in one place, according to Mary Beth Laughton, Sephora’s senior vice president of digital. Additional features include Beauty Matches, which filters photos and reviews by users and connects those who share similar beauty traits, and a Live Community Chat that will enable real-time input on products.

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“We know our clients crave outlets and experiences that give her the deeper personal connections, and they want to be next to people they feel are like them and share their passion for beauty. We know they’re increasingly looking to their peers and people like them and this just plays into that,” Laughton said.

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She explained that the Beauty Insider Community is designed to fuel engagement via five features: the Live Community Chat mentioned above, Profile, Groups, Gallery and Conversations. User profiles contain all relevant information about a customer, past purchases and a beauty profile; Groups are destinations (there are more than 40 groups so far) where clients can join to discover content tailored to a specific top from Sensitive Skin to Makeup is Life; the Gallery is filled with photos and videos posted by users that can be tagged so others can purchase and a general Conversations area aggregates messages from groups.

“They all encourage engagement but in different ways, and there are connection points between some of the elements. It’s easy to navigate back and forth between them so they don’t feel like silos,” Laughton said, adding that Fueling conversation among consumers — both in real time and through messaging — is at the core of this program.

She pointed out that the platform is only accessible to members of the retailer’s loyalty Beauty Insiders program. She declined to say how many members the program has, but she’s hopeful that the notion of a cohesive community online will encourage additional clients to sign up.

The community is just the latest in an ongoing stream of digital programs introduced by Sephora. On March 30, the retailer opened its largest store in North America on 34th Street in New York, an 11,300-square-foot space serving up a handful of digital innovations. These include a Moisture Meter that measures the moisture in one’s skin to make for better skin-care recommendations, and “Tap and Try,” which lets customers “try on” any lipstick shade virtually in-store. On July 6, the augmented reality app, Sephora Virtual Artist, saw the addition of False Lash Try-On, and on July 21, Sephora opened its most digitally enhanced store to date, Sephora Studio, on Newbury Street in Boston.

“One of the main reasons we’re doing this is to drive emotional connections with clients and personal connections with them in the long term. But it does allow us to learn a lot about our clients and help better personalize their experience. We can then tailor our services to her in the future because we know her better. That’s one piece,” Laughton said.

Another piece is culling the feedback from the real-time dialogue so the retailer can react to what clients want at a faster pace.

Of all the features, Laughton called the soon-to-launch community chat the most innovative because it will allow for a chat between consumers right on the product page. Every product page has the option to ask questions and get instant responses from peers, and next year, input from sales associates will be integrated.

“We really want their engagement and their product recommendations for clients — they’re such an amazing source of knowledge. We would love for them to be interacting with our clients as they would in-store,” Laughton said. “We want them to be involved in the conversations…and be an active member of the community. People will recognize them as our cast members [sales associates].”

This element also has the potential to have the greatest impact on conversion. For a client who might be unsure about a product, getting a final push from a fellow beauty consumer could be the deciding factor that gets them to buy.

In the month since the Beauty Insider Community soft launched, Laughton said the conversation section — where users can “talk” back and forth — has become the most popular (Skincare Aware is the number-one group). For her, it speaks to a broader idea that people are seeking personal connections — and want to do more than just shop when they interact with a brand.

“We always think about an omnichannel experience when we design anything. We know that she’s constantly bouncing back and forth between physical and digital. If she’s starting online with this community — maybe she wants to learn how to get a smoky eye and she can ask her community and get tips — but maybe she wants to physically try it on. It’s a natural progression into store — and we encourage that,” Laughton said.