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Tech Forum: Digitizing Consumer Touchpoints at Ulta Beauty

The specialty beauty retailer combines robust data capabilities with its expertise in beauty.

Ulta Beauty, the country’s largest beauty retailer, is leading beauty’s digital charge.

At the Fairchild Media Group Tech Forum, Prama Bhatt, Ulta Beauty’s chief digital officer, spoke with Allison Collins, managing editor of WWD, about combining beauty expertise with cutting-edge technology.

Beauty shoppers’ pandemic-induced migration to digital has only cemented Ulta’s digital imperative. “The beauty enthusiast is as enthused with beauty as they have ever been,” Bhatt said. “There’s not only a focus on self expression, but focus on self care and well-being…we’re really excited to see the engagement that we have with the beauty enthusiast.”

Bhatt added that virtual try-on, for example, saw engagement multiply between seven and 12 times, and continued adoption rates are high. “What we see is for those that are engaging with those experiences, we see return,” she said.

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Quizzes and AI-powered tools have also piqued consumer interest. “Our mobile app and the digital experiences we have definitely serve our guests when they’re at home or on the go,” Bhatt said.

In-store, though, there’s still room for innovation. For the launch of Ariana Grande’s R.e.m. Beauty, Ulta leveraged oculus headsets to give consumers in-store experiences powered by technology.

“It was only in five stores, so that goal was an activation that was part-brand launch, and to really allow for immersive experiences, and we’re really pleased with the engagement,” Bhatt said.

“Just the immersiveness of the experience made it fun, and made it more like a game,” she continued. “Bringing it into our store made it feel very approachable and accessible. In terms of the experience, it was only a few minutes long.”

Those activations are largely driven by data, which Ulta mines from its rewards program — more than 37 million users strong.

“Data is a strategic asset, but it’s so much more for us — it truly is a competitive differentiator. We have this data set that goes across price points, categories and brands, and the ability for us to drive insights from mining that data helps inform everything we do, the experiences we create, ways we think about connecting,” Bhatt said.

“We continue to be a combination of data-driven, as well as linking to all the expertise we have within the beauty space, and bringing those two pieces together to hopefully continue to create differentiated experiences,” she continued.

That strategy — leaning into the experiential side of beauty via technology — extends to the metaverse, too. “We think about a more immersive space in the future, we think about how our members and guests are showing up and making sure we’re allowing for self expression as well,” Bhatt said. “You may one day be shopping at Ulta Beauty in the metaverse, or you may be leveraging your favorite products to create different personas and expressions of yourself in the digital space.”

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