For Sephora, digital may not be a new world, but it’s one that is continually being rediscovered.

This story first appeared in the September 26, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We have the largest beauty site for prestige beauty…and the growth of that is what funds and fuels the investment into other digital areas,” said Julie Bornstein, senior vice president of digital, who spoke about how the company has paired digital innovation with in-store services to create a robust beauty buying space, where the experiential is paramount. 

“The cornerstone of our brand — which helps inform how we’ve come about our digital strategy — is about the best product — comprehensive, but also curated — well trained, caring, objective [salespeople], interesting and fun stores that are constantly changing,” said Bornstein.


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Since joining the company five years ago, Bornstein’s focus has been “looking at digital, e-commerce, in-store and how we connect it all,” she said. “In the early days, we were guessing what people wanted, and now we have so many ways to get that instantaneous feedback on all that we’re doing. It makes our jobs harder, but it’s also much more interesting and rewarding.”

While sales are certainly a focus, Bornstein said the online space also offers “the ability to deepen customer relationships. We’ve seen the evolution of e-commerce (Sephora’s site was launched in 1999),” said Bornstein, who added that the early days of the Internet were based on information gathering more than community-building. “It has [since] become the social Web. It’s much more two-way and interactive. As opposed to getting information, it’s about relationships.”

Bornstein said a huge part of the digital puzzle for Sephora is social media, which offers consumers a virtual place to get product advice and customer service.

“We have been following what’s been going on since the beginning,” she said. “We launched Facebook and found the desire [for consumers] to talk was really compelling.”

To further capitalize on the humanizing capabilities of digital, Bornstein said has recently been redesigned and relaunched, with the goal of creating “the most intelligent Web site in the world of beauty,” with new technologies and tools to streamline — and personalize — the shopping experience.

To that end, every product available on the site is tagged with about 25 attributes, “so that no matter what you are looking for, you can filter based on that category and you can find just the right product for you.” Other updates include offering in-store pickup options, the ability to search cross-category by color and the implementation of “editorial tools,” which offer educational elements for shoppers.

Additionally, Sephora’s “leading loyalty program,” Beauty Insider, is one that provides its tens of millions of members with both online and in-store rewards. Among the benefits are free products, early access to new launches, an archive of past purchases and in-store gifts-with-purchase. “It’s been a huge win for us and the consumer,” said Bornstein.

Looking to the future, Bornstein said the brand’s focuses include expanding mobile and high-tech. One upcoming initiative she called the “single most game-changing thing to happen in the beauty space in a long time” is the Sephora Plus Pantone Color IQ Device, which scans human skin to “capture pure color” to match users with specific foundations available at Sephora. “It takes women on average seven foundations to find the perfect match,” said Bornstein, who said Color IQ allows consumers to narrow down the foundation search by choosing additional attributes, like SPF and formula type. 

“As we think about the future of our consumer and future of our brand, in our mind it’s imperative that we stay relevant and current in the use of technology and the way that we sell and drive our business,” said Bornstein. “We are here not just for a great retail experience, but to make sure it’s a lasting company that’s going to survive a long time.”