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What Sephora Can Teach You About Mobile Retail

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, the unofficial start of a long weekend of love and romance. Ladies worldwide will want to look their best—whether they’re in a relationship or not.

Fortunately, we live in an age where it’s easier than ever to access your favorite shade of NARS lipstick or signature Chanel perfume. Here's an example: Sephora, one of the world's largest beauty and cosmetics retailer, is leading the way with a mobile strategy that took off with the introduction of Apple’s Passbook in the fall of 2012. And Sephora isn't slowing down anytime soon.

In fact, Sephora is fast becoming a big-brand pioneer when it comes to using a strong mobile strategy to lift user engagement and drive sales from its increasingly loyal customer base. Here's what you can learn from it:

Marketing to Multiscreeners

As one of the first big brands to launch with Passbook, Sephora gained 400,000 new “Beauty Insiders,” or loyal customers, in just 90 days. Today, a third of all traffic to the Sephora website is from mobile devices, and mobile orders were up 167 percent in 2012. These impressive numbers are the direct result of understanding how its customers shop.

The beauty brand is mastering the integration of all screens to engage the consumer--on- and offline. Take a look at Sephora's mobile and tablet stats:

At the January 2013 Mobile FirstLook conference, we saw a presentation by Johnna Marcus, Sephora’s director of mobile and digital store marketing. Marcus, unlike many old-school marketing executives, knows that today’s consumers rarely make linear purchasing decisions: We want information whenever we want it, on whatever device is convenient.

Google confirms that 85 percent of us shop for items on one device and make purchases on another. We live in a multiscreen world, and marketers who don’t recognize this will be looking for love in all the wrong places. As Marcus put it, Sephora is in mobile “because that's where our customers shop."

The “glue” that holds Sephora’s mobile strategy together, according to Marcus, is the syncing of Beauty Insider and gift cards with Apple’s Passbook. Without more plastic cards to misplace or account numbers to remember, purchasing power is always in every device. And once a customer logs in, Sephora knows “who they are, what’s in their baskets, and their past purchases―across every channel.” In the multiscreen world, that is key.

Smartphone as Sales Associate

Another reality Sephora understands is the use of smartphones as in-store “personal shoppers.” According to Google/OTX, 70 percent of smartphone owners use them while shopping.

With device in hand, shoppers in any of Sephora’s 1,750 points-of-sale can find the hottest products, recall past purchases and scan bar codes for reviews. They can even buy items that the stores don’t carry; all they need to do is scan a QR code to order and ship recommended items.

“The idea of ‘endless aisle’ means you don’t have to lose inventory due to lack of physical space,” says Marcus. “This is another example of how mobile and stores are really merging.”

Mobile on the Rise

According to eMarketer, consumers will use their smartphones and tablets to buy $37.44 billion worth of retail goods in 2013, up from $23.72 billion in 2012. And since Sephora is a pioneer in marketing in this emerging mobile landscape, many big brands will watch closely as Sephora evolves its mobile capabilities to reach even more women who want to look good.

The stakes are high. A survey of 3,000 women conducted by Superdrug asserts that women, on average, spend $13,000 on makeup in our lifetimes. Women tend to buy more in a bad economy—not because a tube of lipstick is cheaper than a Prada bag, but because apparently we’re hard-wired to want to attract more mates when times are tough. Sarah Hill, an assistant professor of psychology at Texas Christian University, found that "college-age women, when primed with news of economic instability, reported an increased desire to buy attractiveness-enhancing goods,” like makeup, clothes and accessories. Good times or bad, I'm sure we'll all have our mobile phones to shop. ;)

Now, I know this blog post is heavily skewed toward female consumers but I'm using Sephora as an example of how some innovative big brands are implementing a mobile-first strategy. Whether you're selling lipstick or motorcycles (happy, male readers?!), if you don't have a solid mobile plan, you could quickly find yourself left in the m-commerce dust.

About the Author
Catherine Mylinh leads Upsight, Inc.'s New Markets business unit, which is responsible for the company's development and growth in new verticals. Upsight's comprehensive analytics and marketing platform allows app developers to track user behavior, decide what it means and take immediate action.

Catherine has worked in both B2B and B2C tech spaces, where she has successfully led global product launches and spearheaded high-performing, metrics-driven brand and demand generation programs, building millions of dollars in pipeline and closed-won deals for several publicly traded companies.

Prior to her move back to tech (she started as a programmer!), Catherine was a news anchor for NBC and CBS stations throughout the country. In 2006, Catherine was the lead reporter for coverage in which she and her news team earned an Emmy Award for Best Daytime Newscast. She has also been the recipient of several Associated Press Awards for reporting. Catherine's broadcast career began in San Francisco, the country's fifth largest TV market, where she covered the Bay Area’s business and tech sectors. After years of traveling and working in various news markets, her broadcast career came full circle: Catherine returned to the Bay Area's NBC O&O station, where she anchored her last newscast.

Catherine studied journalism, math and computer science.

> Connect: linkedin.com/catherinemylinh
> Tweet: @cat_mylinh

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