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When Sephora Met Apple

Posted by Angela Costa on Jul 12, 2019 1:57:30 PM

Before I sold tech, I sold lipstick.

In June of 2011, I joined the Sephora family at their Chestnut St. location in Philadelphia. I was excited to come on board with such an innovative retailer. Prior to Sephora, I had spent my career in the department store drag (*).

I had heard a lot about Sephora from my clients, but up until my first interview I had never stepped inside one. It was like nothing I had ever seen. The droves of people coming through the doors and lines so long at the registers they needed the velvet ropes (stanchions) for trafficking - a stark contrast to the barren, department store aisles I had come from. It was exciting to be affiliated with such an innovative company.

The Chestnut St. location was a top producing store. During the holiday season, store sales averaged more than $100,000 per day. For some perspective, the average cost of a tube of lipstick is $18, which means that slightly more than 5000 lipsticks were being sold over a 12-hour period (>400/hr) Do you have any idea what goes into a lipstick sale?!

First, you gotta prep them. Next, to ensure the customer doesn’t wind up looking like Heath Ledger’s “Joker” character in The Dark Knight, you gotta find a liner because they didn’t grab one. Then to close the sale, an Oscar-winning performance is required emphasizing how that shade of red is the ‘perfect choice’ and that -yes!- they absolutely need the liner to achieve the same outcome at home.

Suffice to say, it’s a high touch sell cycle.

Sephora, being a highly innovative company, developed a strategy around technology to elevate their internal and external client experience. I hired on just as they launched their strategy of deploying the new technologies in stores.

At that time, this was my first venture into “applied IT” as a means of improved CX (customer experience) and business process streamlining. It was here, with Sephora, that I was introduced to many of the vendors I work with today. What I didn’t realize then was that while I was building my beauty career, I was starting my love affair with technology.

And it all started with an iPad…

Here are three-ways Sephora changed the game using technology:

Mobile POS

Okay, this may not seem like a big thing to you, but in 2011 when we first got them, it was a pretty cutting-edge thing.

In October of 2011, Sephora’s held its annual holiday planning meeting. It was there that they unveiled this new cool tool called the “mPOS.” Immediately, management’s excitement was met with skepticism and I, admittedly, was among the skeptics - a member of the insurgency. I didn’t get it. It looked like a simple iPad in a clunky case; one more thing on my list of things carry around and deal with!

But leadership was consistent… Resistance was futile.

Every touch base began with a plug for the tool before being assigned to some unenthused cast member. Those first couple weeks were filled with a lot of product education - like, you have to charge them.

Then came Black Friday. Lines were literally out the door. Then, amidst the peak of frenzy, someone whipped out their mPOS and shouted out, “I can take the next client in line paying with a card!” Soon the rest of us joined in and four registers went to eight. Lines quickly vanished and customers were happy at checkout. For the first time we saw the potential of the mPOS. Once adopted into our daily routines, the results spoke for themselves. Customer surveys improved, y/y results saw double digit growth and our store had one of the highest conversion rates in the company. The concept was validated proven and the next holiday season every store had the mPOS.



The following year in 2012, Sephora introduced the Color IQ. If you thought selling lipstick sounded like a hassle, foundation was worse. Accurate foundation matching takes years to master and even pros can mess up. A bad foundation match is the leading cause of returns for any cosmetic retailer.

As if scripted, the insurgency started right on queue. No one wanted to use it. They saw it as an affront to their professional skills and capabilities. That first week, the artists and iPads were like oil to water.. Store leadership had already learned this lesson from the mPoS and came fully prepared as change managers, ready to dispel any concerns or misperceptions.

As before, the ColorIQ was covered in every daily assignment meeting, every 1:1, and with every customer they encountered. It took about two weeks before the resistance caved:  The catalyst was a busy Friday and a very difficult client (and one we all knew). She came in weekly to exchange her foundation for one that was the “right color” (newsflash, they were all the right color!). Our lead artist (MCB), grabbed the ColorIQ, followed the instructions and viola; the magic little tablet spit our every color she was in the store. MCB was done and the customer had recommendations she couldn’t argue with.

Solution Provider Takeaway: End-User Adoption is Key to Success.

It doesn’t matter how great the technology is if no one uses it. The mPOS and the ColorIQ could have easily failed if it was left up to the will of the line of business (LOB) user.  Sephora realized it was a huge financial undertaking that could either make or break the upcoming year, but not all end users do. Make it a point to discuss LOB adoption strategies when building your solutions. There is a good chance the client hasn’t even considered it. You’ll look like a rock star and your clients will see a quicker ROI, making them inclined to come back with new problems to solve. This valuable service could be the difference between you and just another box pusher.

As for the technology used, it became a huge differentiator for Sephora; a win-win for the company and the customer. Tech Data represents all major technology vendors and with business partners that represent nearly every market vertical (including retail), the company has a depth of expertise and solutions for every business in every market, large or small.  If you need help navigating the growing sea of technology amidst the expanse of digital transformation contact us, we can help. Visit our website at https://www.TechData.com.

About the Author

Angela joined Tech Data in 2014 having spent just shy of a decade in cosmetic retail industry. A relative novice to the IT industry she began her career in a sales support role. She quickly found her experience in sales training and retail management gave her a unique perspective on the IT sell cycle. Having line of business experience with mobile technology she joined mobility solutions in 2016 focusing on the ruggedized mobility space. In 2017, she became part of new team within end point who focuses on outcome-based sales. Since then, she has helped partners transform their business from a transactional model to solutions based, by focusing on line of business user experience, adoption, and desired end results.


(*) If you don’t know anything about Sephora, or the cosmetics industry in general, let me catch you up to speed (also call me, everyone needs skin care. Yes! Even you boys!).

“Cosmetics” have almost always exclusively been sold in a department store environment. We’ve all parked at Macy’s during the holiday shopping madness and had to dodge sharp shooters trying to get you to sample the latest Armani fragrance. That’s what we call in the industry call a counter environment. Each brand has their own counter, with sales people who represented only their brand.

That was until 1998. Sephora opened its first U.S. store in New York. It was founded on an “open” sell environment. It was a revolutionary idea that would change the industry. Sephora consultants were educated on all brands and offer recommendations based on a client’s needs, rather than a product quota. This small shift in mind set, took this seemingly small European brand to a household name.

I could write dissertations on how Sephora changed not only the cosmetics industry but retail in general, through innovative marketing strategies, use of technology, and sales methodologies. My LOVE score is off the charts ( it’s a Sephora thing)


Tags: Mobility, Customer Experience, Apple, Sephora, POS, End User