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Sephora’s Delicate Dance: Offering Prestige Beauty to Value-Conscious Consumers

Customer loyalty experts know that the best-run programs do far more than simply boost sales by rewarding members with points and perks. The Sephora Beauty Insider program, which now has more than 25 million members, has gone above and beyond this basic role, helping the retailer:

  • Engage more deeply with Sephora shoppers, for example by saving recommendations they receive from live online beauty help sessions to their Beauty Insider account data;
  • Support a Beauty Insider community online that allows members to get inspiration, learn about new products they’re likely to be “passionate” about and share images of themselves wearing Sephora products; and
  • Reward members with Beauty Insider points for attending and interacting at the retailer’s Sephoria virtual brand founder events.
Emeline Berlind

Emeline Berlind, VP and General Manager of Loyalty for Sephora, revealed how the retailer’s approach to loyalty provides it with both strategic and tactical benefits.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): How is Sephora dealing with shifts in shopper behavior over the past few years, particularly as consumers’ budgets have come under increased pressure? 

Emeline Berlind: We know that value is top of mind for customers, especially now, but we’re focused on providing not just a transactional journey but an emotional one. For all customers, we offer a full experience both in-store and online as they’re shopping to create deeper connections with clients — and that’s a laser focus for our Beauty Insider program. We know that brand loyalty is about having a shopping experience that you’re familiar and comfortable with, and that’s a really important part of what our clients are looking for.

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Specifically for Beauty Insider, we do that with three pillars: savings, samples and experiences. In terms of savings, we see that our members are driven by our big promotional events in the Spring and during the holiday season. We’re also supporting convenience, for example with the September 2022 addition of free shipping for all Beauty Insider members. A few years ago, we launched Beauty Insider cash — the ability to use points to make purchases, for example “spending” 500 points to get $10 off of a purchase. We also see that members are excited about the product samples we offer them and our virtual brand events. The combination of all of these is how we’re trying to deliver value.

RTP: Sephora is known for having a rich customer experience. How does the loyalty program support or even expand on that? 

Berlind: One thing we’ve done is add technology tools that allow shoppers to find the right products, and we also introduced live beauty help on both sephora.com and our app. Shoppers can interact in real time with a live beauty adviser — someone you can talk with and have that one-on-one experience. Beauty Insider members can save the recommendations they receive [during these sessions] to their loyalty program account, which then makes for a better customer experience in the future.

There’s also Color IQ, our free color matching service that helps customers find the perfect complexion products for their skin type and tone. We believe it’s the only multi-brand complexion matching tool in the industry, and the more times it’s used, the smarter it gets. Customers can save their Color IQ number to their Beauty Insider account, so if they want to try a new concealer or a tinted moisturizer, that information is there.

We also offer a shade lookup feature, so if you know you liked this particular foundation’s shade because it matched your skin well, you can look up other foundations from other brands that match that shade color. This helps us replicate the in-store experience online, and we also offer a foundation quiz customers can take. We try to make sure there are multiple ways for a client to find the right products for them. We see this as a more personalized experience, and it also helps them remember what they liked in the past.

The program’s offerings evolve and change, but it does have tried-and-true bedrock elements such as the free birthday gift. From a selection of some of our most-loved makeup, haircare and skincare brands, members can redeem for a gift during their birthday month each year. It’s one of the top things people rate as part of the program, so while we might refresh this, we wouldn’t want to drop it — it’s very popular.

RTP: Sephora also is very big on creating customer communities. How does Beauty Insider help support that strategy? 

Berlind: To help build this passionate, diverse community, the Beauty Insider community on our website serves as a destination where members can find other members with like interests, get inspiration and learn about products and new launches they’re passionate about. Members also share images of themselves wearing Sephora products, so that forum is a great way to foster the community of beauty lovers.

Additionally, our virtual brand founder event Sephoria provides an amazing, immersive digital experience featuring celebrities, new products, makeup tutorials and beauty-related games. In 2022, which was our second virtual version of the event, a new feature is that Beauty Insider members could earn points from their interactions in the Sephoria experience. We also allowed non-members visiting Sephoria to sign up for the Beauty Insider program there and earn points immediately. It’s one of the ways we incorporate the loyalty program into our experience.

RTP: In general, what roles does the Beauty Insider program play in the overall Sephora customer experience? 

Berlind: We see that value is more important than ever to customers, and we really see the Beauty Insider program as a primary channel of providing value. The free birthday gifts, the samples and promotions provide benefits to keep clients enthusiastic and excited about products — and the program can help them find their next potential new products. The sampling and birthday programs also are a great way for the brands we carry to get exposure to our clients.

We really believe in making prestige beauty available to all, and Beauty Insider is an important part of achieving that.

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