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Sephora at the Forefront of Mobile Payments with Apple Pay

May 20, 2015 | Retail & Ecommerce | Demographics | Mobile | CPG

Johnna Marcus
Director, Digital Business Development

Apple’s flagship mobile payment platform, Apple Pay, is quickly taking off in the US, with support from several banking partners and retail stores including cosmetics chain Sephora. Johnna Marcus, Sephora’s director of digital business development, spoke with eMarketer’s Lisa Barron about the retailer’s mobile commerce strategy and its adoption of Apple Pay.

[Note: Marcus has since become senior director of the Sephora Innovation Lab.]

eMarketer: How important is mobile commerce for Sephora?

Johnna Marcus: This has been a pretty big topic for us. It’s about making shopping as efficient and enjoyable as possible. Women come to Sephora because it’s fun. So we’ve done a lot of things in the past, whether it’s our IQs that help you find the right product, like a color IQ or fragrance IQ, or a mobile point-of-sale so we can check you out quickly whether you’re at the beauty studio or somewhere else in the store.

When we decided to implement Apple Pay, we thought it would have very rapid adoption. We’ve seen that in the past with Apple as they launch new features. The iPhone is still very much the dominant device that our customers are using.

eMarketer: How has mobile changed how you market and merchandise?

Marcus: We are definitely omnichannel. The Sephora shopper is a busy woman in most cases. And because she is really jumping in and out of the device or the store, that [customer behavior has] guided how we market and how we merchandise products. We have the loyalty program, Beauty Insider, and it’s a shared experience across all the devices, so it’s easy for her to jump in and out.

“The real win is when a customer can walk into a Sephora store and she can do everything from one place and not have to juggle her wallet and a card.”

Along with that same idea, we [program] the content across all of those channels. For example, we did a story where we were focusing on eyeliners. You see that same content and our editorial point of view and the how-tos and the product selectors and all of that in the windows of the stores, on the homepage and drill-down pages of the website, and on the mobile properties.

I think it’s less about changing merchandising and more about transparency across all of those channels so she can decide what she wants to do and when she wants to do it, and she can learn or get inspired wherever she wants to.

eMarketer: What are the key lessons that you have learned so far from the Apple Pay launch?

Marcus: I think Apple does a nice job of getting the word out and building awareness. That was part of our decision in the first place—the buzz [Apple creates] that we felt really strongly about. One of the things that we layered on over time is adding more signage. Initially we just had messaging on the signature pads themselves, and then we started adding things like stickers on the window or additional signage at the cash wrap.

It’s a little bit like the fax machine, right? It’s not helpful to be the only person you know with one. Retailers overall are getting behind this and promoting it. Talking about it is very helpful. It made sense for us to amp up, and it also makes me really happy when I see other retailers doing so because consumers are going to start looking for it.

eMarketer: What are best practice tips for mobile payments and Apple Pay?

Marcus: From a retailer’s perspective, it’s about integrating as much as possible. The real win is when a customer can walk into a Sephora store and she can do everything from one place and not have to juggle her wallet and a card. We integrated our Beauty Insider card and our loyalty card into Passbook, and now we’ve added payments with Apple Pay for in-store. Everything is all in one place, which I think is very helpful.

On the consumer side, I think it’s this magic unlock. If I’m at Sephora and I’m already scanning my Beauty Insider card from my phone, how much easier is it now if I just have to tap that to pay and I’m already there? That’s the ah-ha on the consumer side.

eMarketer: When it comes to apps, what use cases do your smartphone and tablet apps serve, and how do they differ?

Marcus: With our mobile app, we’re going after that client who is our most loyal. People are only going to keep so many apps on their phone. The app is for that client who absolutely loves us, who is very engaged with us. She is going to be the one who is going to find an app and actually download it and keep that app on her phone. So that’s really our target.

With the tablet app, I think the story has been that this is really a sofa device. This is the device where you’re watching TV, you’re watching a movie and it’s the second screen; it’s the thing on which you’re checking your email or whatnot. None of us get our laptops out of our bags anymore—we just go to that tablet. So it’s very much the second device.


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