At Sephora, Mobile-First Means 'Connecting' the Customer's Experiences - eMarketer

Newsletters Sign-Up

Plans & Pricing

Does My Company Subscribe?

At Sephora, Mobile-First Means 'Connecting' the Customer's Experiences

November 8, 2013

Johnna Marcus
Director, Mobile & Digital Store Marketing

“Mobile-first” is becoming quite the buzzword, but not every marketer is taking a mobile-first approach to better target and engage consumers. Johnna Marcus, director of mobile and digital store marketing at Sephora, spoke with eMarketer’s Rimma Kats about the importance of reaching customers on devices that are personal to them.

eMarketer: How do you define the mobile-only customer?

Johnna Marcus: It’s really helpful to think of this more as the person who uses mobile as her primary internet device, and when you think about it that way, her phone is with her 24/7, and it’s fundamentally a multitasking device. She goes seamlessly from a work email to plans with friends to putting something on Facebook—that jump between work, social, productivity and utility is all bound up in her phone, so it serves all those purposes.

For us, the customer is really somebody who is using her phone as she moves through this experience with us. So maybe it starts with her doing something fun. She’s browsing on Pinterest. Maybe she’s looking for some other entirely different purpose, but she sees a look, she gets inspired, she clicks through from that to maybe shop the products. Maybe she’s not ready to throw something in her cart right now. We don’t typically do that, so she takes the products she likes, throws a heart on those to put them into her Loves list to save them, and comes back later.

“The theme for us is that mobile is this device that’s connecting her throughout the experience, regardless of where she checks out.”

Maybe she comes back around on her iPad after dinner and consolidates her shopping list to making the purchase there. But it might also be that she’s using the phone as her point of research and point of inspiration and organization. So that same Pinterest image causes her to shop a little bit, “love” a couple things, but then she comes into the store to check them out, tries them on, and makes a purchase that way. The theme for us is that mobile is this device that’s connecting her throughout the experience, regardless of where she checks out.

eMarketer: Are there really people out there who only access the web via their mobile devices? What is their purchase behavior like?

Marcus: Research tells us there really are people who only shop on mobile. We certainly have a set of Sephora customers who do, and if you look more broadly, internet research from last year said 55% of people in the US use their mobile device to access the internet—that’s not surprising—but 31% of those use it exclusively, so that’s a good-sized number of people. It’s not just thinking of mobile as sort of an augment, but really building things out to be mobile-first and be mobile-primary. I think that’s going to grow.

eMarketer: Has the proliferation of smartphones and tablets affected the retail space?

Marcus: Yes. Sephora’s using tablets in-store to help customer service. So Color IQ and Skincare IQ are two examples where we’re using screen devices. With Color IQ, you come in to have your color matched and then use an iPad in a consultation to go through and actually filter and pick the products that are best for you. You’re using an iPad, but it’s really more about using data to augment that customer service relationship.

“We’ve seen 150% growth in the mobile space this past year, and we’re seeing that continue, which is really outpacing the industry.”

On the consumer side, the customer is using her own devices and smartphone, which have the opportunity to make her life easier, but they also serve a purpose. They provide us a lot of utility, and because they’re in the customer’s hand, they’re a really good way to do that. We’ve seen 150% growth in the mobile space this past year, and we’re seeing that continue, which is really outpacing the industry.

eMarketer: How has mobile shopping evolved over the years?

Marcus: The big thing is that it’s omnichannel, and mobile is this kind of seamless glue because for most of us it’s not more than a couple inches away from you at any point. You wake up in the morning, you look at it, and it’s with you all day long. So that idea of this linear purchase funnel, that’s completely gone. Instead, industry research tells us that as much as 80% of consumers are using their phones in-store for some purpose. They may be tracking a to-do list. They may be price-tracking. They may be on the retailer’s site. But nearly everyone is using their phone.

What’s underscoring this is that there is no such thing as having an idea, walking into a store, doing all of your research and consideration physically in-store, and then checking out or doing the same thing online. This purchase process and consideration has become more meandering, and we’re using mobile as the thing that jumps into those places. The big thing is not to think of mobile as just shopping on the go. Mobile is a tool for in-store. It’s a tool certainly for shopping on the go. It’s a tool for research and consideration.

eMarketer: How important is content when it comes to mobile?

Marcus: Sephora fundamentally believes that content should be inspiring and educational, and it has to be even more so if you’re on mobile. If you think about it, you potentially have a lot of different things that can be distracting you—a lot of different things that vie for your attention—so on mobile, it’s really critical that content should be inspiring.

We see that a ton of our customers really want things like videos with how-tos. They want Pinterest boards with step-by-steps. There’s really a craving for that content to be curated and brought together, and then mobile’s just a really great device to consume that on.

eMarketer: When are we going to see brands embrace more of a mobile-first approach to marketing?

Marcus: For Sephora, mobile is part of our strategy. Retailers are going to have to come to the conclusion that mobile is just an integral part of the touchpoints with the customer. She’s going to start there sometimes, she’s going to perhaps start at another channel and come back to it when she has a question and wants to research, so it’s got to be part of this flow.

The content and the functionality of mobile are going to have to get built out to support that. Mobile has to serve those purposes of being educational and inspirational, being your assist tool when you’re in-store, and that’s when we start to think about it in all those different ways. That’s why you know it’s working for Sephora customers, and when other retailers start thinking about it that way, I think we’ll see a shift.

eMarketer: What are some best practices for marketers that want to take more of a mobile-first approach?

Marcus: Sometimes we get hung up on mobile-first as meaning we have to do something for mobile before we do it anywhere else, and that’s important, but it’s more about making mobile very strong and comprehensive. So it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to market first with mobile, but that the customer should be able to come and go from whichever touchpoint she wants and get the information or get the experience.

Corporate subscribers have access to all eMarketer analyst reports, articles, data and more. Join the thousands of marketers who already benefit from eMarketer’s approach. Learn more.


  • Go beyond the articles:

    eMarketer Products

    You've never experienced research like this.

  • Hear from our clients:

    Customer Stories

    Nearly all Fortune 500 companies rely on us.

  • Want to learn more?

    Contact Us

    Inquire about corporate subscriptions today.