I hate shopping, especially when it comes to brick-and-mortar retail. Yes, I’m a woman who can’t stand browsing racks or shelves or trying on, well, anything.
In my mind, experiences that are comparable to spending a weekend afternoon shopping include:
- Sitting in rush-hour traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike
- Doing a month’s worth of laundry in one sitting
- Getting a root canal
Over the past few years, e-commerce and direct-to-consumer brands have been a boon to my anti-shopping existence: I am a happy customer of Stitch Fix, which has my clothing wants and needs down to an algorithmic level and sends me a “Fix” every couple of months.
Amazon Prime lands on my doorstep a few times a week with everything from coffee and shoes to drugstore items. I’ve tried digital brands including Everlane and American Giant just so I don’t have to search for T-shirts or hoodies in a physical store.
How do you make your in-store retail experience so good that it turns hate into love?
Despite my above commentary, guess who schleps herself to the local Sephora store, most recently on a crowded day before (gulp) Christmas Eve?
That’s right. Me.
Beyond the shocking idea of me parking my car at the mall and walking through a sea of on-the-hunt consumers, you should also know that I’m someone who doesn’t even wear much makeup — yet enjoys occasionally hanging out at the leading beauty retailer, browsing brands, examining colors, and sampling new options.
In addition, I’ve even signed up for Sephora’s email reminders and joined their loyalty program.
Trust me, I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, as retail chains from Macy’s and Pier 1 to Bed Bath & Beyond are closing stores, the LVMH-owned Sephora is in the midst of a significant expansion that will add up to 100 stores this year, with new retail locations outside of malls in cities like Nashville, Tennessee, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
Sephora recently said in a press release that brick and mortar continues to be a “huge opportunity” for the brand in addition to its online sales.
How brands can thrive thanks to the brick and mortar retail
So, why is Sephora flourishing while other retailers are floundering?
Here are five things that experts say contribute to Sephora’s massive CX success (and certainly helps bring me into the store without kicking and screaming):
- They invest in a great brick-and-mortar experience: Walk in the door at Sephora and you’ll be greeted by knowledgeable, empowered sales associates armed with digital tablets. There are beauty bars offering free makeovers, colorful displays filled with exclusive brands and endless samples, and digital workstations to take classes in contouring cheekbones. The whole environment is about experimentation and play.
- They have their data sh** together:Recently, I told a Sephora associate that I wanted to replace a blush I had a while back but I couldn’t remember what brand it was. She was easily able to pull up my account on her tablet, remind me what products I had purchased recently (both in the store and on the website) and email me new recommendations. The company famously merged its digital and physical retail teams and reworked customer profiles to feature data that tracks in-store purchases, online browsing and online purchasing patterns and interactions with in-store salespeople, so it’s clear when a customer browses for an item online and then purchases it in a store
- They offer an in-store experience powered by digital: Sephora uses digital to truly transform its brick-and-mortar experience. Sephora’s in-store Virtual Artist offers interactive displays for customers to virtually try on everything from lipstick to eyelashes, for example, while its mobile app pushes personalized offers and helps customers scan products in the store to get information on ratings and reviews.
- They don’t go for the hard sell: No one pushes me to buy anything at Sephora, and I often prefer to be ignored and just browse or play with products, though they’re at the ready if I need help. European Sephora stores even offer color-coded baskets that signal whether customers want help or prefer to shop on their own.
- The loyalty program is simple and actually rewarding: Sephora’s Beauty Insider actually offers rewards that I like, such as lipstick or moisturizer, even though I don’t shop often and don’t accumulate many points. For those that do spend big, the program taps into personalized experiences beauty lovers crave, like a Brow House Call, unique choices in its Rewards Bazaar, or a special birthday gift.
The bottom line is, brick-and-mortar retail is a complex, shifting business. However, some brands are able to successfully offer a great shopping experience both online and in the store, with the right mix of data-driven technology, digital components, and a human touch.
The truth is, I’ll never spend more time at the mall than is absolutely necessary. I’ll continue to await my next Stitch Fix and Amazon Prime order. But Sephora proves that some retailers can make the store worth the schlep.