Sephora CMO Debunks A Major Stereotype About Women And Tech


By Julie Bornstein, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer, Sephora

The perception that men are always the early tech adopters is definitely shifting as women get increasingly technologically savvy.

Women are embracing technology to make our lives easier.

Savvy retailers get this. They are tailoring in-store and online technologies to the needs, tastes and interests of the consumers who will appreciate them the most: women.

In turn, women are drawn even more to brands that use technology to enhance the shopping experience. Call it a virtuous cycle.

Most brands (at least the ones that want to stay relevant) have been scratching their heads for the past few years, wondering how to keep up in the digital age. For guidance, I suggest looking at how women are using technology.

Today, women comprise one of the fastest growing demographics of Internet and technology users, with some 87 million women between 18 and 76 online according to a BlogHer study. With that, women have become top mobile commerce adopters as well.

Women (56 per cent) spend more time visiting retail sites on mobile devices than men (43 per cent), according to comScore. Add to this the fact that women oversee 80 per cent of consumer spending (U.S. Census Bureau), and it’s easy to see why many smart retailers are focusing their technology efforts on women.

Here are three ways brands can appeal to women in the most important areas for commerce: social, mobile, and the blending of the offline and online experiences. You’re not only reaching early adopters by following these tips, you’re reaching some of your most valuable customers.

1) You have to make the experience social

Women are avid social media users, and they’re highly engaged in shopping as an online social experience, too. While we are in the early stages of helping women leverage their social networks to get product advice seamlessly, leveraging the big social networks to reach consumers is clearly a good starting point.

Sephora clients are extremely active in sharing products on Pinterest and Facebook. Though Sephora has many more Facebook fans (4.8 million) than Pinterest followers (156,000), the latter spends over  10 times more on Sephora products than our Facebook fans. We continue to use our Pinterest presence to drive sales in new ways. For example, early into the 2012 holiday season, we created a special Pinterest board to showcase our best holiday items, after all, Pinterest is the ultimate wish list.

2) You have to make the experience mobile

Women were some of the earliest adopters of iPhones and iPads. (Wasn’t the iPad designed mostly for women as a computing device that could fit in a handbag anyway?) With 70 per cent of Sephora mobile traffic coming from iOS devices, we’ve focused our mobile app development efforts entirely on the Apple mobile platform because that’s where the shopping action is in mobile. Find out which devices and platforms your customers are using and be there with a seamless user experience.

Sephora has seen incredible growth in both smartphone and tablet shopping among our customers, jumping 167 per cent in December 2012 compared to the previous December, and mobile traffic to increased 75 per cent.

We’re not alone in this trend, of course. In 2012, consumer spending on phones and tablets jumped 81 per cent over 2011, according to eMarketer. The CEO of children’s clothing retailer, Tea Collection, says over a third of online sales now comes from mobile devices, and you can bet that a large percentage of those sales comes from mums.

3) You have to integrate the offline and online experiences

Leveraging technology to enhance the in-store experience is a big investment but when done right, can add huge value. More women are carrying an iPhone in their pocket—and some an iPad in their handbag. Rather than fearing the technology these clients bring with them into brick-and-mortar stores, adept brands are finding ways to unlock entirely new experiences that bridge the offline with the online. The key is to figure out where technology can add to the physical experience, rather than focusing on just the appeal of an iPad sitting in a store (that wears off quickly).

Apple pioneered the use of iPhones as in-store, mobile cash registers, and other retailers are beginning to follow to make the experience more efficient and convenient. Sephora is currently rolling out ColorIQ, which provides a perfect read of a customer’s skin tone (the only technology in the world that can do this; we partnered with Pantone, the colour scientists) and finds the perfect foundation match leveraging product attributes. It’s technology that enhances a service experience in a physical store.

Stop Fearing Technology and Start Embracing It

It’s no wonder why some brands still fear technology. It’s complicated, expensive, moves quickly and is not included in most companies’ core competencies. It also opens up a whole new angle on the competition.

In a recent survey by RIS news, 80 per cent of retailers said they expected 2012 holiday sales to be negatively affected due to “showrooming”—the practice of consumers going into stores to see a product, and then buying it for less online. At the same time, e-tailers are more aggressively competing against brick-and-mortar stores. eBay and Google are currently testing one-hour delivery services in a few markets; Amazon and WalMart are both experimenting with same-day service.

No doubt about it: Technology is seriously altering the consumer experience on multiple fronts, leaving some brands to question how they can remain viable. The answer is simple: Don’t fear technology—embrace it, especially when it comes to reaching women.  

Find ways to enhance the experience for your customers, both offline and online. And above all, never lose sight of who is most likely to adopt your digital shopping efforts early on and enthusiastically—women.  

Julie Bornstein is the Chief Marketing and Digital Officer of Sephora, the leading beauty retailer in the US and Europe.  Julie oversees Sephora Direct and Marketing, which includes, Beauty Insider (Sephora’s Loyalty Program), In-Store Digital, Mobile, Social Media and Digital & Direct Marketing, Brand & Store Marketing, PR and Creative. Prior to joining Sephora, Julie served as the GM of Urban Outfitters Direct and as Vice-President of Ecommerce for Nordstrom from 2000-2005. Julie sits on the Boards of TheFind and StitchFix, two tech startups. She has her BA and MBA from Harvard.

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