Sephora’s Not Afraid of Smartphone-Carrying Customers

Sephora has completed an entire makeover of its digital presence today, including a new Web site, a new mobile site, an iPhone app, and iPads and iPod touches in many of its stores.

Unlike other stores that flinch when consumers pull out their phones, fearing that they are scanning bar codes to compare prices, the beauty supply company is embracing the practice.

“The reality is there’s not a lot of price differentiation in our world, and most of our users are loyalty card holders, so it doesn’t worry us,” said Julie Bornstein, SVP of Sephora Direct. “It makes the experience better if you like to shop that way.”

The Sephora app allows consumers to track what products they’ve purchased in the past, find out how many reward points they have, and look up the ingredients of a particular soap, lotion or eye shadow. So far, the app has been downloaded two million times, and the retailer says that shopping from mobile devices grew by 300 percent last year.

Besides, how could Sephora fear mobile, when all 304 stores have iPods and 20 stores have iPads?

Increasingly, retailers are rolling out mobile devices in their stores, especially iDevices, to empower workers to know more about products or even shorten the checkout lines.

Bornstein says Sephora employees walk the store floors with souped-up iPods that have a credit card scanner, so they can ring up a customer after helping him or her find a particular product. The employees also carry around mini-printers, in case the customer wants a paper receipt. But the iPads are not used for checking out; rather, they are a way for customers to access more information about a product, including different kinds of looks that can be created with makeup.

Bornstein says the intention is not to replace the cash register with a mobile device. “We haven’t made any decisions to walk away from registers in stores,” she said. “It’s nice to have a hub.”

As part of the company’s digital makeover, it also has fully integrated with Pinterest, so that users can “pin” any of the 14,000 products on to the bulletin-board service. Bornstein said that of the Web site’s social media traffic drivers, Pinterest is already second only to Facebook.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work