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A Digital Customer Experience Case Study: Sephora’s Supremacy


by Michael Hinshaw
Managing Director
MCorp Consulting

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Article Highlights:

  • Sephora is the epitome of a customer-centric smart company that doesn't just welcome smart customers; it embraces them.
  • Sephora has made “useful technology” a central part of its brand.
  • Embracing the concept of “digital innovation” doesn’t just mean embracing digital.

Late last year, I wrote “Digital Experience: The New Heart Of Customer Engagement,” which made the point that digital experience strategy isn’t an IT-driven initiative; it’s a customer-needs driven initiative. Sounds intuitive, doesn’t it?

Maybe—but still, most companies just don’t get it. As a result, I’m continually on the lookout for companies that do. One of those companies is Sephora, the international cosmetics and beauty retailer. Building on its tremendous success with mobile in 2012 (mobile orders up 167 percent), the company is the epitome of a customer-centric smart company that doesn't just welcome smart customers; it embraces them.

No matter what business you’re in, there’s something to learn from Sephora’s digitally enabled customer centricity and its brilliant incorporation of technology into brand.

Technology That Makes Customers Lives Easier
What elevates Sephora’s digital and mobile customer experience strategies to a truly inspirational level is its obvious understanding that customers look to technology (and adopt it) when it makes their lives easier. In a recent story, Sephora’s director of mobile and digital store marketing described its customers as “women who have shown historically that they adopt technology where it is useful.”

With around 1,750 retail stores in 30 countries, Sephora has made “useful technology” a central part of its brand. Customers’ expectations of Sephora are of a company that offers “unbiased service from experts, an interactive shopping environment and innovation.”

Right out of the best-practice customer experience playbook, whenever Sephora does something innovative, creative, tech-savvy, etc., it’s strengthening its customer relationships—because it’s consistently delivering on customer expectations better than anyone else in its industry. That is how you leverage customer experience to actually differentiate.

Embracing (And Profiting From) Smart Customers
Today, Sephora has almost 5 million Facebook fans, 900,000 Twitter followers, and 600,000 Apple Passbook registrations; mobile devices make up one-third of all traffic. Sephora’s customers do more than adopt technology—they live it. And by creating digital experiences that actually make customers lives easier, Sephora is reaping the rewards. For example:

Dissecting Sephora’s Customer Experience Strategy
What makes Sephora’s interplay between technology and brand so powerful is that it can’t be easily duplicated. That’s not because the technology itself is difficult to replicate—it isn’t. It’s because its success is built on a deep alignment between brand and customer experience, and Sephora consistently delivers on it with a level of customer-centricity that competitors would have a lot of trouble copying.

You see, what Sephora has figured out is that companies shouldn’t roll out customer-facing technology for technology’s sake. Embracing the concept of “digital innovation” doesn’t just mean embracing digital.

It means embracing your customers based on a deep understanding of their unique wants and needs. From there you determine the role of digital experience and how it can actually make customers’ lives easier. That’s the “middle part” that many companies simply don’t get.

Like Sephora, the companies that are winning in the digital customer experience race are the ones rolling out technologies that, first and foremost, benefit their customers. In the Smart Company Pantheon, Sephora ranks pretty high.

Luckily, the steps it takes to join them are fairly well-defined, and the concepts around customer-centricity and customer experience strategy can be embraced by anyone. The bad news, of course, is that even though the process is straightforward, it isn’t simple.

That is why when your competitors are focused on selling, you can focus on serving. And, like Sephora, you can reap the rewards of rabidly loyal customers and a position your competitors will envy—but won’t have the guts to actually pursue.

About Michael Hinshaw

Currently managing director of customer experience innovation firm MCorp Consulting, Michael Hinshaw radically improves how companies connect with, serve and profit from their customers. On, he shows executives ways to drive value for their firms by transforming customer experience, and the interactions and processes that support it. Michael is also co-author with Bruce Kasanoff of the best-selling book "Smart Customers, Stupid Companies: Why Only Intelligent Companies Will Thrive, and How to Be One of Them.