Q&A   //   May 6, 2021

Sephora e-commerce exec Carolyn Bojanowski on the growing importance of same-day fulfillment in beauty

As more beauty sales are moving online, retailers like Sephora have had to up their e-commerce game.

Carolyn Bojanowski, senior vice president and general manager of e-commerce at Sephora, said that a big focus for the retailer over the past year has simply been adding more services and features to its website. Within the past year, Sephora has announced a same-day delivery partnership with Instacart. The company also added a way for customers to ask its in-store employees, called beauty advisors, questions through Sephora’s website.

The way Bojanowski sees it, all of these types of services help bring new customers to Sephora. Last year, Sephora, like many retailers experienced a huge increase in e-commerce sales — online sales were up 75% year-over-year. Now, the company is looking at more ways it can acquire new customers online — both through services like Klarna, as well as through Instagram Checkout. Sephora is also building out a greater variety of its own fulfillment services; the retailer did not have buy online, pickup-in store enabled before the coronavirus pandemic, and only just rolled out that option for all customers this month.

Bojanowski spoke with Modern Retail more about what she thinks beauty shoppers have come to expect from retailers like Sephora over the last year. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

What were some of the features you added to the website for the first time during Covid?
The key service we added was reserve online, pickup in-store. We called it ROPIS. We have since graduated that to BOPIS, which is now deployed to all our U.S. and Canadian stores, and will eventually become curbside pickup.

Another big thing we did was launch a partnership with Instacart. We felt like it would be [beneficial] to hook into their ecosystem, because everybody was sort of thinking about adopting grocery delivery in a much more accelerated pace. It was interesting, because they came to us and actually said that there were so many of their shoppers who were searching for beauty on their platform. That has been a really strong, successful partnership for us.

How many customers are using that service, and what types of products do you find people are most interested in getting through same-day delivery?
I can’t share hard numbers but we have been really excited with the volume that it is producing — and we are seeing a lot of clients who are new to Sephora, which is great. It is interesting, it is definitely a journey that begins online. The product mix is very similar to a store shopper. They are buying a lot of makeup, they are buying a lot of our Sephora Collection (private label brand) which tends to be a popular store item.

What kind of delivery and fulfillment options do you feel like your customers want more generally? Do you think a significant number of customers in the future will want to get their makeup delivered through a same-day delivery service?
We all sort of have come to expect that we want to get our stuff ordered online very quickly, or in the method that we choose. Certainly Instacart and BOPIS are things that clients have adopted, and new clients are coming as well to utilize. When we think about things like same-day [delivery ] — I think that will be important to a makeup consumer in the future and something that is certainly on our radar.

So is Sephora looking at building same-day delivery in-house?
We are exploring lots of different options. Like I said, we have learned so much through last year and we were able to accelerate so much. So I would say nothing is off the table.

What are some other must-have features that you feel like people are increasingly looking for from either your site or beauty websites more generally?
Something we launched last year — which wasn’t a result of Covid or the pandemic or anything — and a trend that we are seeing a lot of success with is Klarna. This idea of having flexibility in payments is super important and something we want to offer to our clients. We also saw phenomenal growth in gift cards last year, interestingly enough, and that’s something we are continuing to expand our reach in.

Again, something that wasn’t born out of Covid, but something that was sort of coming to light and continuing to be important is what we call social commerce. We launched a partnership with [Instagram Checkout] last summer, where you do not have to leave the Instagram platform to actually checkout on Sephora.

I think those ideas of shopping via social channels, I think that is going to continue to become more important and prevalent in the U.S. We certainly know it is really big in China.

With something like Instagram checkout — how are you trying to balance making sure that doesn’t cannibalize your own website?
As big as we are, there are still more clients to be had. Cannibalization, frankly, is not a concern there. It’s about being convenient for the client but also introducing the Sephora brand and experience to new clients.

I think one of the things that happened with the coronavirus is people got more hesitant about trying on beauty products in-store. Are there any adjustments you’ve made to your website in the past year to either recreate the try-on experience online or just to give customers more information to help make a purchase?
Something that I’m really proud of, and we are continuing to invest in and think about, is this concept called Home Chat.

We have this population of beauty advisors working in our store who are really just product experts, and what we have  done is [equip] some of those in store advisors, to have them work from their home and answer chats that are happening on Sephora.com. We are calling it Home Chat because the beauty advisors are at home, and they are typically picking up hours both in our stores and at home, and servicing clients in a different way virtually on Sephora.com.

They get the same questions that you would expect from customers going into the store; Which moisturizer is right for my skin type? Or, I am using this foundation but want to try this new Fenty foundation, help me figure out this shade for me.

What do you think about augmented reality try-on tools? What interest did you see in them last year? Going forward, is that something you feel like more customers will be interested in?
We are always looking in this space and seeing what kind of technology is out there and what might work for our clients. I would say what Sephora.com has done well is partner with our brands to give a plethora of information on our product pages that is really ensuring that we’re showing shade ranges, that we’re showing images of the goop and how it might come to life and feel on your skin. Our clients love rating and reviews, and we continue to invest there and make them easier to sort. And by invest, I mean make it more prevalent on the site and make it easier to navigate.