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French beauty retailer Sephora is gunning to become a forerunner in digital beauty retailing with the launch of an innovation lab and four new digital initiatives.

Billed as an incubation hub for the ideation, development and testing of new digital initiatives, the lab – based in a San Francisco warehouse – will also host a monthly internal Think Tank team, charged with grooming the next generation of Sephora digital leaders, and predicting the shopping landscape five years from now. Additionally, it will house ‘Idea Central’ – a programme that sources and delivers ideas from employees, regardless of rank or role.

To coincide with the launch, Sephora has also prepared a number of key digital initiatives:

  • Devised in collaboration with New York-based, cross-platform beauty app Map My Beauty, Pocket Contour is a virtual make-up artist application for contouring. The app identifies face shapes and provides a personalised, step-by-step guide on how to create a contoured look. The tool can be accessed via Sephora’s website (on mobiles) or the app.
  • In April 2015, it will launch its first augmented reality (AR) experience via its existing Sephora-to-Go mobile app for iPhones. Users will be able to unlock digital content – including interviews with beauty experts, product videos and product pages on Sephora.com – by hovering over the faces of nine beauty brand founders, including US-based Laura Mercier, which are featured in windows and in-store display cases.
  • Bluetooth beacons are to be rolled out in Sephora stores across the US, delivering personalised alerts to the mobile devices of customers who have opted in to the service (see Sales-Boosting Beacons for more on how this works). When shoppers are either in or close to a branch, they can be notified when new demonstrations or activities are happening in-store, and receive birthday alerts or loyalty programme updates.
  • Lastly, frequent shoppers can sign up for Flash, which grants two-day shipping on all online products ordered within the US. The service is free for Rouge Beauty Insider members (the top tier of Sephora’s three-tier loyalty rewards programme), or $10 per year for all non-members

Guest post Stylus.com by Alison Gough, EditorKatie Baron, Head of Retail

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Image source: cosign.co

While 2014 saw every social network going integrate advertising into their design – notably, even Instagram and Snapchat users saw promoted content introduced into their daily browse – it seemed that the worlds of e-commerce and social networks still hadn’t fully hit it off. The year to come might just change all that, in 2015 the key for retailers will be striking the right balance between all channels- whilst engaging their audience, and hitting the right KPIs. Brands take heed, in this brave new world of social commerce, #hashtags just aren’t going to cut it.

One recent development that may prove a challenge to brands is Facebook’s policy change with regards brand visibility. The days when having a large following on your brand’s page was enough are long gone – instead, Facebook is encouraging brands to use its paid social ads, meaning that organic posts won’t be able to reach fans in the same way. In a tentative e-commerce push, Facebook and Twitter even began testing “buy” buttons this year (Decoded Fashion reported); Burberry was one of the first big-name brands to sign up to Twitter’s service, allowing users to buy products without leaving the Twitter platform at all.

The ones to watch may be image-based social media platforms such as Pinterest – combining scale and niche at the same time, the highly engaged, predominantly female audience should be where fashion brands look to bring their social spending. On Jan 1st, Pinterest announced that it would open its Promoted Pins advertising to all marketers. Brands such as Gap, and Target have already been experimenting with promoted pins. Through the ‘do-it-yourself’ advertising service, brands can bid to appear alongside search results and – key to the ‘pin-board’ aesthetic – within feeds dedicated to specific niche categories.

As Twitter and Pinterest’s advertising potential shows, harnessing user’s online beyond a mere ‘Like’ will be key to ROI in 2015. Indeed, some brands are creating their own micro platforms that, incorporating aspects of platforms such as Instagram, are spearheading social commerce on their own terms. The ASOS As Seen On Me gallery, for example, allows users to share photos on their usual social sites wearing ASOS products and tag them #asseenonme. ASOS’s stand-alone site then displays the user-generated images in a Pinterest-styled gallery, linking out to the relevant products for an ultra-quick sales conversion. You can also directly ‘shop the look’ on Topshop’s #topshopstyle platform- whether such a model works as well for luxury fashion brands is harder to tell.

Another way to incentivize social sharing that might gain a foothold in the luxury fashion world is to financially reward consumers for featuring and tagging products in social media posts. Companies such as CoSign (currently in Beta) and Stylebored allow users to accrue points for views and likes, which they can then cash in for gift cards, prizes or even a percentage of commission for sending a consumer directly to a retailer through their social network. Monetizing users’ social influence in this way might sound slightly terrifying – we’ve all got that ‘personally branded’ friend who has 3000+ Facebook friends, right? – But it could work well for mid-range designer fashion. Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and Swarovski have signed up to CoSign, while Donna Karan and Belstaff are betting on StyleBored. In what is looking more and more like a ‘pay-to-play’ social world, neat innovations such as these- are getting closer to the user’s organic posting practices than ever –suggest that this could play a huge part in social commerce success in 2015.

For more on social ROI, join us at Twitter’s London HQ for our first #DFMeetup of 2015.

Reported by Claire Healy

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