Sephora walked away as the big winner for small-screen commerce at the second annual Internet Retailer Excellence Awards held last night at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.

Mark Alexander, director of mobile product management at Sephora USA Inc. accepted the award on behalf of the cosmetics retailer.

“Mobile continues to be our fastest growing channel,” Alexander says. “We’re really excited about what mobile can do for online and in-store sales.”

Mobile makes up an important part of the cosmetic retailer’s digital strategy. Half of Sephora’s digital traffic stems from smartphones and tablets, Sephora was one of the first to launch Apple’s expedited mobile checkout platform Apple Pay as a payment option in its app and it also offers it in stores. The retailer is also a pioneer in mobile and consistently at the forefront of testing new mobile technology. For example, for years the retailer has tested beacons—small sensors that track consumers’ smartphones and send personalized messages—in its stores.

And, a recent update to its Sephora To Go app called Virtual Artist allows shoppers to virtually try on more than 3,000 lipstick shades.


“We hear all the time that our clients wish they could try on every lipstick we carry to find the right shade for them,” says Bridget Dolan, vice president of Sephora’s Innovation Lab.

To use the feature, a consumer takes a picture of herself, or uploads one, in the app, and the technology can identify the location and shape of her lips. From there she can swipe through colors to try on. “Using a state-of-the-art 3-D live view, the color moves with you like a mirror to offer a true representation of the look,” Dolan says.

To further customize this feature, Sephora offers a way to narrow down the lipstick options to ones that would complement a consumer’s skin tone. At stores, a consumer can use Sephora’s Color IQ handheld device to find her Pantone Color IQ number. The device categorizes 110 skin tones. A consumer can also see the skin tones on Sephora’s website or in app and select the one closest to her skin tone.  She can then plug that number into the app to view a list of coordinating lipstick colors, Dolan says.

Sephora’s mobile app also has a store mode, which is meant for consumers to use while they are shopping in a physical Sephora store. In this mode, a consumer can scan a product to read its online reviews and view ratings, Dolan says. She can also quickly access Beauty Insider, Sephora’s loyalty program, to see the number of points she has or if she has pending rewards she can use.


Also in-store, Sephora is testing sending personalized messages, such as birthday alerts, loyalty program updates and in-store events, to consumers with the Sephora app through Bluetooth beacon technology, Sephora says.

“Sephora has been testing beacons for a few years now, and we are optimistic that the future is bright for in-store messaging,” Dolan says.

Sephora also uses push notifications, or smartphone alerts, through its app to send messages to consumers not in stores about new products or Sephora events, Dolan says.

Other Mobile Commerce Award finalists at this year’s Internet Retailer Excellence Awards include:

  • Revolve Clothing: Revolve launched a series of incremental updates to its mobile site and app over the past year, and mobile accounted for 50% of both sales and traffic for the web-only retailer in 2015. (Read more about its nomination here)
  • The Home Depot Inc.: Traffic to the Home Depot Inc.’s mobile app and website has grown more than 500% since 2012, and mobile devices accounted for nearly 60% of the retailer’s online traffic on Black Friday last year. (Read more about its nomination here)
  • Grupo Netshoes: For all of 2015, mobile visitors to two of Brazil-based Grupo Netshoes’ brands grew 400% over 2014. (Read more about its nomination here).