Teach, inspire, play: rinse and repeat.

At Sephora USA Inc., retailing is emotional.

“At Sephora we focus on the emotional relationship with the client,” said Calvin McDonald, president and CEO of Sephora Americas. “It is about how do we build into an emotional relationship that is so much more powerful and long term.”

As Sephora developed its experiential retail approach, it looked at what makes a good experience, deciding it must be memorable, sharable and repeatable. Blending those goals with Sephora’s business of selling prestige beauty products, the retailer devised services that follow the theme of “teach, inspire and play,” said McDonald, who spoke Monday at the Shoptalk conference in Las Vegas, sharing Sephora’s loyalty-building experiential retailing techniques.

That’s where the Virtual Artist application within its mobile app comes in. Virtual Artist activates a consumer’s smartphone camera for a live picture of the user, who can then see how more than 5,000 shades of lipsticks will look.


Another service is Play! By Sephora, a subscription box service launched in a few markets last year and which Sephora is now launching nationally. Subscribers receive a box full of samples, and can go online to learn how to apply or use them. To draw consumers to a store—and to deepen the relationship the consumer has with Sephora, McDonald said—is the purpose of Sephora Playdates. Playdates are monthly events where Play subscribers can go to their local store for in-person instruction about the products in their monthly box. Stores also host beauty classes weekly for non-subscribers.

“In the world of beauty, [consumers] love to learn. We have the opportunity to provide the environment where we can do just that,” McDonald said.

McDonald said Sephora’s approach takes the long view. “Building love and loyalty will build our business forward,” he said.

Sephora is No. 129 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide.