Sephora enhances its skin tone matching database and now has more than 10,000 different skin tones. The cosmetics retailer also tackles the 15 Percent Pledge to add more Black-owned brands in stores and online.

Cosmetics retailer Sephora’s Color iQ technology first launched in 2012. A Sephora associate uses a handheld device to scan a shoppers’ face and neck at a Sephora retail location to help them determine the best foundations, concealers and tinted moisturizer for their skin tone. However, it was limited in what it could match.

But Sephora has upped its color-matching game after months of developing a new artificial intelligence-based algorithm for Color iQ. Sephora tells Digital Commerce 360 that its new Color iQ technology—which launched in September 2021—”accounts for depth, undertone, and saturation to recommend the best products that closely match [customers’] skin tones.” It also takes skin imperfections and redness into consideration to help match shoppers’ skin tones.

The cosmetics retailer’s Color iQ database now has more than 10,000 skin tones, which Sephora can match to one of its 8,000 foundation SKUs. The retailer did not share how many skin tones it had ahead of the relaunch.

It took about nine months to build in-house its database of skin tones, Sephora says. The retailer also had its full U.S. workforce involved; everyone had the opportunity to scan their skin tone to build up the database. The retailer then conducted an internal analysis as it developed the database and tested the technology before going live, Sephora says.

“As a result, we created an unbiased machine-learning algorithm, which works on all skin tones,” Sephora says.

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As more shoppers get scanned in the store and into Sephora’s Color iQ database, the color-matching technology will continue to learn, which will enable the beauty retailer to expand and improve its data set and matching capabilities. Shoppers’ Color iQ result also is tied to their Beauty Insider profiles—Sephora’s loyalty program. Customers can access profile information at Sephora.com, Sephora’s mobile app and in stores.

Sephora’s development team also tied a personalization algorithm into its Color iQ technology. Thus, when a shopper is browsing—and logged into her Beauty Insider account—she can see products recommended to her based on her Color iQ. Shoppers will “receive recommended products from the 8,000 foundation shades that we currently offer,” the retailer says.

“The relaunch of Color iQ has been one of our biggest efforts for the fall and one that we are very excited to launch,” Sephora tells Digital Commerce 360. “Our team created a truly inclusive design process for each aspect of the technology, trained the AI on a proprietary data set that is representative of all skin tones, and tested the system extensively with all types of users.”

Sephora adds more Black-owned brands in its commitment to the 15 Percent Pledge

The evolution of Sephora’s Color iQ technology correlates directly to its commitment to add more diversity to the brands it carries and sells, the retailer says.

“It’s one of the many aspects of our continuous commitment to tackling bias and promoting equality in all aspects of our organization,” Sephora says.

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It launched a Black-owned brands campaign in August 2021 “to further recognize and celebrate the contributions that Black culture and Black innovators have made to the beauty industry.”

In conjunction with this campaign, it also debuted its first Sephora Black-Owned Brands Favorites Kit, a collection of products containing makeup, skin care and hair products from Black-owned brands. For each kit sold, Sephora will donate $20 of proceeds to the 15 Percent Pledge, a non-profit organization that asks retailers to commit a minimum of 15% of shelf space to Black-owned brands. Some of the participating Black-owned brands include adwoa beauty, Fenty Beauty, Fenty Skin and Shani Darden Skin Care, among many others.

Sephora in June 2020 carried just eight Black-owned brands. By the end of 2021, it pledges to more than double its overall assortment. In addition, Black-owned brands now comprise 15% of Sephora’s total social and digital content, up from 11% in June 2020. In addition, the retailer in 2021 implemented dedicated quarterly campaigns to drive awareness of Black-owned brands, including on Sephora.com’s landing pages.

“Many of the tools, techniques, iconic looks and trends in beauty exist because of the Black community, driven by Black beauty needs and innovation,” said Priya Venkatesh, senior vice president of merchandising at Sephora, in a press release. “However, these contributions have historically been underrecognized or for most, unknown. At Sephora, we want to help move the conversation forward, bringing awareness and education surrounding the impact of Black beauty in our daily lives. Through this campaign, we aim to make beauty a more welcoming, supportive and collaborative space, for all.”

Sephora is owned by luxury conglomerate LVMH, No. 3 in the Digital Commerce 360 Europe 500.

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