After customers began sending in and tagging ILIA Beauty on social media to help them find the right foundation shade, the DTC brand realized it had an opportunity to hold on to customers for the long haul.

“Everything I can explain, I’ve learned firsthand. It’s not like agencies are telling us what to do,” says Albert Chong, vice president of digital marketing at ILIA Beauty.

Chong runs the digital marketing arm of ILIA, a cosmetics brand that’s gained traction online among loyal followers. Chong says the brand’s in-house approach to digital marketing allows his team to learn how to retain customers and understand its lifetime customer value.

Albert Chong ILIA Beauty

Albert Chong, vice president of digital marketing, ILIA Beauty

“I’ve learned that follow-up with customers is key,” Chong says. “When customers buy [skin tint and foundation] after learning from our skin tips or after first visiting the site, we ask ourselves: how are we following up with them?”

ILIA’s tech stack is in-house. Over the last year, the cosmetics retailer has seen DTC web sales increase by low triple-digit growth, Chong says. Average order value (AOV) has grown more than 55% in the past two years because of its investments in technology and customer-centric marketing strategies, he says.


“In addition, our first-time customer AOV is 10% higher than the AOV from a returning customer — something I believe is unique to see,” Chong says. “But it shows that we have a good understanding of communicating value to customers even before they’ve tried our products. We hope that after they try the products, they will be customers for life.”

ILIA Beauty skin tint quiz

ILIA offers shoppers a quiz. Shoppers select which models they believe resemble their skin tone and receive the shade recommendation via email. The quiz is an opportunity to capture first-party data.

“We’re providing a service by emailing that result,” Chong says. “But it’s also an opportunity to suggest products that match or complement, such as concealer.”

ILIA skin tint

Shoppers can submit selfies for ILIA’s team of customer service agents to review and follow up with personalized recommendations.


But ILIA started receiving selfies in emails from shoppers asking for them to suggest their shade. Customers also sent selfies via DMs (direct messages) on Instagram. That prompted ILIA to offer shoppers the ability to upload a selfie image for review on its website. What started as a one-person team to review selfies has grown into a team of 15 customer service employees.

“They can read comments, answer questions or read product reviews,” Chong says. “And the number one question to our team is ‘What is my shade?’”

By giving shoppers access to a human team of trained customer service agents, Chong says ILIA gets more than an email address. Agents are able to follow up with customers. They can provide assistance or answer questions regarding returns or exchanges and handle product issues, he says.

“It’s an opportunity to interact directly with customers,” Chong says. “This is not AI-based.


“Plus, it’s less wasteful for us because getting the right shade the first time is really important,” he continues.

ILIA foundation shade quiz

Shoppers can also take a quiz by answering questions after reviewing images. The shopper is prompted to enter an email to receive results.

Augmented reality and artificial intelligence technologies

ILIA hasn’t launched any technology-based shade finding. Chong says when talking to customers, he says they want a personalized conversation with someone knowledgeable about the brand.

Chong has perused stores in person to listen to shoppers as they search for their foundation share.


“No one likes talking to a chat bot,” he says. “No one likes going through an algorithm. The conversations I overhear tell me that the technology just isn’t there yet. There’s disappointment.”

Chong has visited competitors that offer the service on their websites.

“It can lead to disappointment or being left without a clear option,” he says. “The shopper wants to ask someone questions. So that’s why I want to scale up the ILIA team and continue to find problems that customers have.”

Other problems surface for customers when customers try to determine which foundation color swatches best match their skin tone, and how a lipstick shade or a blush will truly look on different shades of skin. “Because they can all look very similar,” he says.


In response to this problem when shopping online, Chong says ILIA offers a comparison shades module — another suggestion from customers.

“I read every single review and comment, and I look for ideas to increase our performance marketing,” Chong says.

“We wanted to show how this color blush looks on six different models,” Chong says.

Social media channel flexibility

Chong says ILIA will continue to optimize its digital budgets “to where our customers are,” whether on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or Facebook.


“The best part is that we’re seeing these percentages change daily based on a unique incremental marketing attribution approach in real time,” he continues. “One day, we could be very heavy on TikTok and the next day we could shift to Instagram, then YouTube. [It] all depends on real-time performance.”

ILIA declined to disclose what percentage of its web sales come from which channels. Chong says in addition to keeping track of social platform feeds, email growth, SMS growth and Google-branded search, ILIA is also feeding its other channels, including and in-store Sephora traffic.

“This means our social platforms drive increased awareness and performance to every [company] we work with, including our own,” Chong says.

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