by Kim S. Nash

Sephora Uses iPad App to Drive Lipstick Business

Mar 15, 20123 mins
Consumer ElectronicsE-commerce SoftwareInternet

Cosmetics retailer Sephora knew the iPad could produce a whole new market of buyers eager to swipe and tap their way into new make-up purchases. So they provided an app to make the experience as appealing as possible.

Beauty is now in the hands of the tablet holder. Cosmetics, creams and gels retailer Sephora launched an app last year that’s designed to leverage the crisp graphics capabilities of Apple’s iPad and entice users not just to browse, but to buy. Now brick-and-mortar shoppers can use Sephora-provided iPads to access the app while they stroll the aisles of select stores.

Sephora is one of a batch of leading-edge companies hoping to capitalize on tablet commerce by building apps with the iPad in mind. While tablets still trail phones when it comes to mobile shopping, iPad users appear more likely to spend. According to an IBM survey conducted last year, iPad users who visited retail websites during the month of December converted their browsing to purchases 6.3 percent of the time, more than double the 3.1 percent for users of other mobile devices.

But selling on tablets is fundamentally different from selling on smartphones and requires a carefully thought-out design. Functions such as embedded video and page-swiping instead of scrolling, for example, define tablet navigation.

Tablet shoppers are also more likely to use the device in comfortable surroundings. Bridget Dolan, vice president of interactive media at Sephora, says its app was designed to weave together content and commerce with the expectation that customers would be in a different setting than those using a PC or laptop. “At your computer, you cut to the chase. You’re probably at work. On the iPad, you’re on the couch or at a coffee shop,” she says.

Owned by Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Sephora has 550 stores in the United States and Canada. The beauty company wants its app to immerse customers in glamour, Dolan says, showing palates of eye shadows from Paris, Rome and Tokyo and pink rouges displayed like little breaths of luxury. Sephora’s magazine-style catalog emphasizes the iPad’s page-flipping navigation and integrates with its website’s existing e-commerce infrastructure. Customers can browse beauty and fashion content and buy the products that appeal to them in photos and articles. They can watch videos that show how to use the products, including one that teaches viewers how to create a “smoky eye.” The app uses the device’s camera to create a virtual mirror for users to test techniques.

One mistake some companies make in tablet commerce is providing only a subset of the features available on the regular website, says Alex Schmelkin, president of Alexander Interactive, a Web design firm. To simplify the tablet app, Schmelkin says, companies might omit corporate information or limit search capabilities. But having two different experiences confuses and frustrates customers, he says. Companies should also optimize their websites for tablet navigation by enlarging text and images and minimizing the use of Flash, he says.

“We’re creating [tablet] content that inspires shopping,” says Dolan. “We can leverage all the cool features of an iPad that would allow you to experience [shopping] in a different way.”

Senior Editor Kim S. Nash can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: