YIKES! I called it first! Sephora US has just launched Beauty Talk – the social community for beauty lovers everywhere. And I love it! I pitched a near identical idea to Sephora China a month ago, and now, I may or may not have the words “I told you so!” ringing inside my head.
Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of bringing up the topic of Sephora, particularly in relation to China and/or interactive marketing, with me knows that I am passionately, borderline obsessively, revved up by the potential the retailer has in China. Hell, I even went in for an interview for a completely different role and insisted on presenting my thoughts anyways. But if you haven’t heard me preach yet (and if you have, again, I am sorry) then hear me out when I propose to you this: Sephora is uniquely poised to conquer the online beauty world in China. (It’s up to them to act on it.)
Beauty Talk, according to the e-mail from Sephora US that I just received, is “Sephora’s new community created for social beauties”. Key features include:
- Question and Answers: Get 24/7 real-time answers and advice from fans, Sephora experts and brand founders on all things beauty
- Inspiration: Topic boards and top-10 must-have lists full of fresh ideas
- Video Tutorials: Professional tips and tricks from the talented PRO Beauty Team and brand founders
This is very exciting for beauty bloggers everywhere, but first things first: why do I think something like this is even more important for China than anywhere else?
Digital is the way global brands can “win” China
The Chinese beauty market is a messy, fragmented, thrilling world of beauty potential. It’s a market where you have an entire generation of women who didn’t inherit beauty rituals from their mothers. And despite this fact, each city is unique in its preferences and behaviors. Read: the key to unlocking this market bursting with latent, untapped, sales potential is different in every part of the country. This fragmentation means that digital is the best way for a brand to take a leadership position in the Chinese market. It’s the way a brand can penetrate the entire nation while remaining locally relevant at ground level.
Chinese consumers are incredibly reliant on peer and expert opinions when making purchase decisions
Enovate.com describes the Chinese buying cycle in the following way:
Step #1: The typical Chinese consumer, wherever she may be, goes online to research. Consumers rely heavily on online expert and peer opinions. She will first go to peer networks to find out what’s hot.
Step #2: She goes in-store to seek personal, customized advice and guidance from beauty counselors, and to test the product(s) out herself.
Step #3: She returns online to make the purchase through sites like Sephora and Taobao…seeking the lowest price.
The Opportunity: Sephora is uniquely positioned to play an influential role at every stage of that cycle. Thus, Sephora should aim to make the transition from each stage as seamless as possible so that the consumer will stay with Sephora from start to finish.
How does creating an online community achieve this?
In Step #1, the online community creates a platform where consumers can engage with the brand and with each other – connecting around the shared interest of beauty and the shared purpose of seeking beauty knowledge. Plenty of social networking sites already exist, such as Renren, P1, and Kaixin, but there are no social networks of that magnitude dedicated solely to beauty.
In creating a must-visit social networking site, functionality is key. Sephora China should have the site functionality to create wish-lists. But even beyond that, functionality should allow friends to see their friends’ wish-lists and comment on them.
There are many other ways to create peer engagement and increase conversation volume:
- Create forums,
- Allow users to create personal pages,
- Allow users to “clip” products from participating brand sites (so they’re still drawn back to Sephora platform even when they’re away!),
- Allow users to create style-boards around beauty “looks” or hot trends (aaaand…competitions for best style-boards…voted on by community members)
- Etc. (yes, I saved my favorite ideas for the pitch.)
In Step #2, the consumer has a way to get customized, personal beauty advice from Sephora, brand experts, and celeb reviewers. Sephora US has a blog…Sephora China ought to create one too. Again, I won’t bore you with my other ideas for functionality.
Finally, in Step #3, the conversation seamlessly connects to a convenient way for the consumer to purchase the product she learned and received customized advice about.
Chinese consumers purchase based on value and price incentives
A digital platform allows for creative incentive-schemes. Let’s say, for instance, Sephora creates the functionality of rating and reviewing a hot new product. And let’s say you have a list of friends who can all view your reviews. Now, let’s say a buddy of yours trusts your opinion, you are her friend after all, and is inspired to actually purchase the product you raved about. If she clicks to buy through a unique link in your review…let’s say Sephora gives you points that go towards your point bank, which then leads to your eventual discount on great products as a top-sales-producing member.
A fantastic way for a company known for high-quality, yet pricey, products to generate sales in a market made up of price-driven beauty consumers? Yes, I think so! Even if discounts aren’t given, what if top-sales-producing members get thank you gifts…straight off of their wish-lists?
I have to say, it’s exciting that the US is moving in that direction – but I still think China’s market would be particularly receptive to this kind of initiative. The US is taking the lead, and that’s a start…but my mind is blown every time I contemplate the potential sales China would generate even by adopting just some of the ideas that US has already so successfully executed. So, shouldn’t they start running in that direction?