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Sephora's Social Shopping Platform Is Here

Sephora is the latest retailer to bank on user-generated content to drive sales.
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Sephora is the latest retailer to incorporate a Pinterest-like social shopping platform into its online shopping experience.

Beauty Board, which Sephora announced plans for in January, launched early Thursday morning. It allows users to browse a gallery of user-generated photos -- of a beauty look, for instance -- which can be tagged with the products used to create that look. Viewers can then click to buy those products from Sephora, and... everyone wins! The user-generated posts can also include reviews and comments about those products and how they were used, and can be saved by clicking a heart.

The platform is accessible across all Sephora digital channels including its desktop site, mobile site, and iPhone and Android apps.

Bridget Dolan, vice president of interactive media at Sephora, tells us the company noticed how popular sharing beauty products on social media had become, and the excitement with which makeup and skincare fiends share their latest hauls across all platforms. Some customers were even tagging their posts #Sephoraselfie, she says. So naturally, Sephora wanted to bring that interaction onto its own online real estate.

Dolan says the retailer's main objective is "engaging our clients to create and post looks, and even more than that, [for users] to be inspired by it, to view it, and use that as a means to click through to that product page."

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So far, people are engaging and, most importantly for Sephora, tagging. The company has already tested the platform in beta, and found that 87 percent of all images uploaded have included product tags and 56 percent of the images are tagged with four or more products.

While Dolan says it's hard to predict how popular the platform will become, she thinks it's particularly advantageous that it will be accessible through mobile, which makes sense given that Sephora saw a 150 percent increase in mobile traffic last year. "We think that mobile may be the slant that makes us grow even faster than we expect," she says. "Every woman has a phone with her, and taking a photo and uploading it is just so easy."

Beauty Board will also be easily accessible through an "Inspire Me" tab on the Sephora homepage, and is accessed using your existing Sephora account info. And since the site saves information like skin type and eye color, you can look for images of people with similar traits to see what products work for them. While Dolan says the company is only using this data to help "women inspire other women," she adds that she "could see at some point us making that a bit more formalized."

As shoppers, we see the most value in the ability to see what a certain product actually looks like on people, something you can't tell from a standard product shot. And that value is what the retailer plans to expand upon in the future.

"Sephora is really focused on bringing content into commerce," says Dolan, "and we really think that [people] want a visual proof point [of how a product looks on]." Thus, come fall, Sephora will take the photos clients are creating and feed them into its product pages, similar to what Free People does with its own UGC platform, so that shoppers can get that visual proof point without even having to navigate to the Beauty Board.

Indeed, it's not the first time a retailer has done this, and it's paid off majorly for Free People, who said shoppers were 42 percent more likely to purchase something that had a user-generated image associated with it. Since the concept seems almost more useful for beauty products, we could see it paying off for Sephora as well.