Say you're in the market for a lipstick.
Imagine a place where you can ask for your friends' feedback on their favorite brand, get advice from a pro on the shade that looks best on you, watch a video on how to apply it, buy the lipstick you choose, and then upload a haul video after you finally take the plunge.
It's online shopping intersecting with the likes of Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, and it's exactly what Sephora is going after with the launch of BeautyTalk, an online community catering to the specific needs of the beauty obsessed.
Today, the LVMH-owned beauty retailer will unveil the beta version of this interactive beauty space, which can be accessed from a tab on Sephora.com called "Beauty Advice," as well as a tab on their Facebook page.
"We thought about what a community of beauty shoppers would want," Julie Bornstein, senior vice president of Sephora Direct, told StyleList in a telephone interview. "You can ask any beauty question to be answered by your peers or by Sephora experts. You can join a conversation on any topic, as broad a dry skin or as specific as oily skin that breaks out when you're in your 30s."
The community will merge both professional and real-women advice for clients to engage in the medium they feel most comfortable. Users can trade advice on discussion boards, ask questions to online experts, watch video tutorials from the Sephora Pro Team, get tips from celebrities, and read relevant articles from Sephora's blog, Beauty and the Blog. "What's interesting is it offers both expert advice and peer advice," said Bornstein. "We want you to use which you prefer, or both."
The pro advice will be served up by a small group of highly trained employees from Sephora's call center who will not only man the BeautyTalk boards, but answer questions on the company's Facebook and Twitter pages as well. Sephora took a card from social media retail innovators outside of the beauty space while formulating this plan – Starbucks and Zappos.com both have employees dedicated to the community frontier.
Sephora first saw a space for BeautyTalk after launching Ratings and Reviews on their site in 2008. The response was immediate, and massive – Bare Escentuals' BareMinerals Foundation garnered about 1000 reviews on the first day – and, according to Bornstein, the most highly reviewed product now has over 15,000 reviews, with total reviews on the site nearing 825,000.
Clients clearly want to talk, and they took their discussion to Sephora's Facebook page, which has grown to 801,000 fans since its launch in 2008, and every day hosts active discussions on its wall.
The most active users were deftly maneuvering between the Sephora Ratings and Reviews page, Sephora's Facebook page, MakeupAlley.com (a popular beauty discussion board), and Youtube, where beauty devotees post "haul" videos showcasing the makeup and hair items they've bought on recent shopping trips. BeautyTalk will tie together all of these social media mediums, using technology developed by Lithium -- a company that specializes on social media customer relationship programs -- that aims to surpass competitors with better archiving technology, and a more robust and user-friendly experience.
"I want our clients to be able to get any questions they wanted answered while leveraging the value of huge population of Sephora shoppers," said said Bornstein. "Our Facebook wall became a space for doing exactly that. People answered each others' questions." Sephora's banking that BeautyTalk will attract these same aficionados.
And if you want to talk about a product that's not sold at Sephora? Not a problem. "People can talk about any product they want," said Bornstein. "We're not trying to control the conversation. We're excited to offer up the place where beauty lovers to get all the information they need."
Beauty talk will evolve over time, and retail shopping will eventually be integrated into the space. Users will be able to mouse over product mentions to see the image and click to buy. And the customer reviews will be used throughout Sephora.com, with relevant discussions and Q&A's around, say, a mascara, surfacing on its product page.
"We're leveraging technology to make shopping experience better," said Bornstein.
And getting shoppers -- and the beauty industry -- chatting.