What’s in this article:
- In this series, we take a look at how various brands’ website and digital efforts have evolved over the years
- Here, we take a look at how Sephora has managed to stay on top for so long
If you’ve been following PostFunnel for a while, you know our team is a huge fan of Sephora.
I mean, we’ve certainly mentioned them once or twice (or more) over the years:
The reason we so often focus on Sephora as a brand is simple:
The Sephora team knows what they’re doing in terms of marketing and catering to its audience.
It’s no surprise, then, that Sephora routinely finds itself at or near the top of the beauty industry year after year. In fact, Sephora dominated the competition in 2019, pulling in over $10 billion in revenue — with $1 billion-plus coming directly from online sales.
With that in mind, today we’re going to be looking back at how Sephora’s online presence has evolved since the creation of its website over two decades ago.
Let’s get started.
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Sephora.com in Early 2000: The Start of Something Incredible
Sephora’s website began around 1997, and looked something like this:
Though it did offer something in the form of product information and beauty-related content, Sephora’s original website pales in comparison to what it would look like (and what it would offer) just a few years later.
By 2000, Sephora.com had become a digital hub of information for all things related to beauty and well-being. Here, we see a healthy mix of content focused on specific products, along with informational content to help patrons look and feel their best.
The website even offers an interactive experience, allowing visitors to “Ask the Beauty Advisor” questions pertaining to beauty, skincare, and similar topics. Though not yet allowing for engagement in real-time, this frequently updated section gave visitors a reason to return to Sephora’s site on a regular basis.
The website also enabled users to preview and order Sephora’s physical magazine — making for an engaging multi-channel experience from the get-go.
Though not yet offering ecommerce services to its audience, Sephora had already begun showcasing its products in clear detail back in 2000. What’s more, the inclusion of a gift guide made it easy for visitors to find the perfect products for their loved ones — which they could then quickly purchase upon visiting their local storefront.
(Also, note that the gift guide in the screenshot above focused specifically on Valentine’s Day. Presumably, Sephora had been updating this section of the site just as regularly to maintain relevance throughout the year.)
Looking at the site from a design perspective, the early version of Sephora.com was leaps and bounds ahead of the typical retail site of the era. Overall, the homepage’s content is presented in an intuitive and navigable manner, with a clear focus on usability. The drop-down menu and search function adds to this, making it easy for visitors to find exactly what they’re looking for whenever they visit the site.
Though a bit rudimentary by today’s standards, Sephora’s early website was a clear indication of what the beauty retailer had in store for its digital future.
Sephora.com in Late 2000: The Ecommerce Revolution Begins
By the end of 2000, Sephora.com had already undergone a makeover.
The most noticeable improvement:
Customers could now purchase Sephora’s products directly on the company’s website.
As it appears, Sephora had started offering products from all categories right from the get-go. In contrast, many other retailers at the time had yet to open up their entire product catalog for online purchases.
In hopping on the ecommerce bandwagon, Sephora added even more value to its gift guides and related content. Now, gift-givers could not only find the perfect present for their loved one but could also order it directly while on Sephora’s website.
While the introduction of ecommerce services took center stage at this point, Sephora.com continued to be a go-to resource for beauty-related content. In addition to the aforementioned “Ask the Beauty Advisor” section, Sephora’s website also offered trend reports, makeover tips, and fashion advice to its loyal followers.
Sephora.com would undergo yet another makeover toward the end of 2000.
Given the fast-paced nature of the beauty industry, Sephora’s marketing team clearly stayed focused on updating the site’s content frequently and regularly. This is evident here in the inclusion of:
- Content related to seasonal beauty tips and trends
- Sections dedicated to new and upcoming products
- Information on top-selling products for the time period
This highly-relevant and urgent content, coupled with the ability to purchase products online, was the spark that would launch Sephora to the top of the ecommerce world.
Sephora.com 2005-2009: A Product-Centric Shift
By 2005, Sephora had become immersed in the world of ecommerce.
This would remain the case through 2009 (and beyond):
Here, Sephora had clearly shifted toward using its website to promote sales. Yes, the homepage does offer some additional content and on-site experiences; but Sephora’s products and promotional campaigns have definitely become the center of attention.
That said, Sephora’s product-focused content absolutely did provide value to the customer, helping them make a more informed purchasing decision in due time. From in-depth product descriptions to customer reviews, visitors could find the exact information they needed to move forward with a purchase.
Now, this isn’t to say that Sephora had completely shifted away from their content marketing efforts. In fact, Sephora’s on-site content had perhaps become more valuable than ever before.
As shown above, Sephora’s site did, in fact, offer a ton of content in the form of style guides, how-to articles, and much more. But, while not necessarily hidden, this highly-valuable section of the site could easily be overlooked — causing many site visitors to miss out on an incredibly helpful and engaging experience.
From a usability perspective, Sephora’s website had become top-notch. Though the homepage and other sections of the site were jam-packed with info, this organized approach allowed visitors to home in on the specific information they were looking for (and minimized the chances of them getting lost amongst a sea of irrelevant content).
(Also, worth noting is the use of carousel slides to pack even more information above the fold on the homepage. We’ll come back to this in a bit.)
Overall, this era saw Sephora’s most ambitious approach to the digital realm yet — and proved to be a sign of things to come in the near future.
Sephora.com in 2015: A Balance Between Products and Content
The team at Sephora must have gotten the memo about their site being too product-heavy, as shown by the changes made in 2015:
To be sure, it’s now hard to miss the links to Sephora’s Beauty Insider content, or other “extracurricular” content being presented on the homepage. This, in comparison to the previous versions of the site, when these links were nothing more than footnotes to a product-centric homepage.
Yes, the homepage does still showcase a number of trending products. But, unlike in previous iterations, comprehensive product lists are reserved for dedicated sections of the site.
There’s also a lot less being presented on the homepage, overall. Through carousels and drown-down menus, Sephora made it easy for visitors to find the content and pages they were looking for — without being distracted by the other valuable content presented on-site.
That said, Sephora presents a ton of content within each of these dedicated sections of the site.
In addition to interviews, style guides, and more, Sephora created full-on microsites for each product category presented.
(Note: Unfortunately, the archived versions of these pages no longer load correctly.)
Basically, we’re seeing Sephora take a more intuitive approach to how it showcases its products and on-site content. Rather than being overly-fixated on either end, Sephora allows the customer to navigate to the part of the site they wish to check out — and makes it easy for them to dive in from there.
Finally, we’re seeing Sephora get its omnichannel operations moving in the right direction. By 2015, Sephora had begun using Facebook and Pinterest to engage its audience — and had also developed a dedicated mobile app to facilitate engagement, as well.
All in all, Sephora’s team had clearly discovered the importance of balance within its digital presence. Rather than burying valuable content under a sea of product promotions, Sephora uses both product and content to keep their customers engaged and moving toward their next purchase.
Sephora.com in 2021: A Modern Makeover
Today, Sephora’s website is presented with the savvy, modern ecommerce shopper in mind.
As shown above, Sephora’s homepage has shifted back toward a focus on products and promotions. We’re also seeing major use of carousels to showcase as many products as possible on the homepage.
While it at first appears that content has taken a backseat yet again, this is actually far from the truth. Again, it requires a little digging — but the non-salesy side of Sephora’s website has now become an interactive community.
Sephora’s Beauty Insider community is a combination of social media, message boards, and forums for customers to learn from, and to provide their expertise to other community members as needed. It’s a place where Sephora’s customers, team members, and anyone in-between can share beauty tips, product suggestions, and more — all while supporting each other along the way.
Sephora also presents thematic content within its drop-down menus, as well.
Most notably, Sephora provides quizzes and guides to help shoppers find the best product for their needs — and to help them get the most out of these products once they purchase them.
As should be expected by today’s standards, Sephora has also gone all-in on omnichannel marketing.
More than simply using various social channels for engagement, Sephora continues to lead the charge toward social commerce. In fact, we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Sephora’s emergence on Instagram checkout.
As time goes on, it will be interesting to see how Sephora continues to evolve its digital presence on-site, on social media, and elsewhere on the web. If their ongoing success over the last two decades is any indication, we’re bound to see some major innovations from Sephora in the years to come.
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