With an uncertain political climate and the rise of domestic brands, foreign beauty companies have never had a more challenging time to conquer China’s beauty market. They’re facing a unique consumer whose appetite for new products and the latest technology is ever-increasing. To keep relevant, constant adaptation is needed. And Sephora, the 50-year-old global beauty retailer, understands this.
The brand first ventured into China some 14 years ago and has quickly expanded, and to say that Sephora now has morphed into a leading digital innovator is not an exaggeration. For example, last October, it created a new retail system connecting its 200+ brick and mortar stores with their website, app, Tmall, JD, and their WeChat Mini Program to pave the wave for consumers to enjoy a truly seamless beauty experience.
“For social commerce, the big buzzword over the years is omnichannel,” said Benjamin Vuchot, Asia President of Sephora. “I think to be successful in China, we have to make sure we always look for the next channel, that you are able to connect back to the heart of your business, which for us is about building the community.” And as a popular hub for chatting and sharing, WeChat is the natural space to build that community.
Opening Sephora’s beauty account on WeChat is like being greeted by an actual beauty KOL — followers can find endless tips on how to buy liquid foundation, which ones are the best quality, and so on. The experience is fun and doesn’t necessarily have an immediate commercial connotation. The brand also initiated a “Member Get Member” program on WeChat, where Sephora members are incentivized with rewards to invite friends to sign up and try more products. And the offline experience mirrors the online one: Sephora encourages visitors to use its Mini Program to update their in-store loyalty program to access deals, points, and special offers.
The changes that WeChat brings to Sephora are obvious. According to the company, the members recruited from its WeChat Mini Program are two years younger than that of Sephora China (from the app, to the web, to stores), which confirmed it as an effective tool to target this lucrative new demographic, though the fulfillment of this required a very agile tech integration to be able to connect with both the company’s ecosystem and WeChat. “It’s necessary because I think the Mini Program is a mix between the trend of social commerce,” commented Vuchot, “(and is) the drive of traffic and revenue to own the brand in China at the moment.”
However, what’s noted is that WeChat can’t replace the app, and Sephora has distinct strategies for these two digital touch points — the app gives a full rendering of what e-commerce offers (it’s like a real store in the palm of your hand); while the Mini Program focuses on trends, communication, and product launches. “In the end, we need to remember that digital has increased the number of points of contacts we have with our customers,” said Vuchot, “whether it’s the native app or the Mini Program.”
What Sephora realized early on is the unique digital landscape in China — millions upon millions of consumers equipped with smartphones that have been immersed within the Tencent environment. They also realized that WeChat is in line with what Chinese consumers demand today — the ability to access anytime, anywhere, on any device.