Community Builders: Sephora Rocks It

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It is no small feat to be a monolith in any industry, let alone the $57 billion cosmetic industry. Yet Sephora continues to boost sales year and after year. Its exclusive brands and an elaborate rewards program has grown Sephora to a net worth of $2.2 billion, and hundreds of thousands of member/customers. Within the Sephora community, the members have three ranks:

  • Beauty Insider ($0 minimum spent annually)
  • Very Important Beauty/VIB ($350 minimum spent annually)
  • VIB Rouge ($1000 minimum spent annually).

I fall into that last category; it is both something that I carry with pride and shame (sorry, Mom, I know there are better things to spend money on instead of four different shades of the same lipstick).  Shame over the amount of money that I churn into this company, however, pride at being a VIBR gives me status within the Sephora community, both in store and online.

As of February 13th, 2015, there are just under 734 000 unique posts in Sephora’s online advice forum system called BeautyTalk (or BT as it is lovingly called by members), a community that took 7 years to build. For a single themed forum system, this is incredible. What is even more incredible is the loyalty of the members to the BT community.

Together, we have created these little networks and threads.  VIBRs, like myself, have our own little corner of BT where we talk about the problems and successes of the Rouge program. In fact, due to the amount of activity in the BT threads over the issues with the Rouge program, the VP Communications was invited to host a chat with us, an incredibly validating experience.

I do not believe Sephora set out to create a base camp for their BI/VIB/VIBR members to talk strategy when they first created BT. I imagine they thought it would be a place for their members to talk about swatches and the best sales (which does happen!); they probably did not foresee a thread instructing community members on how to “stalk” products that are listed as out of stock, a thread that calculates the value of the current rewards, or a thread that details every single grievance Canadian online shoppers experience.  I bet they did not expect to see groups emerge that do “No-Buys” – lengths of time where the individuals participating do not buy anything – and support each other not buying makeup in threads in a forum created to talk about purchasing/purchased products.

I bet they didn’t expect us to be more loyal to each other than we are to them.

Real Community

This is the beauty of BT: the members genuinely care about each other. We put time and effort into getting to know each other, sharing photos and tips on everything from the latest lipstick to the last Rouge event. We became a part of something much bigger than Sephora – we became Beauty Insiders.

And while I don’t think this was Sephora’s intent, I am sure that as soon as they realized how strong the community was, they vowed to keep it strong, and ensured that:

  1. The moderators, while large in numbers, are rarely visible. When they do jump into a thread, it’s often to a) provide the answers to questions being asked, b) tell the group their questions have been forwards to the appropriate department, or c) give updates from departments on questions or concerns.
  2. They actually listen to the complaints and make changes as asked (in BT). For example, VIBRs are given first access to promotions, and after large numbers of VIBRs expressed that they did not get the emails in time, Sephora said they would post all promotions in the VIBR section a day in advance.
  3. They let the members talk about anything, even subjects that are negative towards the company or involve not shopping at Sephora. Sephora was incredibly smart about this: if they banned those topics or shut those threads down, the community would leave in horror. Besides, it’s just a solid idea to keep tabs on the feelings and thoughts of your community, good or bad.

I have never seen a company pull off such a successful incorporation of community. Often, communities within corporations feel forced, cold, and unrealistic. By allowing their community to grow naturally, and validating their existence in a consistent manner, Sephora’s BeautyTalk should be the gold standard. It’s a five out of five, and yes, I would recommend it to a friend.

Photo credit: Sephora via photopin (license).

2 thoughts on “Community Builders: Sephora Rocks It

  1. Thanks for this post, Samantha!
    What I love so much about this is that the best communities are the ones where the members are the driving force. Also love the light you’ve shed on the fact that Sephora didn’t have all the answers in the beginning but they were wise enough to learn from experience and from the community itself.

    I don’t buy a lot of cosmetics but somehow I want to stop by Sephora today…. And get in on this community, too!

    • Hi Christin,

      Thank you so much for your kind words! It’s one of my favourite examples. So often we shove community onto customers, instead of letting them organically become one themselves.

      If you ever want to find me on BeautyTalk, it’s @smoestoe.

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