Sephora Simplifies Selection Process With Mobile Reviews

Beauty Chain, Intuit Testing Out Technology From Baazarvoice That Sends Consumer Picks to Phones

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NEW YORK ( -- Consumer reviews have changed the way people browse and buy products on the web; soon it may change the way people shop in store as well.

In tests in Washington and Denver, Sephora is prompting customers to use their phones while in the store to look up consumer reviews of the products it stocks. And in select retailers, Intuit is prompting similar actions aimed at people shopping for tax software.

Surveys show peer reviews are an important deciding factor.
Surveys show peer reviews are an important deciding factor.
"People really like to see what other people say," said Julie Bornstein, senior VP of Sephora Direct. "Our thinking was either if you were debating between a few things and you want to check out how they were reviewed and don't want to go back home and look it up ... there's no reason not to make the technology available to you."

Consumer reviews tap into the belief that peers are the most credible source when it comes to product endorsements. According to Edelman's Trust survey, for college-educated people in the top-quartile of income for their age, "people like you" are the most trusted of sources of information. And research from Foresee indicates that almost half (44%) of shoppers cited peer reviews as primary reasons they bought from the retailer, either online or offline.

At Sephora, signs publicize the ratings and reviews, urging customers to "read them on your phone" by going to Intuit is using signs in Office Depot, Staples, OfficeMax, Walmart and Best Buy to direct people to "Get reviews from real users! Right here! Right now!" the signs urge. So far, the mobile-review sites are generating four page views per visit.

Built-in platform
"Here's a platform people are already walking into the store with and there's nothing that the in-store retailer has to do," said Sam Decker, chief marketing officer at Bazaarvoice, the platform that powers and moderates consumer reviews for Sephora and Intuit, along with 300 other manufacturers and retailers. "Mobile was the fastest way to get in the hands of as many people as possible to help them with purchase process."

Of course, for a less tech-savvy shopper -- one that doesn't have mobile internet access, for example -- all of this could seem somewhat confusing. And those shoppers won't be the early adopters of the offering, said Ms. Bornstein. "This is for the segment of people who are very adept at using hand-held devices. And find it easy to, in the early days, access information."

Part of the rollout involves educating Sephora's sales specialists on how to help customers access the mobile reviews. The reviews will not, however, replace the role of Sephora's in-store staff.

Ms. Bornstein is excited for the next generation, in which a device will scan the product and activate the reviews for it.

"That'll make it more accessible to people who aren't as comfortable using their BlackBerries and iPhones," she said. Sephora, which is part of LVMH's retailing division, had double-digit growth and market-share gains in all of its markets in third quarter, according to the company.

Pinpointing problems
Sephora, for its part, isn't just using reviews to help spur consumer purchases -- although it has noticed a spike in sales for its most-reviewed products. It has also used the reviews to help it pinpoint products that may have problems. Other retailers have mined review data to determine which products to promote and have used reviews in their ad copy.

For Bazaarvoice, which charges an annual contract and monthly fee for its services, the mobile tests represent an opportunity get in with the larger retail organization. Its primary business lies in online reviews, but a minority of retail sales still occur online.

"From a cultural level, they're bringing not just the online content and experience into the store but the voice of the customer," Mr. Decker said. "You rarely see that inside of stores."

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