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TechShop!: What Makes a Store of the Future?

Sephora’s “Store of the Future” has several opportunities to improve its interactive technology

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I RECENTLY VISITED Sephora’s “Store of the Future” in Singapore’s high-end Raffles City mall, boasting interactive Play Tables that offer customers a “high-tech” way to test products.

Announced in fall 2022, Sephora Asia president Alia Gogi called the store “the perfect intersection of innovative and experiential elements,” enabling customers to “immerse and transform themselves in the absolute best of global beauty brands through a hyper-personal retail approach.”

Some retailers are risk averse, but Sephora isn’t one of them.

I was curious to check out what they’d done because Sephora is great at using technology to provide the kind of hyper-personal approach Gogi described, with well-trained salespeople empowered to look up customers’ previous purchases on iPads and match them to the right products.

The Raffles City store has stunning atmospheric signage; it’s vibrant and beautiful but falls a little short of fulfilling its “Store of the Future” promise.

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Let’s take a look at one of the main features of this Store of the Future: Sephora’s Play Tables are lift-and-learn displays. When you pick up a product, the table knows you picked it up and a video plays on a small screen.

It’s the beginning of a great idea, but it’s missing several critical opportunities.

So Close, But Not Quite There

First, there should be guidance or an invitation to check out the Play Tables. There’s no reason for customers even to know they’re there. It wouldn’t take much to change that, particularly with the beautiful signage about them throughout the store.

There’s also no call to action. If you pick up a jar of moisturizer, watch the video, test it and decide you love it, there’s no way to add it to your cart or even for Sephora to know that you tried it and liked it. You still have to track down a salesperson and bring the item to them to make a purchase.

On Sephora’s end, they similarly have no way of connecting the use of the Play Table to a particular customer or transaction. They presumably have a record of how often each product was picked up and triggered a video. Still, they have no idea how often that experience led to a purchase – and they have no way of linking activity on the Play Tables to a particular customer’s account.

For the customer, what the Play Table offers is essentially just a video brochure – it’s much less interactive than it could be. The products on the tables are separated into categories like “Dullness” or “Combination,” but to find out which category you fit into or get any similar guidance, you’re once again left to find a salesperson.

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And when you pick up a product, the video and information it provides are only for that product. It’s a straightforward, linear experience. Instead, the display could suggest other items that work well within the category you’re exploring.

Finally, the information and experience offered at the Play Table are for that person alone. The screen is small and faces upwards, so there’s no opportunity for a shared experience for other shoppers to notice and try the product.

They made an impressive investment in this, and they’re about 70% there, but more can be done.

Engaging and Exciting the Customer

The first step would be to make it clear to customers that they’re visiting a unique location. If you passed by as you walked through the mall, you’d have no reason to expect anything beyond a standard Sephora experience.

Imagine a dynamic display announcing this is a special store, offering a great experience you’re unlikely to have had. With large-format interactive displays, digital signage should point customers to a new and exciting shopping experience, along with digitally enabled paths through the store that encourage the use of the technology. Shoppers thrive on anticipation, and participating in trendy experiences and delivering on them fires the emotions and neurons we want with our brands.

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Another key step is to train salespeople to use the tables and to help and encourage shoppers to do the same. In the hour I spent in the store, I did not see them used.

And the most important thing would be to make better use of the technology on the tables themselves.

Imagine being able to build a virtual shopping list as you try the products on the table, then talk to a consultant about those products – or even have the Sephora app on your phone to remember which products you picked up and considered so you can easily find them again in the future.

It would also make a big difference if the screens on the Play Tables were vertical and four times the size. There’s a massive opportunity for crowd engagement, for letting other shoppers see that the tables are useful, fun, engaging and worth checking out.

It wouldn’t take much to turn the Play Tables into a buzzworthy, Instagrammable experience that shoppers tell each other to check out, bringing new people to the store and having a transformative impact on the in-store experience.

What would you do differently? What do you think would turn a good experience like this into a great one? Stay tuned to this new ongoing series called TechShop! where we’ll examine other case studies like this and determine what can be done to bridge the tech and human elements in store.

PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES)
📷 Andy Austin

Andy leads a team that continuously pushes the limits of technology to create relevant, seamless connections between people and brands, and to deliver in-store and on brand technology solutions. A proven authority in customer experience and product realization, particularly in retail environments, Andy has a decade of brand-side sales, marketing and operations experience in the wireless and consumer electronics industries. He has spearheaded a multitude of next-generation initiatives through the development of smart customer-facing technologies, including the first worldwide launch of the award-winning Microsoft Surface within AT&T stores. As a former Executive Director, Retail Customer Experience at AT&T, Andy evolved the Cingular Wireless mobile phone stores to ATT's experiential shopping experience. His team initiated the use of digital tools to augment the relationship creation between shopper and salesperson.

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