Want loyal customers? Take a lesson from Sephora: Teach them how to use your products

After the makeover: Melanie and I strike a pose during our post-makeover cocktail celebration.

Melanie and I strike a pose during our post-makeover cocktail celebration.

I am a member of the cult of Sephora.

Actually, I’m a VIB member – that’s Very Important Beauty – of their Beauty Insider rewards program for spending $350 in a calendar year (don’t judge; it’s not all for me – I do buy lots of birthday and Christmas gifts there!).

Why do I keep coming back? Because Sephora is not just a place where you buy makeup. You also have access to information and education – in the store and online – to help you choose the right products and learn how to use them.

This is a lesson that anyone – whether you’re a small business or big corporation – can use to win loyalty by letting customers try out products and services, and going beyond that with in-person demonstrations and social media content that provides education and best practices.

It starts with the store itself. If you haven’t been to a Sephora (or if you’re a guy and have stayed far, far away from them), they have a knowledgeable staff and aisles and aisles of makeup. Each product has a sample available that customers can try on. There are plenty of endcaps with disposable eyeshadow brushes, cotton swabs and tissues that allow you to try on the makeup (without getting any germs from the last customer). Beauty Insider members also get samples to take home and try based on purchase points earned – and a free birthday gift.

A Sephora palette from one of my Instagram photo-a-day pics.

A Sephora palette from one of my Instagram photo-a-day pics.

Sephora also offers a range of in-store educational services: express makeup application, classes and personalized consultations. Most are free, and a few are paid. A few weeks ago my friend Melanie and I made appointments for the customized makeup application, and it was definitely worth the price. The Sephora consultants were fantastic – they helped us with all of our questions on makeup application, indulged us with our “I always wanted to learn how to do ____” requests, and helped us find our own perfect colors and combinations. I had such a great experience and shared it on Facebook (word of mouth!), which is why I’m going back this weekend with 3 more friends – I’m picking up a few supplies and hanging out while they get express makeovers.

Most of their social media and email content shares that same combination – they strike a good balance of education and best practices vs. sales. The Sephora Facebook page and Pinterest boards are full of pro tips, links to Q&As with cosmetic company founders and reps, links to instructional videos, ideas, trends and invitations for fans to share their tips and photos.

Yes, Sephora is a global company and they want to make money, but they’re also providing a good experience for the customers with the sampling and educating. If you’re a customer, you can know on the spot if something’s right for you and not waste money on products that you’re never going to use. And if you’re a loyal customer, you’ll come back when you’ve used up your favorite shade of lipstick.

Stats, source and a new look: 3 things you should know about Pinterest

I have an on-again-off-again relationship with Pinterest. It’s mostly due to my on-again-off-again relationship with online shopping. I prefer to shop in person, try things on and see them face-to-face.

But sometimes I am curious about what’s new without having to leave the house (like tonight when we got a foot of snow). And then I see a ton of things I want, so I pin them to my boards (hello 30 dresses and skirts from ModCloth!).

I’ve noticed an on-again-off-again trend with Pinterest. You hear a blip here and there, and then there’s a period where Pinterest is everywhere – that’s what’s happened in the last month. So here are 3 things that you might want to take a look at if you’ve put Pinterest to the side lately. Log in and crank it up!

1. Stats

There are actually 2 things in the stats category. Here’s the first. An infographic I saw today with data from the Pew Center for Internet & American Life confirms what most people know about Pinterest: Most users are women. However, Pinterest use is very common across geography (urban, suburban and rural), race, education and income. When I think about the people I know who use Pinterest and their demographics, that really fits the bill. Some of those people could care less about Twitter or Instagram, but they are regular pinners.

Here’s the second stats item: As of last week, Pinterest added an analytics platform. Right now, it tracks pretty basic activity of content from your site that’s been pinned: number of pins, pinners, repins, impressions, reach, clicks and visitors. I’m interested to see how this develops over time. My little blog has a small amount of Pinterest data – my busiest times are the days that I pin blog posts, and a day or two after that:

Pinterest Stats for azurecollier.com

2. Source

Here’s a cool little trick to find out what content from your website is getting pinned. Use this URL: http://pinterest.com/source/YourWebsite.com/. This is a screenshot from my blog’s content that’s been pinned – mostly by me! But as my blog grows, it will be nice to see what’s being pinned so I can get a better picture of what content readers want.

Pinterest Content from azurecollier.com

3. New look

If you have a Pinterest business account or have a verified website on your profile, you can preview Pinterest’s new look! There’s some small changes to the navigation – the search bar and categories are on the top left and tools for your settings have collapsed under one bar on the right. When you hover over the categories icon, it opens a window of 2 dozen topics.

The more interesting change is on the pins themselves. When you click a pin, it now shows a menu of other pins from that pin’s board, and suggests other items that people have pinned from that source/website. It’s a great way to explore other items or products that you haven’t seen before.

New Look - Pinterest Pins

That’s the latest about Pinterest! Got some tips that I didn’t cover? Let me know in the comments. Happy pinning!

Why reviews matter

Gold Star AwardI am a crazy cat lady. Three felines live at our house, and – like most pet owners – I sometimes go nuts on the pet products. I have a loyalty card for and receive emails from one of the big chain pet stores. I’ve been looking for one of those pet water fountains, so I was psyched when I got an email with a link to a sale.

I ended up not purchasing anything though. Why? The reviews for all of the water fountains were so bad that I bailed. Everyone who purchased one ended up returning it because they leak, make noise and/or break.

Turns out I’m one of the 32% of Americans that trusts total strangers when making purchasing decisions, according to Forrester. There’s often speculation about reviews. Are they true or fake? Are people being paid by the company to write favorable reviews?

A 2012 DemandForce infographic shows that review writers have good intentions. When asked why they post reviews, the top 3 reasons were about being helpful:

  • To help other consumers make good decisions – 90%
  • To share experiences on consumer reviews – 86%
  • Because people rely on consumer reviews and posting reviews is a way of giving back – 79%

Although I have run into the occasional questionable review – one store that I will not name promoted a review for one of their products from a Worchester, MA customer (Caught ya! It’s Worcester, you fakers!), I like to think that many of these reviews are true, because that’s what I feel I encounter in real life. I’m a huge shopper, and want to hear my friends’ experiences – good and bad – when they purchase something, whether that’s a car, a book, or a sweater. I’m also happy to share my experiences – especially the good ones.

The DemandForce infographic shows I’m not alone in this – 70% of consumers look at up to 10 reviews before making a decision, and – when it comes to local businesses – 67% of consumers read the reviews.

I am willing to take time to read reviews before I purchase something, especially if it’s for something I have little to no experience with, like when I purchase anything for my nieces who live out of state. I don’t have kids, so when I want to buy them clothing, I head to one of the best sites I’ve seen for reviews – Old Navy. I trust the moms who write the reviews there (there are TONS, which is amazing because clothing is seasonal and the products change pretty frequently), and they seem to be in consensus about the products. Either something’s cute and it fits right, or it’s not-so-great.

I definitely trust the people who write reviews who are by people like me. Whenever I start looking for a new pair of winter boots or a coat, I skip over anything written by anyone outside of New England. If you don’t have to dodge ice and slush for 6 months out of the year, I am not going to care why you like those boots. Give me a hardy New Englander and a description of how a pair of cute-but-functional boots helped them climb snow piles in a parking lot.

While some parts of the Internet are anonymous-and-mean-spirited-gone-wild or overshare city, reviews are kind of a warm and fuzzy haven. They’re a common ground, a community, and a place where you can find people who want to help their fellow man save a few bucks.

What are your opinions of reviews? Like ‘em? Hate ‘em? Worthwhile or not worth your time? Let me know in the comments!

Resolution: Shop smarter in 2013

Shopping ButtonI love a good deal, so I’m kind of a marketer’s dream – I have signed up for just about every type of marketing from all of my favorite stores – I have an entire email address dedicated to just subscriptions. I’m on those stores’ Facebook pages, I follow them on Twitter, and I’ve been checking them out on Pinterest and Instagram. I still get some direct mail pieces and catalogs for a few places. I’ve signed up for birthday freebies – my birthday is this month and the swag/coupons have already started rolling in!

While this is good for marketers in terms of adding to fans, subscriptions and followers, it’s not very smart for me.

Why? All of the emails, Facebook posts, tweets and catalogs are becoming just too much. I don’t have time for all of it. All of these messages are now marketing noise, and it’s backfired on me. I get daily emails from at least a dozen big brands announcing their sales and new products. Do I go straight to their website or drive to the mall? No. I open up my email in the morning, delete each message, and only pause if the word birthday or coupon is in the subject line. There are so many sales that I just assume that when I do walk in the door, I’ll always get a great deal.

Actually, I’ve been missing out.

I was recently in a clothing store – part of a conglomerate of several brands – that I have a credit card for. They send me weekly postcards from all of the brands. Sometimes they’re announcing the same things in the emails, and sometimes they include those little percent off cards. I don’t read them because I assume the messages are something I already knew. Yup, there’s a sale, and yes, your new (insert season here) line is out. I asked an employee: Should I be detaching those little cards or taking the direct mail stuff to the store, or do I automatically get the deal because I’m a card holder?

The answer is yes – you do have to bring those direct mail pieces or printed email coupons with you to get the deal.

Oops.

I’ve started paying attention to the fine print, which says the same thing: Must bring this offer to the store to redeem discount.

So this is my task for 2013: clean the clutter and get the deal. Do I need to subscribe to everything? Am I getting value on Facebook and Twitter? Who are the stores that are doing this right? Which retailers that offer mobile coupons or let you scan a QR code on the paper ones?

And – before the end of January – find out who else will send me birthday swag.