As part of yesterday’s announcement of online fashion platform Boohoo’s £55 million takeover of UK retail institution Debenhams, expansion into the online beauty market was cited as one of the primary drivers for the transaction. Debenhams physical stores certainly have a pedigree when it comes to cosmetics and skincare, but whether that can be carried over to online on a mass scale, as Boohoo hopes, remains to be seen. It is already a competitive space and only likely to become more so.
That being so, there are exemplars for Boohoo to learn from, such as e.l.f. Cosmetics, one of the first online beauty brands, launched in 2004 (the same year as Boohoo). The firm sells online as well as via the shelves of the likes of Target and Walmart and also has a substantial social following, over 9 million followers on platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
That latter channel is extremely important, says Bridget Barron, Director of CRM and Customer Growth at e.l.f Beauty, who oversees CRM and loyalty for the firm’s three brands - e.l.f. Cosmetics, [cruelty-free, clean beauty arm] W3LL People and Keys Soulcare, a new lifestyle beauty brand recently launched with Alicia Keys.
Social platforms are particularly relevant to all three - it’s of note that Boohoo cited Debenhams social following as an asset in its acquisition - Barron explains:
We are a big Gen Z brand, so many of our consumers are in that 18-to-24 year old age demographic, probably due to our large growing presence on TikTok. We're actually one of the top five favourite beauty brands of teens and our ranking has consistently gone up. In fact in [equity research analyst] Piper Sandler's 40th semi-annual teen survey, we're now ranked as the number two favourite cosmetics brand among teens, up from number four last year.
A new consumer might come across e.l.f. while browsing on social media and they find a video about our best-selling Poreless Putty Primer. They likely already know about our brands, maybe from spotting us at Target or Ulta or another retailer. So they head to e.l.f. Cosmetics dot.com or our mobile app and then they can explore more about the brand and hopefully start to build a basket of products in addition to that Putty Primer.
Barron’s role is to drive brand loyalty, acquire and retain high-value consumers through personalization at scale and deliver best in class consumer experiences across online and offline channels. On a day-to-day basis, this involves anything that touches the firm’s Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) customers, such as its loyalty program, email, SMS, push notifications, website personalization, consumer analytics and insights.
She also taps into marketing tech, such as Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Google Analytics 360, to build loyalty and cross-sell additional products to that consumer via Salesforce Commerce Cloud:
We actually use a host of different features and personalization tactics to help drive conversion. We use dynamic product recommendations across the site, based on what the customer is browsing or what other customers have shopped. We also use virtual try-on, which is really important for beauty brands, especially while customers are not actually in stores trying on products. And we'll also serve a pop-up to users who have browsed on our site for a little bit and shown high intent to purchase and will encourage them to sign up for our loyalty program and get free shipping on that first order.
All of these elements are subjected to AV testing with a view to improving on-site customer experiences, she adds:
From there, hopefully we have captured the user's info, either email address or phone number or SMS, or maybe they've even downloaded our mobile app and enabled push notifications. If they didn't convert before they left, the site will trigger welcome messages across email, SMS and push, all from Salesforce Marketing Cloud, with the goal of assisting that first conversion. If the consumer did make a purchase, then we have two goals - educate them on the items they've chosen, so application and tips-and-tricks, and encourage them to join Beauty Squad, our loyalty program.
Members of the loyalty program make up 70% of e-commerce sales and have 117% higher lifetime value than non-members, but many of these new consumers will actually not enrol in loyalty at the time of their first purchase. Getting them engaged in the loyalty scheme provides e.l.f. with additional levers in order for the firm to personalize the customer experience, says Barron:
If they complete their beauty profile after signing up on our site in Commerce Cloud, we can then personalize content and product recommendations based on their skin type and their skin concerns and we can send them a gift on their birthday. We're testing tons of other 'loyalty member exclusive' experiences on our site as well. For example, we just launched gated product pages. We can lock certain products on our site and make them only available for purchase by loyalty members. Another example is that we'll do a surprise points drop or we may drop enough points into a consumer's account to redeem a reward on their order, but they only have 48 hours to claim it.
Using Google Analytics 360 integration with Salesforce Marketing Cloud empowers new ways to engage with audiences, she explains:
Looking at our consumer data, we've been able to discover that consumers who buy skincare from us have a higher lifetime value by over 100%. Some of our top retention products are actually skincare and we see that skincare shoppers are purchasing more frequently as well, about 65% more often than non-skincare shoppers. This year we've actually seen more customers buying skincare with us than ever before. So there's a lot of opportunity there. In Google Analytics 360, we can identify audiences that may have a high propensity to shop skincare. Maybe they browse multiple skincare pages on our site or they've completed a skincare finder quiz or they took another action that shows they may be interested in skincare.
The use of Google Analytics 360 has also exposed some new opportunities that the firm might not have seen otherwise:
Recently we've seen a slight increase in men on our site, mostly purchasing make-up, but there's definitely an opportunity there to connect this audience with relevant recommendations for them in make-up and in skincare. It also signals that there's potentially an opportunity for us to try to acquire more male customers to skincare and to other categories. Our efforts so far have led to a two-times increase in skincare consumption and we definitely want to continue to fuel that growth.
Data from Google Analytics 360 enables e.l.f. to build audiences based on these groups who can then be imported into Marketing Cloud's Journey Builder, where they can be re-targeted with ads and emails. Barron explains:
For example, we might cookie a user who has a high propensity to skincare, but we don't have any other info on them. We can take this audience in Google Analytics and we can push it to social media platforms or we can serve ads to join our email list and get an offer on their first skincare order. This lead capture form will then submit that sign-up directly into Marketing Cloud, where the user will enter our Welcome Series and where we can share tools and recommendations to drive that first conversion.
Another really interesting feature that we use in Google Analytics is the ability to create goals that can be set up in Marketing Cloud for each of our journeys in Journey Builder. Sometimes the goal is not always to drive that immediate conversion. For instance, the primary goal of one of our journeys might be to get a user to sign up for loyalty. We can create a goal for this event on our site in Google Analytics and then we can bring that into our loyalty acquisition journey in Marketing Cloud and track how many sign-ups this particular campaign is generating for us. We can create goals really around any event that we're tracking in Google Analytics and each journey can have several goals.
Barron says that if she had “a magic make-up brush”, her goal for e.l.f. would be the creation of a single consumer journey with Marketing Cloud, where the team can see and control all of the consumer touch points across all of its marketing channels:
We really want our lifecycle campaigns to encompass every marketing channel that the customer interacts with, not just email or SMS, but also our website content, paid media and paid social channels, our app and push notifications and even offline channels, like direct mail. What we want to do in the future is also create channel propensity models that can determine where a customer is most likely to respond and convert and then serve them their message in their preferred marketing channel.
There is a lot of potential here, she attests, particularly in relation to Google Analytics audiences:
We could change out our website homepage and drive towards Skincare Finder if we know that this consumer has been window shopping and browsing skincare with us for some time. I think that over time we will really get to real-time adaptations of the customer journey as a user's behavior changes and they move into a different stage of their lifecycle.
As they move from being a new consumer interested in lip gloss to an active loyal consumer who might be shopping for her or himself and maybe a family member, we can instantly identify the audience in Google Analytics and shift them into a journey that is relevant for the current stage that they're in. This might be from onboarding and education around our brand to cross-selling, replenishment reminders or loyalty, to 'surprise and delight' rewards specifically designed for that consumer. A future vision for us is really to design consumer personas based on all these different interactions and Google Analytics and our other first party data and then enable new marketing campaigns and journeys based on these persona segments.