Or how to leverage psychology to increase purchases

4 min readMar 11, 2021

Sephora ‘s app presents itself as a friendly, inclusive no-risk playground to explore items and new looks.

It makes users feel like a player on their cosmetic exploration journey.

The beauty (pun intended) of the game is that it has way more permutations than a chess game; it can continue indefinitely.

Using the incredible amounts of data their app collects, as well as spending vast sums on market and user habit research, Sephora has gained a deep understanding of user needs, how to fulfil them, and, arguably most importantly, how to create them.

This certainly includes the psychological mechanisms we use to make purchase decisions; the app features a UX that uses a myriad small items–and some larger ones–that make a purchase from a given user significantly more likely.

Let’s look at them.

First up is their visual artist feature. This uses face-mapping and AR to overlay the change a given piece of makeup can make to a user’s look. This serves a number of functions. First, a user sees what they’ll look like having applied the newest lipstick, mascara or what have you, removing much of the indecision buyers may face.

‘Will this look good on me?’ is mostly answered (barring any issues with colours not being represented faithfully).

Second, this feature dramatically decreases the rate at which consumers return products by 25%. Wal-Mart and The Home Depot have also applied this principle successfully.

The visual artist feature is available in different sections of the app; embedded within many products, but also has its own category allowing users to explore a variety of products / colours / shades from different brands.

This feature offers users the free possibility of prototyping their look by swiping — think ‘infinite scroll’ for looks. This decreases psychological burden on the user — will it look good, will I like it, will I be able to use it in the way I want to, will it do what I want?

Sephora has also leveraged the power of content marketing by providing educational content. This includes a wide breadth of topics, including how to apply products correctly and how to use them for best effect. This helps users feel more comfortable with their ‘buy’ decision and educates them for future uses of a similar product and what to watch out for.

Next is the ‘rewards’ system that uses three key approaches to increase purchases.

1. Reward of the tribe (driven by our connectedness with others).

Sephora has created a community where everyone can share their ‘beauty tricks’. Additionally, Sephora offers regular ‘beauty inspirations’ as well as offline ‘exclusive’ cosmetic parties hosted by beauty bloggers where people can meet up with them, network with other attendees to learn more about cosmetic products. In the ‘community’ section users can share their skin routines and views on specific products or brands.

According to Forbes, 81% of what customers buy is influenced by their friends’ SM posts.

This approach by Sephora uses the ‘Social Proof’ principle very effectively.

2. Reward of the hunt — people’s needs to acquire resources and information.

By providing a blend of community information, ‘expert recommendations’, as well as product ratings and reviews, Sephora has made leaving the app to get this information unnecessary.

In fact, this works for the company in another way, too, as in-store sales and help desk reps are freed up to help other customers.

A feature they’ve added here is barcode scanning — a powerful tool used in-store that shows users a scanned product’s ratings, reviews and recommendations for similar products.

3. Reward of the self — pursuing tasks to completion, conquering obstacles.

The app’s “set up a goal” feature uses this principle to suck users in and keep them ‘on track’ to completing their next goal. Their ‘beauty insider’ program sets up a points system, user tiers and rewards to show others their ‘achievements’. The more people spend, the more points they get, the more ‘free’ samples they receive, the more they’re inclined to buy.

Additionally, Sephora breaks its users into three groups called Insider, VIB and Rouge, enticing users to shop more to reach the next tier to receive benefits like next day shipping and access to exclusive products.

Predicting user needs is another huge feature of the app. The more data we give the app, the more it suggests items that might grab our fancy. Once we see something we like, we can see how it looks on other users, and then seamlessly transition to the visual artist tool by clicking the ‘TRY IT ON’ button.

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By Nick Lucek





Enabling forward thinkers to turn great ideas into greater results through technology & creativity.