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Shopping for beauty products isn’t easy. The myriad of choices is overwhelming and the in-store sales process can be quite intimidating. Going online for products is challenging too. A slight variation from expected color, scent, texture, or any other product attribute causes many items to be returned.

ULTA Beauty, America’s largest beauty specialty store, is turning to technology to make shopping for beauty products a little simpler and more enjoyable. It’s developing an omnichannel strategy that will improve the customer experience whether shopping online or in store.  An idea ULTA calls “connected beauty.”

“Our concept of connected beauty is really about making sure that we connect with our guests across all touch-points in the same way,” says Diane Randolph, CIO at ULTA Beauty.

Staying connected across touch points

ULTA is a trusted advisor to its customers. It understands the ins and outs of the beauty product buying process and wants to stay connected with customers and offer support throughout their journey.

The challenge however, is that there are a lot of touch points. Online ULTA offers tons of product information. It shares video tutorials and inspirational trend reports, offers online beauty consultations, and has a social gallery to share user generated content. In the store customers can consult with associates, test products, and receive treatments in the salon. ULTAs’ mobile app allows customers to check how many loyalty points they’ve earned, receive notifications and offers, and provide feedback.

ULTA’s omnichannel strategy and underlying technology ensures both customers and associates are accessing and utilizing the same set of information at any point. From product discovery to education, through testing and purchase, to social sharing and feedback, ULTA is simplifying and facilitating the process and getting a consistent set of data for business reporting.

“Technology is giving ULTA the opportunity to strive toward its goals. By giving information at a quicker pace to both our executive team and our store associates, they are able to react in a more timely manner,” says Lockie Antonopoulos, IT director of mobility at ULTA Beauty.

Going mobile improves customer service

Mobile technology is a big part of ULTA’s strategy. The retailer has implemented several in-store mobile solutions that have reduced back-office work. That means associates can spend more time helping customers, offering advice, and deepening relationships.

A new lightweight mobile inventory application with an intuitive user interface replaced old handheld scanners and manual steps. “We are going to see tremendous benefit from our mobile inventory application. We are creating a much easier and more streamlined process for doing daily inventory management tasks, freeing up the associate's time to be on the floor serving guests,” says Randolph.

Integration between the mobile inventory app and ULTA’s other systems provides associates with real-time inventory visibility.  So if a guest asks about a specific product color, the associate can instantly check if they have it somewhere in the store, or in a nearby store, or when new inventory will arrive.

Clienteling app boosts engagement and brand awareness

In addition, a new mobile Clienteling app has completely automated and enhanced the in-store beauty consultation process. Previously, associates would document the consultation, provide recommended products on a paper form, and give it to the guest. Now the consultation is done using a mobile device. The device allows associates to bring up detailed product data, how-to videos, and crowd-sourced reviews and content. It’s a very powerful tool that makes the session much more engaging and fun.

“Our new Clienteling app does a couple of things. First, it makes it easy for our associates to execute a cosmetics consultation with a guest, and second they can enroll guests in our rewards program right from the sales floor. That has really improved and simplified the overall guest experience,” says Antonopoulos.

ULTA can also take its Clienteling app on the road. The company participates in over 1,700 events a year and uses the mobile app to enroll customers in its rewards program. “That really drives brand awareness and loyalty outside of our stores,” says Antonopoulos.

Cloud solutions ensure rapid time to value

ULTA is also leveraging modern cloud solutions to facilitate its aggressive growth plans at a more attractive cost. “Cloud solutions from SAP offer a rapid time to value. They are simpler to deploy and use,” says Randolph.

The company has 19,000 associates and plans to open 100 stores a year, which will add another 2,000 per year to the ULTA team. That makes talent management a priority. Training, career growth, and job satisfaction are key to building the business. “Success Factors has enabled us to really up our game when it comes to talent management and that is a key component for us in our growth curve,” says Randolph.

Simpler business software implementations also make life easier for the IT department. “Cloud solutions can be implemented quickly with fewer internal IT resources. That allows the IT department to concentrate on things we feel differentiate ULTA from our competitors,” says Antonopoulos.

Since ULTA began using SAP solutions in 1998 it has grown its revenue by 300%. As the company builds out and refines its omnichannel strategy, it will become a real-time, customer-centric enterprise.

“ULTA has laid out a very detailed five-year plan and that includes growing to 1,200 stores, growing our ecommerce, and developing a full scale omnichannel roadmap. SAP software is our underlying backbone – and without a scalable reliable backbone none of those initiatives would be possible,” says Randolph.

To learn more about how ULTA Beauty is simplifying its business using technology, check out this video:

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