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Sephora exec: Apple Pay adoption tied to staff education

NEW YORK – A Sephora executive at the Mcommerce Summit: State of Mobile Commerce 2015 said Apple Pay is receiving a warm welcome from its customers who are early adopters, but mainstream shoppers will need both help from educated staff and an experimentation period to grow comfortable with the technology.

A takeaway from the session, “Sephora: Making Mobile Payments a Loyalty Strategy,” was that awareness and education are crucial to spur adoption of Apple’s mobile wallet, not just across Sephora’s stores but throughout the commercial world. The importance of including staff education at Sephora – one of the original point-of-sale retailers to support Apple Pay – was underscored by reports early this month of industry-wide checkout problems stemming from insufficient equipment investment and a lack of employee training.

“What we’ve learned so far is that clients who have adopted Apple Pay do absolutely love it,” said Johnna Marcus, senior director of the Sephora Innovation Lab for Sephora, San Francisco, CA. “They do view it as leading edge. They view it as something that fits with us because they do view us as a leader.

“But awareness and education are absolutely critical,” she said. “Our employees have been trained to answer questions.

“And ultimately, adoption takes time. They need to think about doing it. They need to have been exposed to it.”

Mcommerce Summit: State of Mobile Commerce 2015 was organized by Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily.

In-store payments
The reported deficiencies in equipment investment and staff education have raised questions about Apple Pay’s long-term viability in mobile in-store payments, notwithstanding the buy-in it is receiving from financial institutions, card networks and software companies.

Johnna Marcus at Mcommerce Summit.

A Phoenix Marketing International study found that while two thirds of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners surveyed had signed up for Apple Pay, repeat use was hurt by long waits for transactions to be processed, cashier unfamiliarity with the technology and incorrect transactions.

The problems pointed to a disconnect between technology companies that wanted to see Apple Pay in-store payments take off and retailers who did not see it as essential.

Sephora, which has invested heavily in mobile over the years, was among a cluster of major brands that lent early support to Apple Pay alongside Bloomingdale’s, Disney Store, Duane Reade, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Staples, Subway, Walgreens and Whole Foods Market.

The action helped burnish Sephora’s reputation as an innovator on mobile, a status that has been shaped and reinforced by having about 70 percent of its in-store customers as iPhone owners.

In March, Sephora demonstrated its leadership by launching a service on its mobile site and application, Pocket Contour Class, to provide tailored, step-by-step instructions for makeup application.

The virtual makeup artist solution was developed in partnership with startup Map My Beauty, whose technology enabled users to upload a selfie and have it automatically analyzed. The solution then provided tips on how to apply makeup based on the user’s facial features along with product recommendations.

In another example, Sephora initiated its first sweepstakes on Snapchat, a photo-sharing application for smartphones and tablets, to build its database of social media followers.

Two years ago, Sephora leveraged different types of creative on in-store signage to promote its loyalty program in-store, with specific calls-to-action around mobile.

Sephora’s iPhone app was also updated to let consumers add their Beauty Insider loyalty card to the app. That made it easier for consumers to view their points, know their tier, select their rewards and redeem items in-store.

The app recently integrated Apple Pay into its payment options to permit processing of mobile payments within physical locations.

Evolving ecosystem
Apple Pay’s launch in October triggered a wave of strategic moves across the mobile payments ecosystem.

Getting the lowdown on Apple Pay.

On the heels of Apple’s entrance, Google and PayPal have made acquisitions, while players such as Facebook and Samsung have rolled out payment products to remain competitive.

The pace of activity is expected to accelerate as vendors look to capitalize on the growing contactless payments infrastructure and secure a foothold in the rapidly evolving sector.

“There’s a reason why 2015-2016 is going to be a massive growth space, not just for Apple Pay but for digital payments overall,” Ms. Marcus said. “The heart of it is that [consumers] need this repetition of testing this and finding out how this works and feeling comfortable with it before you go [ahead with it].”

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York