From glowing smiles at the beauty counter or anywhere in the world, Ulta Beauty makes cloud look good
Matt A.V. Chaban
Senior Editor, Transform
Ulta Beauty uses AI and cloud tools to help personalize online shopping for millions of customers browsing more than 25,000 products from anywhere.
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When it comes to beauty retail, there’s no one-shade-fits-all approach anymore.
You’re just as likely to find new products on the shelves as you are scrolling through social media. You can browse and buy at home and then pick up your purchase at the store. If you're not sure if you can pull off MAC's neon pink Candy Yum-Yum lipstick or which shade of Benefit's ka-Brow! Eyebrow Cream-Gel Color will look best, you can stop by the nearest counter, or you could test it from anywhere in augmented reality on your mobile device.
As the largest beauty and cosmetic retailer in the United States, Ulta Beauty has been at the forefront of beauty innovation for more than three decades. Whether revolutionizing the physical store or building one of the first shopper-rewards programs, the company has never shied away from being a trendsetter in making shopping for beauty more convenient, functional, and — above all — fun.
“The key for us is to create a personalized experience that appeals to our customers,” said Omar Koncobo, IT director for e-commerce and digital systems at Ulta Beauty in a recent interview. “That means leveraging data across all layers of the customer journey to make sure that they're receiving enticing and tailored information.”
How do you browse thousands of products for that one perfect shade? With Google Cloud, Ulta Beauty is helping 41 million customers find their perfect palette, choosing from more than 25,000 items — on-demand and in real-time from anywhere.
Ulta Beauty is always on the hunt for fresh ways to give consumers the freedom to shop when and how they want, whether that’s at home, on the go, or in the store. Today, this means leveraging data analytics and AI technologies like machine learning to dig deeper into customer data and deliver next-generation retail experiences.
The company’s loyalty program, Ultamate Rewards, generates a treasure trove of information about shopping behavior and habits based on sales, purchasing journeys, product reviews, and social media engagement.
“Our loyalty program gives us a real strategic asset in customer data,” Prama Bhatt, Ulta Beauty’s chief digital officer said in an episode of The Transformation Debrief. “Being able to mine that data, connect it, and drive insights helps us shape every experience.”
Using Google Cloud’s BigQuery, Cloud Storage, and Compute Engine, Ulta Beauty is now able to unify and organize the data from its loyalty program at scale to gain a deeper understanding of who its customers are.
“Ultimately for us, we wanted to own our data, we wanted to have power over our data,” said Michelle Pacynski, vice president of digital innovation at Ulta Beauty, about why Ulta built its personalization engine with Google Cloud. “We looked at how we could remain more autonomous with our data.”
With a strong data foundation in place to collect, process, and transform data, Ulta Beauty now has the power to create new digital tools and capabilities that help customers create shopping experiences that are uniquely their own.
For example, the AI-powered Virtual Beauty Advisor continuously learns a guest’s typical buying journey and provides interactive beauty advice and personalized product recommendations based on the data. GLAMLab is a virtual try-on experience that allows customers to test thousands of products, including lipsticks, eyeliners, foundations, and eyeshadows, with responsive features for a diversity of bodies and profiles.
Ultimately for us, we wanted to own our data, we wanted to have power over our data.
Data-driven digital capabilities enhance guest experiences and forge deeper connections, serving up the perfect blend of in-the-moment personalization that customers love. And they show it — more than 95% of Ulta Beauty’s offline and online sales come from active Ultamate Rewards members.
“The focus on thinking about the guest at the center and thinking about experiences and letting that be the starting point versus a feature or a function or a set of requirements, is probably the largest transformation that we're undergoing,” Bhatt said. “That starts to bring digital optimization, user experience, customer insights in a next-level way into the way we think about creating products and experiences.”
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