November 21, 2008, 12:00 AM


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“Scentiments makes great use of visitor assurances and carries an extensive selection,” says Ethan Giffin, founder of e-commerce consulting firm Groove Commerce. Back to top

Girl to girl
When it comes to buying cosmetics, consumers like to interact with a sales representative who can explain how to apply the makeup and select the proper shade and style, such as gloss or powder, best suited to the buyer’s complexion. tries to recreate the face-to-face experience through video, blogs and e-mail that allow shoppers to get the most of their shopping experience and the product purchased by interacting with a makeup artist or customer that used the product.

Shoppers can choose from a variety of videos based on their needs. For instance, one video is tied to a promotion featuring female pop music group “The Bridges” talking about why they like Stila products and showing those products being applied by a makeup professional.

“Seeing videos of how people apply make-up and why they like the product is very educational and helps recreate the in-store demonstration experience,” says Lee Diercks, managing director at consulting firm Clear Thinking Group LLC. “The education aspect makes the site very attractive.” He also gives high marks to the site navigation, which includes top-of-the-page category headings such as What’s New and Best Sellers that reveal sub-categories when a visitor mouses over them.

Visitors can find additional information at the Stila Girl of the Week section, a blog where one customer each week explains which Stila products they use and why. The blog includes a photo of the customer wearing the Stila makeup, and lists her product recommendations.

“We want to make our brand more accessible to women by creating features that speak directly to them about our products,” says Ken Kilar, chief information officer for “The Bridges actually approached us about doing a video.”

An Ask the Artist feature on the site lets shoppers e-mail questions to a makeup artist. It’s been such a hit with shoppers that it has provided many of the topics covered in the instructional videos.

“Being able to consult with a make-up artist makes the site more knowledge-driven,” says Chris Vicente, senior manager, Products Consumer Markets Group, for consulting firm BearingPoint. Back to top

Beauty superstore
Ulta’s nearly 300 stores serve up one-stop shopping for prestige, mass-market and salon products and services to combine the appeal of a beauty superstore with that of a specialty retailer, an approach that’s a major departure from the separate, traditional distribution venues of department stores, drugstores and salons.

And now, Ulta’s assortment online is even bigger: In the past year it’s increased products available online by 50%, adding thousands of SKUs to ensure the depth of product online matches what’s in stores.

And brings much of that in-store experience to its web site. This year it added multiple microsites that mimic the brand boutique approach by which cosmetics are sold in department stores. Each boutique differs, with Ulta working closely with the brands to develop an online boutique experience that captures the essence of each.

“The microsites are the big differentiator,” says Gartner Inc. vice president Gene Alvarez. “Ulta recognizes that this is a product consumers buy by brand.”

Brand boutiques such as Bare Minerals offer shoppers tools and content that approximate in-store shopping; for instance, they help in matching a customer’s skin tone to the right shade of foundation by offering color swatches. That match-up triggers the presentation of other items geared toward the customer’s skin tone, such as kits or complementary items aimed at her particular needs and interests.

“We line it all up to try to make it easy for the customer to find the products that are right for her,” says David Southworth, vice president of e-commerce.

This year, also has streamlined its checkout process, reducing it by about half, Southworth adds. Another in a series of strategic initiatives is a drive to collect customer e-mail addresses at store checkout.

“Getting consumers into our database allows us to talk to them in a multi-channel way,” Southworth says. “It gets consumers engaged with the value-added content that is on the site, and gives them another way to engage with the brand, another way to shop and another way to fulfill their needs.” Back to top

More than a drugstore is not just an online pharmacy. It’s a site where people can go to learn how to become healthy and keep fit. features a health library in English and Spanish, tutorials on prescription refills and health records, and an “Ask a Pharmacist” tool that provides responses to questions-usually within 24 hours.

“The health library is a driver of traffic to our site,” says Tim McCauley, director of e-commerce for Walgreen Co.

It’s easy to see why. Not only can visitors gain access to a comprehensive health encyclopedia, they also can take a health assessment test, link to a stop-smoking program, or begin a diet with the help of an interactive weight loss center.

Scott Kincaid, an analyst and vice president of the usability practice at Usability Sciences, Inc., describes’s reservoir of health information and services as a “very smart way of getting people to come back to the site. They’re thinking of how can we provide what you’re after, and things above and beyond that.”

The site offers a full range of drugstore services and related products. A popular feature, according to McCauley, allows customers to fill or refill prescriptions online and then pick up medication at one of the chain’s more than 6,500 bricks-and-mortar pharmacies around the country. Customers also can have medication shipped directly to their homes. offers automatic prescription refills and will alert customers by e-mail, if they request, when it’s time for a prescription to be refilled.

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