sephora-logo-3980546jwwub_1370Today, we released our 2013 Digital IQ Index: Specialty Retail report, which ranked the digital competence of 71 U.S. retailers and brands across their Site, Digital Marketing, Social Media and Mobile efforts over the past year. Beauty retailer Sephora excelled in all digital channels, including multichannel strategy, to earn the No. 1 spot, along with the only ‘Genius’ title. Though a company’s success can’t be attributed to a single person or even a single department, there’s no question that critical to Sephora’s of-late success is Julie Bornstein, former SVP of digital and now CMO and CDO (that’s Chief Digital Officer). To see the data behind why Sephora is succeeding, please download an excerpt of our new report. For a better understanding of the strategic ideas and creative forces behind the brand, check out this conversation with Julie to find out why and Virgin’s digital efforts inspire her and why Sephora will never be online-only.

Sephora’s No. 1 ranking is a reflection of the company’s efforts across the entire spectrum of digital. Which specific campaigns are you most proud of? 

I’m most proud of our early mobile app and site launch in 2010–the consumer was ready to make her phone work for her and we were there for her. And we just launched an updated App so now it’s simpler, smarter and faster. I’m also proud of the new site we built last year, whose foundation is based on a highly complex set of attributes around every product we sell. This has helped us create an amazing network of digital experiences building off our site–in our stores, in mobile and online. I love our new Digital Beauty Bag, it’s your virtual makeup bag so you’ll never forget that shade you love. And of course, I think I’m most excited about the upcoming launch of our ColorIQ digital store experience where women can find their exact match of foundation.

In an increasingly digital world, how important to Sephora is its traditional brick-and-mortar business? Is using digital to drive in-store traffic a high priority?

The stores are our essence. They’re where we built our relationship with our customer and where our customer built her open and free relationship with beauty. Our stores are the core of our brand. Using digital to drive in-store traffic is a high priority and is an exciting new frontier.

Do you see Sephora as a digital-only enterprise in the future? Why or why not?

Never. The multi-channel experience is what makes our brand what it is. Touching, feeling, learning, playing…it’s all core to our identity. Digital is a huge asset and extension of that experience and drives deeper engagement and offers our customer the convenience of buying, browsing, and learning anywhere she wants.

Which brands in the beauty sector (or outside it) do you admire, digitally? Which inspire you?

I’ve always loved Kayak. That site experience, which was such a marked improvement over any prior travel site when it came out, inspired me to build an amazing intelligent filtered shopping experience on our site. I admire Urban Outfitters for their creative and authentic use of digital. And I admire Virgin for using digital in the “simplify and make my life better” ways while flying, whether its ordering a snack, having Disney on demand for my kids or easily redeeming my points online. Oh, and Apple for just about everything.

What is different about your day-to-day at Sephora since becoming CMO and Chief Digital Officer?

I am now splitting my time between more areas of our business. I have a really strong digital team who knows exactly what I think so they don’t really need me in the room to guess what I’ll say. Still, I’m there a lot because I truly love it–it’s an endless world of possibilities and bringing a new idea to life is what keeps me excited. I’m also really enjoying the process of building our company-wide campaigns and thinking about driving store business, especially how digital can play a bigger role here–that’s the next frontier.

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