A recent feature story on the influential website Business of Fashion relayed a telling anecdote about the fast-growing beauty brand e.l.f. Cosmetics. In 2017, after introducing a poorly-received product, the company immediately regrouped, acting on consumer feedback gleaned from social media. It reformulated the product within 10 days, and sent a new version to everyone who wrote a bad review. And for good measure, each one included a handwritten note from its R&D team.
The story illustrates, among other things, how a brand can quickly pivot and succeed when 1) it is not afraid to course correct, 2) it actually listens to its consumers and acts on their feedback, and 3) it leverages an agile technology platform that enables these quick pivots.
We spoke with Ekta Chopra, Vice President of IT at e.l.f., who has built her career on a foundation of digital transformation, about what distinguishes the brand in the crowded beauty space, using technology to empower its employees and consumers, building an omni-channel culture, and more.
Salesforce: Let’s start a high level. Tell us about e.l.f. Cosmetics. Who are your consumers, and what are some of your key initiatives?
Ekta: We were born 14 years ago on eCommerce and have grown the business through digital and social, so our digital roots run deep. That said, a significant portion of our business is through third party retailers. We engage with our consumers, who are young beauty enthusiasts that love a variety of cosmetics and skin care products at a good price point. We focus on innovation, and introduce about ten new products each month. Our go-to-market is faster than traditional beauty brands, and innovation is a big part of our DNA.
For the past two years we’ve been investing in building our digital brand, including investments in Commerce Cloud. That solved one pain point, which is to scale our business.
We’re also considering what else we can do with this technology stack. What can we do from a marketing perspective, with Marketing Cloud, to understand the consumer journey and make it seamless for her? How do we continue to evolve this brand, not just from a CPG perspective, but also with the digital initiatives that we want to embark on?
Salesforce: What are some key trends in your industry and how is that changing the way you do business?
Ekta: Clearly that there’s no limit. Consumers shop anywhere, anytime, anyhow. We need to track behavior and mix in personalization to make sure we’re offering things that appeal to her. If she’s near a store, how do you send offers to her phone that drive her into the store? It’s not just digital first, it’s consumer first. Put her at center of everything, with loyalty programs, site experience, mobile experience and so on. How do you differentiate your loyalty program, and offer experiences in addition to points? How can you reward shoppers for their behavior? This is becoming so crucial.
Salesforce: How do you think about connecting with consumers in new ways?
Ekta: Personalization and loyalty programs are a big part, as well as analytics and segmentation and a mastery of data that has to happen behind the scenes. How do we leverage AI and machine learning? Salesforce Einstein, for example, is a big topic for us right now.
Salesforce: Before you implemented Commerce Cloud, what were your biggest challenges?
Ekta: The platform was limiting. The legacy platform was very customized, which meant that any new release or capability we wanted to add was a huge challenge. It held us back for a long time. That’s the number one reason we wanted a partner that can help us. We’re not a big organization so we need a partner to help us succeed. The Salesforce model helped us do that, being the middleman, connecting with SIs and a governing board to connect the whole thing. Our old platform was not agile or scalable, and we couldn’t afford another platform where we had to manage the tech stack. We’re not managing. We have great partners who know Salesforce.
Salesforce: How has your Salesforce partnership yielded benefits for your consumers?
Ekta: Here’s one recent example; For any promotions we offer, the consumer would have to remember a promo code, which is a hassle. But now, the code just goes into the basket based on certain parameters – spend $20, get $5 off – which has made a big difference in conversion because the commerce experience is easier.
Salesforce: Any other performance metrics to share?
Ekta: The biggest benefit we’ve seen is conversion, which continues to trend in the right direction since the platform launch. All the core KPIs that we track are trending positively, and we may forecast a new plan because we think we can deliver better results .
Salesforce: What is the future of omni-channel or unified shopping experiences at e.l.f.?
Ekta: It’s an ongoing discussion. We have an internal focus group of senior leaders that work to define that against the changing landscape. The goal is building a one-to-one relationship with the consumer and breaking the barrier between channels. You can say digital first or digital only, but at the end of the day, everything is centered around her: what she wants, how to answer her questions, how to deliver better content. We’ll use loyalty programs for better segmentation and behavioral tracking as an enabler. The other piece is offering experiences that are mobile-focused, even in store. Can we add transactions that are buy online/pickup in store? We expect to explore some of these ideas later this year.
Salesforce: How are you creating an omni-channel culture?
Ekta: You hit on the right point – it’s a cultural shift. We’re looking at building digital capabilities around marketing teams and creative teams, and figuring out how to get them situated to collaborate better, so they’re not just thinking about packaging and shipping products to a retailer, but also to the individual consumer. The other piece of it is agile frameworks to deliver products and features as quickly as possible. It’s not about getting it perfect, it’s about getting something out there and enhancing it based on feedback. It’s a constant loop so you don’t go back to the drawing board but continually improve.
Salesforce: Taking that a step further, how is your consumer services team interacting with other teams in the organization?
Ekta: That’s another area that is shifting. Before, service reps were operators, taking calls and addressing problems. But now it’s a group we can leverage as part of the consumer experience. For example, identifying a consumer as a loyalty member who bought a specific product. We can know that, and talk with her versus just receiving a complaint. We are figuring a way to incorporate that team further into our consumer experience strategy.
(editor’s note: Chopra says the company has gone “all in on Salesforce” with Commerce Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Service Cloud, and Order Management)
Salesforce: What are your future goals?
Ekta: The biggest one, which is coming to fruition quicker than we thought, is the ease of launching international sites. We never thought it would be so easy to launch international sites. But how do we raise the bar in terms of other KPIs? What are the big goals that we can take on as we leverage the power of the platform? How can we integrate the [Salesforce] clouds? We’re hopeful that this single platform can improve shipment time. There are a lot of projects that might happen quicker because we have the ecosystem to deliver it.
In April, the beauty magazine Allure called e.l.f. “a unicorn of a beauty company” in that its products are “affordable and amazing.” The magazine further wondered “if there’s anything e.l.f. can’t do.”
With the right technology in place, and e.l.f.’s commitment to empower its teams to constantly innovate, the answer is a resounding no.