Sephora gets some major nerd cred

I don’t always love what Sephora does, but I have to hand it to them. In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed some majorly awesome nerdy stuff they’ve done.

  • Passbook win! They were the very first store or service to successfully implement Passbook support with iOS 6, notify me about it clearly, and make it simple to integrate. Even Starbucks’s effort was behind Sephora’s in this regard. (To date, these are my only two Passbook items.) The extra bonus is that I no longer have to explain to Sephora reps how to look up my complicated email domain in their system!
  • Shopping by reviews. Seriously, guys, this one’s important for a couple reasons. I blathered about it here, but in a nutshell it allows customers to shop based entirely on the feedback of other users, with ZERO marketing input from Sephora. Seriously. Right now, it doesn’t even have a single image on the page view! And check out all that unused white space! I expect Sephora to tinker with this and probably ruin it in the coming weeks, so here’s my screencap for posterity:

Most online beauty presences aren’t into minimalism. This is definitely an anomaly even among Sephora’s other page views. Heck, I was badgered into adding as much noise as I have on this site because a professional beauty writer told me it looked boring and “needed more images”—and for her industry, I reluctantly admit she’s right. That’s why I find this so interesting. Amazon, for example, claims to be king of giving people data-based shopping, but they don’t allow one to simply search for things with a high review count until you’ve whittled down your results to a much narrower selection. If you trust the community of reviewers that a vendor has built, then being able to rely solely on them for shopping decisions is a stark contrast to most web storefront merchandising models.

So despite the fact that Sephora still uses Blogger for their professional company blog and that they create horrible Facebook-page-embedded auto-tweeting Flash-based clicky contests and that their “added item to basket” animation now takes a full fifteen seconds to trigger and their web text sometimes looks like this (right), they still win a pretty major tech award in my cold, geeky, stainless-steel-encased heart. Way to go, guys! Now let me search on active ingredient/ingredient category or on whether products have attractive and durable packaging  that makes a satisfying click noise upon closure, and I will love you even more. <3

Mountain Rose Herbs giveaway

Mountain Rose Herbs, my favorite hippie skincare and herb supplier is doing a very cool giveaway for the best herbal recipes of 2011. Check ’em out — not only do they have great ideas there and a killer prize, but these guys sell extremely high-quality, well-priced DIY skincare items. I use them to purchase all my butters and almost all of my oils, and they have some terrific tea blends too. Plus hardish to find items like Fuller’s Earth clay. Kicking myself for forgetting about an argan oil refill on my last order — ah well, at least I have an excuse to load up on some more fun stuff soon!

Swap-tastic

Makeup Alley is a skincare and makeup discussion board similar to the Essential Day Spa Forum, but because I discovered MUA second, I’ve never really participated in their forums.

However, they have a couple of fabulous features that EDS does not — namely, a wishlist function, and a swap function. These two work in conjunction with each other — you place items you’re yearning to try (or just stock up on) on your wishlist, and you also post items you’re happy to get rid of on your swap list. People take a look at your swap list, and offer to trade you for stuff they want and you don’t. And you can search other people’s swap lists for items on your wish list, and try and get them to trade.

Sure, the system has some flaws — many members have complained of “swap-lifters” who receive but never send, and you never know if the item you receive will be in the condition described. But there’s a pretty good system in place for rating users and giving feedback, kind of like eBay. And so far I’ve only had experiences ranging from medium to great — never overtly bad.

A couple times now, I’ve gotten ahold of items I was dying to try, but didn’t want to shell out money for. And my main goal was to pare down my excess surplus of beauty goods, which I’ve definitely been able to do. I’m still getting rid of things all the time, and the shipping cost is usually pretty nominal.

Swaps have been great for me, and I just wish I weren’t so insanely picky — but since certain ingredients always send my skin haywire, I’m fairly conservative about what I’ll swap for. A couple times I’ve just sent users items of mine without asking for anything in exchange, just to put some good swap vibes out there and to see products I never use go to a good home. When you’re as invested in products as I am, it’s nice to see them appreciated!

You do have to create an account to use Makeup Alley for these purposes, but accounts are free and totally private. Nothing but pluses in my book!