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How Sephora Uses Email Personalization To Drive Purchases


We’re inundated with emails shouting at us to try this or buy that. So what makes an email go from interruptive to valuable? Email personalization is one way to capture subscriber interest and deliver more relevant, targeted emails to your audience.

This isn’t easy. Says John Bonini, Growth Director at Litmus:

Email personalization is hard work. It’s not an add-on, but rather requires an obsessive understanding of each segment of your audience. It requires time, and in full transparency, is nothing that can be mastered in some average “Ultimate How To…” blog post.

Get inspired with these examples from Sephora to start integrating personalization into your email marketing strategy.

More Than [First Name]

When it comes to email personalization, it’s essential to go a step further than first name. To do it right, you have to understand where your subscriber is in their customer journey. In what context are they opening your email?

These days, everyone knows your “first name” in email. Demographics can be a good start in your email targeting, but that’s table stakes. In our Email Marketing in 2020 report, we found that 76% of our respondents agreed that in five years, emails will be completely personalized. This level is something your subscribers will come to expect—similar to mobile-friendly email today.

To make your email memorable and shareworthy, you have to go beyond first name personalization and start delivering relevant, timely email experiences.

Start With Simple Data Points That Will Delight

Personalization doesn’t have to be super complicated to delight your subscribers. You can start by using basic information that customers provide during the signup process. In Sephora’s case, that’s birth date:


You can use the signup process to learn more about your subscribers. In addition to name and birthday, this can also include information about location, product or content preferences, and more.

Here’s the dilemma: the more data you have, the better you can target; however, the more data you ask for in the signup process, the less completion of signups you’ll see. Test your signup forms to see what works for you, though we recommend stripping them down to the bare minimum. You can also look into progressive profiling, which involves building your subscriber’s profile over several interactions.

Map Out The Customer Journey To Get The Best Results

Mapping out your customer journey from start to finish is a daunting challenge that moves beyond the email marketer. It’s rarely a linear one, and can change based on the persona of the person you’re mapping. Typically, the customer journey breaks down like this, but it completely depends on your pricing model.

  • Prospect: This person hasn’t purchased, but may be in your ecosystem by following you on social media, reading blog posts, or attending webinars.
  • Subscriber: Once the prospect gives you their email address, you can start to target them based on where they’ve been on your site or other behavior, and begin to nurture them to purchase.
  • Customer: They now pay you for a product or service. From there, they have two paths:
  • Inactive/Cancelled Customer: While they may use your product or service, they may use it episodically or only shop during specific sale periods. Though they generate revenue, they’re not at full potential.
  • Loyal Customer/Advocate: They continue to renew your service or buy your products, and may begin to tell the world about it, or refer their friends and colleagues.

The key part of the customer journey is to figure out the tipping points between those categories. What makes a person decide to purchase? What makes them come back again and again?

From there, you can figure out points of friction in your journey and how to smooth them. Email is a channel that works at all points of the customer journey because it allows you to deliver your messaging exactly when your subscribers need it most—and at which point in the customer journey is the most relevant.

To start, take a look at what data your company collects about your subscribers and start optimizing. What do you already know about your customers and subscribers?

What Can You Learn About Your Audience?

When it comes to email marketing, it’s all about your audience. Use Litmus Email Analytics to discover which email clients are most popular with your subscribers. Sign up free!

Discover your audience →

This example shows off what you can do with product and purchasing data to tip someone from one-time customer to loyal or recurring customer.


When it comes to makeup, there are certain standards when you’re supposed to replace your products (for instance, mascara is supposed to be replaced after 30 days.) By sending a reminder when it’s likely a product is ready for re-purchase, it puts the product back at the top of your subscriber’s mind (and their to-do list!)

I receive something like this about every 4 months, when I need new foundation. Regardless of makeup standards, Sephora has figured out how often I use this makeup, and how long it will be before I’ll need another. That’s super relevant, timely, and personalized for me—so of course I clicked through!

This can apply to any kind of renewal campaign, whether it’s a product consumers use or a subscription service that needs to be maintained.

Once you map out your customer journey, you can look into better targeting your campaigns based on demographics, behavior, and engagement.

Target By Plan Type

Like many retail companies, Sephora has a rewards component to their purchasing model. The more you spend, the more rewards and benefits you receive. The rewards are also only eligible with purchase—in the example below, using the code gives you the gift, as long as you purchase $25 worth of merchandise (Spoiler: I did.)


Segmenting your emails based on plan helps better target your message and align it to the customer journey. This allows you to leverage that 1:1 nature of email, even if you’re not up for full-blown personalization. That segmentation should go beyond the demographics and dig deeper into your customer journey:

  • Behavior: What is your customer doing? What causes them to purchase (in my case, rewards are a huge incentive.)
  • Engagement: How do they interact with your company or your product?

That includes upsell and retention initiatives. With Sephora’s reward programs, you have to spend a certain amount in a given year to maintain your status (and keep getting those rewards!) Giving your subscribers a nudge in the right direction, ideally with a small incentive, can tip them into the next plan level.


That doesn’t have to be with a dedicated email campaign, either. You can include status updates, reminders, and social proof within other emails as well. Sephora includes this bar at the bottom of their promotional emails to add an extra set of personalization based on your account.


If You Don’t Have Data…Ask!

To do some of this great personalization, you need a lot of data. If you’re having trouble mapping out your customer journey, or aren’t sure what points to optimize, start asking for data.

Be very specific about what you’re looking for and when you ask, like this email example from Sephora. This was sent about a week after my purchase.


With the subject line, “Details please! How did you like your purchase?” it’s clear what Sephora wants me to do: write a review, or at the very least “love” my purchase. Note that it’s still personalized with the exact images of what I bought!

Adding reviews to their site helps boost social proof for them, but also gives them valuable data about me and what I like, so they can further fine-tune not just emails but also other on-site targeting and recommendations. As a subscriber (and marketer) I know this, and am gladly willing to spend a few minutes raving about my new eyeshadow if that means I can find other products just like it.

For emails of this kind, strip it down to the absolute simplest it can be (I’d argue that this email design is a tad over complicated for their goal.) Make sure that there’s only one call-to-action (CTA) and that the subscriber knows exactly what to do.

Start Targeting Your Subscribers

When it comes to surprising and delighting a potential customer and encouraging them to purchase, personalization is the way of the future. To do it right, you need data. With Litmus Email Analytics, you can see where your subscribers open and what client they use so you can better understand the makeup of your audience—and how best to target them.

Discover your audience →