Inside the ‘phased refresh’ of Ulta Beauty’s digital store

Ulta exec Jeffrey Hamm breaks down the beauty retailer’s consumer-facing and backend changes.
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4 min read

In the midst of its brick-and-mortar makeover, Ulta Beauty has also been treating its digital store to a new look. And no, not by upping its contour game or packing on some blush, but with backend changes and the addition of tools to better connect shoppers to the products they want.

The beauty retailer posted strong results last year, with net sales rising 18.3% to $10.2 billion. Among the year’s achievements CEO Dave Kimbell outlined in its most recent earnings call were improvements in customer experience. In addition to a growing physical footprint, with 47 new store openings last year, he also praised the “phased refresh” of its digital store.

Overseeing this refresh is Jeffrey Hamm, Ulta’s VP of digital experience and operations, who heads teams across product management, user experience, and business operations at the retailer. He’s been with Ulta for over a decade, joining in 2012 as its director of e-commerce when the retailer’s digital business “was quite small,” he told Retail Brew.

  • A look at an archive of the site from the month Hamm joined definitely proves things have changed, both in layout and product offerings. A top seller back then? The original Urban Decay Naked Palette, may it rest in peace.

“It’s been a journey to take it from e-commerce to digital, and by that, I mean we’ve not only grown the digital channel, but now we’re really setting ourselves up for how we support digital for the enterprise,” Hamm said.

So what does that mean, exactly? Hamm broke down the consumer-facing and behind-the-scenes changes that make up this refresh.

(Inter)face lift: Shoppers can now see “a new, modern look and feel” on the site and app, Hamm said, which includes a new browsing experience to improve product discovery across its 35,000 SKUs and 500 brands. It’s important for the search process to be “multifaceted” and go beyond keyboards to ensure consumer confidence, he noted.

  • Last year, Ulta rolled out a slew of product-matching tools, including a fragrance finder and tools allowing shoppers to use their cameras to try on looks and products.
  • They can test what they’d look like with red dye from Madison Reed in their hair, tinted moisturizer from Laura Mercier on their skin, or eyeshadow from Natasha Denona swept on their lids.
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In the process of creating these tools, Hamm said the retailer considered, “How do we make sure that the guest…one, can have a discovery process that’s entertaining, engaging, and fun, but then to actually get them to the product that they want and the product that they feel confident purchasing?”

Under the skin: While the consumer-facing changes are largely complete, the backend adjustments to the site are still ongoing. The company has “completely overhauled” its tech platform to support scalability, creating a more nimble backend experience for the Ulta team, Hamm explained.

“It just really changes the way we work as well and putting more of the power in the business’s hands and partnering with IT on new functionality, versus always having to go to them for changes,” he shared.

The company has built out “reusable components” that allow Hamm’s team to more quickly change or add new homepage content or adjust those new forms of navigation Ulta has introduced.

“We wanted to make sure that we changed the way that we can go to market,” he said. “We’re able to redesign the site while also building our building blocks for how the technology will be used in the future.”

Blending in: This effort has been a bit trickier than a brick-and-mortar renovation, Hamm noted, because consumers’ eyes can be on the website 24/7.

“You may remodel a physical store and you may close it down and repaint, replumb, move the shelves,” he said. “We’re doing that in real time. So I think balancing change with also running the business has been the biggest challenge.”

Hamm said the retailer will continue to iterate on its digital site, and future updates like additional interactive tools will continue to blend “commerce and content,” to support shoppers’ product discovery.

  • Ulta is also keeping an eye on consumer feedback for its new look and tools, using a net promoter score (NPS), a market research metric, to measure customer satisfaction.

“That’s our focus: How do we make it connected, seamless, frictionless, and then also fun, easy, and intuitive to browse and shop?” he said.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.