UX Research Study: Sephora App


UX Researcher — Personal Research Exercise


Sephora Feature Exploration


UX Research


4 Days

*Shopify UXR Intern — Interview Exercise 2018

context —

UX Research Exercise


Sephora is one of the top free beauty apps on the Google Play and iOS app store. From doing a past product design case study on increasing shopping behaviour and sales through integrating a community feature, Sephora was a well known app recognized throughout my user interviews. Leveraging this knowledge, I decided to further pursue a research study on the app for a research exercise prompt by Shopify out of personal interest.

Full disclaimer, the exercise provided didn’t require me to create a full case study and I don’t represent Sephora in any way. I just enjoy talking to people, learning about their problems and putting my user research skills to good practice.

Competitive benchmark Study

I completed a competitive benchmark study among a couple apps to analyze some of the main community features from a past project, and here are my findings for the Sephora app:

There are three main community engagement opportunities within the app sectioned off into: Groups, Conversations and Gallery. Sephora also made a point of communicating to a user what the community features were by providing visual aids and short informative points that broke down the value of each features purpose.

From general observation of each feature, the Gallery seemed to have the most consistent engagement with users. Users using this feature are able to contribute relevant related content such as photos of their new makeup look to display in an image feed. Considering Sephora’s prospective business needs, there are brand exposure opportunities within the gallery feature that will showcase Sephora-bought products they've utilized within each look.

Project Deliverables

  • User flow walkthrough

  • Research plan and interview guide

  • Analysis of findings

  • Collaborative approach



Narrowing scope —

Overview & Background


Sephora Community Overview > Gallery

For sake of this new research prompt given that asks to focus on why conversion is down on a new redesign, I decided to focus on the Sephora application’s Gallery feature to further evaluate and better understand habits of detailed user interactions while using the app.

User Flow

Having gone through this feature flow myself, I decided to break down some of the steps I took in an app screenshot by screenshot flow and provide dialogue captions below each step I took to communicate my thought process while interacting with the feature:

Initial discovery of the community look book gallery

Photo description and details page for user to customize post and categorize post under designated group

Final confirmation flow, ensuring user has agreed to Terms and Conditions in order to submit

Process —

Ideation and Exploration

Feature:  "Add A Look" > Add Photo Details Overview

I really wanted to dig a bit deeper into the following feature to really understand the intention was behind the UX of this feature, consider any areas for improvements and determine if any potential suggestions could be made.

The photo details page prompts me to add details about my photo look, to adding a description caption, to adding the products I've used/purchased.


Questions to further explore:

  • Are there any incentives that get a user to post their own photo on the app?

  • Could there be additional guidance on what to caption within the description text?

  • What's the purpose of the 'Categories' and necessity of selecting/adding the photo to a group to proceed?

Provided Context > Referencing Shopify Research Prompt

Now let's say that we're given two existing avid Sephora online app shoppers, two Sephora in-store shoppers that are seldom app users and one Sephora Associate/Makeup Artist that will act as the users from the database I was able to reach out to. I chose to interview a small variety of Sephora shoppers and an associate to get a better understanding of how the latest redesign might impact all points of Sephora’s shopping experience.

In addition — ideally, I would do my best to reach out to a data science and analytics team and/or product manager that may be able to provide specific insight on the web analytics data on the areas of the re-design and understand any product requirements and constraints that should be tested.


Problem Focus + Research —

Planning and interview guide


analyzing additional e-commerce apps 

To understand detailed user interactions within the app that may be impacting conversion, a field research study and usability test may be good techniques to begin with. Both would offer insights to measure user behaviour in context to where the user may be using the app as well as an opportunity to observe users carry out specific tasks with the app’s re-design.

Going into the testing I would set the following general research goals:

  1. Discover why conversion has gone down on a mobile app feature

  2. Validate a Sephora employee's need for an improved UX flow within the app

  3. Validate a Sephora shopper's need for an improved UX flow within the app

Research Iteration Organization

In order to organize this research study, I've referenced both a Medium article breaking down Shopify's "Get Shit Done Framework" as well as a research iteration Trello board framework created by Jessica Crabb, a product designer and researcher at Pateron.


I like to use this method of research structure to organize my findings throughout a study as well as keep track of any reference links I may need during testing. The board is comprised of my documented goals, a contact list and schedule for each of my research participants, NDA agreement copies and space to reference notes taken from the testing:

Interview Guide

The first usability test was conducted on Amanda, a Sephora Makeup Artist/Associate, in order to gather insight and context on Sephora as a company and close to expert user of the Sephora mobile app for both personal and professional use.

Her interview summary can be found here:


Insights from Amanda’s interview lead to adding the second usability test of Sephora’s online mobile appointment booking system.


Re-framing Problem —

Booking a makeup service through the Sephora app


Feature:  Stores & Services > Book a Reservation

Both usability tests were then conducted on the remaining online app user interview participants. The second test specifically focusing on booking a reservation.

User Flow

Overview of booking a makeup service through the Sephora app:

Selecting the closest store location to book an appointment > Selecting appointment type and entering details

Selecting appointment date/time availabilities > Confirmation of reservation details sent to e-mail and text message

Interview Guide 2


Results —

Analysis of findings

Iterations/ Recommendations

  • Bringing more value towards the Sephora gallery feature, while combining it with the reservation feature within the Sephora app for booking a makeover

  • Having a gallery of recommended looks from either featuring looks from real customers or make up artists for shoppers to take inspiration/choose from

  • Selecting a look prior to the appointment itself provides make-up artists with greater preparation and context, making the appointment process flow when coming in-store for the makeover more efficient with specified products already listed   

  • The gallery app would be greater utilized when paired with this feature and perhaps encourage more shoppers to book an appointment which would in turn provide more revenue for the business

  • Alternatively, other ways to increase the exposure to the appointment booking feature would be to provide a Sephora app user with context on initial app exposure

Post Launch: Measuring

After the testing investigation is complete, I would take the time to go through each interview session and summarize any notes, photos, screenshots and videos from the study to be able to present to the rest of the team. I would want to get my team involved as early as possible, even inviting them prior to the field study would have been a great opportunity to get them involved from first-hand and build greater context after hearing these users experiences.

As a team, it may be great to work together to take the summaries and pull any defining areas participant have pointed out as pain points or future goals into insights for the next phase of design changes and future development. Collaboration here is key to really all come together to find a balance in taking what the communicated user needs might have been with consideration to what’s possible within the business, design and development capacity to go forward.


Next Steps —

Involving product team and action items

Present Research Findings by X date, involve product team

  1. Product Manager, Data Analysts — Provide web analytics and specific usage interaction for Sephora appointment booking, specific to location search

  2. Team Meeting — Meeting to compile insights and research results to align user needs with business goals, decide on direction going forward

  3. Design, Research, Development — Discuss new development and design changes to improve booking system

  4. Marketing, Research — Discuss new marketing opportunities for Sephora gallery app to improve community gallery feature



Lessons learned and thoughts going forward


Seeing as this was a personal project I took on for an earlier job application I did during the summer, there were not as many constraints aside from the questions given to me from the exercise prompt. The questions given revolved around why conversion had gone down on a feature and the need for an improved UX flow which was quite broad.

This exercise was an interesting experience that lead me to independently think, research and interview users on an app feature that didn’t already have a direct problem called out. The openness of this challenge allowed me to focus on an app experience I found a particular interest in, exploring beyond my knowledge and leveraging my network of friends and acquaintances that regularly interact with the app.

Beyond the exercise

I think the main thing I took out of this experience was really how conflicted I felt throughout the process at times of being under a fixed time constraint while really wanting to stand out. Though the exercise was more of a thinking exercise that didn’t require the effort of a compiled case study, I found a genuine interest in wanting to solve beyond what was asked.

After all of the gathered research and structure into a case study, I still felt the importance of putting the effort into visual presentation and communication of my results; digging deeper into creating user flows to clearly communicate my research.


Overall, I was quite happy about my effort put towards this exercise in putting my UX research skills out into the real world. Though greater than that, I felt like I faced an even deeper conflict with whether or not I wanted to let go of design and pursue research.

What I came to realize after this particular interview experience and actually a lot of other job interview processes I've gone through, is how important it is to really ask yourself what you want.

I ended up making it to the final interview round of this UX research position but during the same time I ended up interviewing for a design opportunity at an additional company. After a lot of personal chats, self reflection and debate of going the research or design route, the design opportunity ended up being offered to me.

As a result, I’ve decided to pursue more product design work within this design position in addition to asking for more opportunities to conduct research in order to find my happy balance. I'm thankful in the direction of where my early career is shaping out to be and excited to see where it takes me.

Main takeaways

  • Conducting a UX audit, capturing and documenting app screenshots of a typical user flow is an effective process of analyzing an app to better understand the app’s end-to-end experience

  • When interviewing participants, it’s important to remove any biases of personal opinion and keep questions open ended for testers to respond naturally

  • Trello is an incredible tool to use for organizing research results and keeping track of tasks, documents, participant insights and more; beyond it being a great field research tool, it captures a meaningful high level overview to present out

  • Take-home interview challenges are a great way to showcase your independent thinking for a company you may be interested in to really stand out as an applicant, giving you an opportunity to leverage it as a portfolio piece and grow your personal interest about a problem

  • “Should companies do design/research challenges?” — a common debate among the industry. My personal opinion: as long as it isn’t a direct challenge affiliated with the interviewing company and broad enough of a design prompt, go for it if time permits with your schedule

  • Interviewing with Shopify was a great experience, my interviewers were wonderful to speak to and walk through my project. The main feedback received was directed around providing rationale behind why certain tasks and interview methods were used throughout testing

  • Next steps: I’d love to eventually turn this research study and expand it further into a design challenge