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Understanding the end-to-end UX of the Sephora Virtual Artist app

A research project to learn how an augmented reality makeup feature compares to real life makeup application.


Understand the end-to-end experience of shopping for makeup with the SVAA 


Solo UX Researcher


8 weeks 


The Sephora Virtual Artist App (SVAA) Product Try-On is an augmented reality feature of the Sephora app, that enables users to try on makeup products carried by Sephora, virtually, before purchasing. 


I wanted to understand the entire end-to-end experience of using the app, from virtual product try-on to how the real makeup compares to what’s shown on the app and if it meets users’ expectations, when it is applied in real life.

This was important to understand, because the goal of the app was to drive conversion by allowing users to buy makeup directly from the app. Therefore, users should feel confident that what they try on in the app is an accurate representation of the product.


I was the solo UX Researcher for this project. I designed this study out of my own curiosity, with no affiliation/partnership with the Sephora company. Responsibilities included: 


The scope of the project was to understand the entire end-to-end experience of shopping for makeup which included:

  1. Trying on the makeup virtually

  2. Purchasing makeup through the app

  3. Receiving the makeup and applying it

  4. Comparing it with what was shown via the augmented  reality feature and understanding if this met users' expectations.



I faced issues with steps 2 and 3 above, because I did not have the budget to purchase makeup for my participants and could not wait several days for products to be shipped.


I needed a way to circumvent this problem as it was critical to understanding the end-to-end experience.


For the study, I included anyone who was interested in makeup, applies makeup or wanted to experience makeup before purchasing.


Due to a lack of access to representative participants, I decided to include who I knew—5 female participants between 25-32 years old, who were:

  • well-versed in using smartphone apps

  • well-versed in online shopping  

  • had funds for purchasing makeup products 


At the onset of the project, I didn’t have specific research questions in mind to address my larger goals. Without specific research questions, I decided to explore my own user experience with the app.

My experiences pointed to possible navigation and usability issues. This informed my first research goal and research questions.



How do users use the Product Try-On feature on the SVAA?

Research Questions to Achieve Goal 1:

  1. Can participants easily navigate the app and successfully select makeup products?

  2. Can participants create a complete makeup look?(Complete look = select and apply a product from each section)

  3. Are there any features that distract or impede participants from selecting products?

  4. What are the opportunities for improvement for the Product Try-On feature?

To gain deeper insights into these questions, I decided to include Usability Testing as part of my methodology with 5 participants. I designed my usability tasks to be realistic of what users would typically do on the app and they were verifiable to an extent. This way the tasks were neither too restrictive nor too broad.

For example, if the task was to “select a red lip product”, so long as the participant picked a red lip product, they would be considered successful at that task. The brand, shade or style (lipgloss vs. lipstick) they chose was up to them.

Participants created a full makeup look by going through the usability tasks and used that look in the second part of the study: creating the look in real life with real makeup.

As mentioned above, I did not have the budget or time to acquire the makeup products to complete this part of the study. To circumvent this, I decided to use Contextual Inquiry to address this goal. I brought my participants to a Sephora makeup store and provided the following instructions:

“I would like you to recreate the look that you created on your app, using the products available in-store.”



How does real life application of the makeup compare to what is shown on the app and does it meet users’ expectations?

Research Questions to Achieve Goal 2:

  1. What do participants do when given the opportunity to try products suggested on the app, in-store?

  2. What tools do participants use in-store to apply makeup products?

  3. What are participants’ mental models about the Sephora Virtual Artist App and do these match with their experiences in-store?


​To complement my observations during the Contextual Inquiry, I asked my participants to complete a brief survey after returning home from the Sephora store. This survey included questions about participants’ experiences with the app (SUS) as well as their experiences in the store.

To better empathize with my users I created some personas and journey maps of them using with the app.

The journey maps reveal that most participants had an overall negative experience with the usability of the app.


Contextual inquiry and survey results indicated that participants had difficulty easily accessing their created looks on the apps and had to use workarounds. 

Perhaps the most alarming finding was that many of the participants reported that the products were not accurately represented on the app. For example, the shade of a product in-store did not match what was shown on the app. 

This decreased their confidence in the app. 

Participants were asked to rate the following question on a 5-point Likert Scale: Once after completing Part 1 (Usability Testing) and once after completing Part 2 (Contextual Inquiry/Survey):

How likely or unlikely are you to buy makeup products directly from this app, in the future?

Results indicated that In-store experiences impacted participants’ likelihood of using the app for future purchases. 

The end-to-end experience reveals decreased confidence in using the app for future makeup products for 80% of participants.




The end-to-end user experience of using the app and then trying the makeup on in real-life is fundamentally connected. Both experiences need to be delightful as they impact users’ perceptions of each other.

For an augmented reality app like the SVAA to really work the way it is intended, products need to be represented accurately on the app. The app could be integrated in the shopping experience for makeup users.


  1. Have a more representative participant group including varying genders, ages, income levels, occupations and races.

  2. Have a larger sample size (n=5 in this study).

  3. Select one Sephora store. In this study, the location of the Sephora store varied due to convenience. This actually may be more realistic since users go to varying Sephora locations, but perhaps in a future study this could be kept constant to see if it makes a difference to the outcomes.

  4. If I had more resources, time and budget, perhaps I would include the checkout process as part of my usability tasks.

  5. Learn more about the participants’ backgrounds to draw deeper insights— Interestingly, only one participant knew how the “Color Picker” feature of the app worked and that was because she worked in tech. She was the only one who could finish that particular usability task.

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© 2020 by Swati Nikumb 

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