'A totally new era of e-commerce': Glossier's tech boss explains why she left Amazon after 14 years to join a $1 billion beauty startup
Pawan Uppuluri left a stable job at Amazon after 14 years to become chief technology officer at Glossier. The tech veteran was excited by the opportunity to widen the digital sales channel at the beauty startup. Glossier's website could get a new look under Uppuluri's reign.
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Pawan Uppuluri wasn't looking for a job when Glossier reached out to her to fill the position of chief technology officer. "I hadn't heard much about the company," Uppuluri, who has worked at the beauty startup since December, said of Glossier. "The more I did my research, the more it grew on me." Before taking the leap, the tech veteran had worked more than 14 years at Amazon, where she spearheaded such efforts as the retail giant's food-delivery service and customer experience for Alexa. While working at a tech goliath affords a certain level of job security, Uppuluri said she couldn't pass up the opportunity at Glossier to "invent the digital channel" for beauty, as Amazon has done for virtually everything else. The beauty category lags many other industries in one key way: A mere 15% of beauty products sales were made online before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research by McKinsey. Now, with retail stores including Glossier's affected by the pandemic and the lockdowns, Uppuluri's task at the company may be more important than ever. "Since joining the company, I am even more convinced that Glossier has laid the groundwork for the emergence of a totally new era of e-commerce," Uppuluri told Business Insider in March.
Glossier sells its barely-there skin-care and beauty products in stores and online, and has amassed an arsenal of nearly 3 million Instagram followers and influencers that spread the brand's gospel on social media. Last year's funding led by Sequoia Capital valued the six-year-old startup at $1.2 billion. The beauty startup has an enviable customer feedback loop Uppuluri, who is originally from India, near Hyderabad, asked her friends and mothers of teenage daughters what they liked about Glossier before she accepted the top technology job. Their excitement was contagious, she said.
“Sleepy selfie taken early this morning ft. #Futuredew layered on top of my regular serum, moisturizer, and SPF✨” —@melineas A post shared by Glossier (@glossier) on Oct 22, 2019 at 7:22am PDT on Oct 22, 2019 at 7:22am PDT
Glossier's social media pages are filled with product photos and self-portraits shared by their followers, and even the company's employees — a strategy that helps signal to potential customers that people like them love the products. The company mines for new product ideas in Instagram comments, product reviews, and an independent r/glossier subreddit. For years, it ran a focus group out of a Slack group, populated by its most engaged community members.
😂 A post shared by Glossier (@glossier) on May 24, 2019 at 10:27am PDT on May 24, 2019 at 10:27am PDT
Uppuluri said the conversation online happens "with the customer as well as between the customers," which is critical for a direct-to-consumer brand whose customers look to their peers to make beauty-purchasing decisions. "When I look at Glossier and what they've been able to do so far — how the community is created, what the experience is like in the physical retail stores — it's clear to me that this is a different kind of e-commerce," she said. "This is not about like reinventing the digital channel. It's about inventing it." Glossier's website could be getting a makeover under Uppuluri's reign The company has only four stores and has long avoided wholesale retailers, with the exception of pop-ups locations. Glossier's founder and chief executive Emily Weiss has said the company will never sell its products on Amazon.
Emboldened by her experience at Amazon, Uppuluri hopes to widen the digital channel at her new post. Glossier's website is typical of any retailer. It shows beauty products photographed on a stormcloud-gray background and has them grouped by categories like skin-care, makeup, and body. While the product pages include user reviews, customers have less prominent placement on the website than they have on social media.
"We are a digital-first company. We think about the company holistically in terms of experiences: digital, physical, and offline. We've created incredible physical experiences for our customers through products; and incredible offline experiences through our amazing retail environments," Uppuluri said. "Now, the way we've been thinking about it is: The big opportunity in front of us is to bring the magic you see in Glossier's stores, or happening in our Instagram comments with our community, to our website," she said.
We sent Bubblewrap to @lizhew before it launched to get her thoughts. Here’s what she had to say: “It has the nicest feeling formula! It’s great to layer under makeup or on its own and keeps your delicate eye and lip area 💧hydrated💧 It contains hyaluronic acid and peptides along with blueberry extract (which is a great antioxidant!) and lastly it feels super lightweight and non-greasy as it’s fast absorbing, so say bye to any makeup pilling!” A post shared by Glossier (@glossier) on May 5, 2019 at 10:31am PDT on May 5, 2019 at 10:31am PDT
Uppuluri did not give specifics on how Glossier's website might look different in the future, but she said the work has a new sense of urgency as more people are doing their shopping from home. The effect of COVID-19 The beauty industry shut down almost overnight in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Glossier closed its stores in mid-March, and it's unclear when they will reopen. A leaked company email sent to retail employees on April 17, which was seen by Business Insider, said it expects stores to remain closed through at least the end of May.
Swipe to read a letter from our founder and CEO @emilyweiss on our decision to temporarily close all Glossier retail stores. It’s a time to join us online and on Glossier.com, which is always open! 📲❤️✨ A post shared by Glossier (@glossier) on Mar 12, 2020 at 7:53pm PDT on Mar 12, 2020 at 7:53pm PDT
The store closures, and those of beauty-product outlets like Sephora and Ulta, give Uppuluri's task new significance. While sales of beauty products were down in the first quarter, the pandemic has triggered a boom in online shopping, according to the McKinsey report. The industry can expect e-commerce sales to increase 20% to 30% above their pre-coronavirus levels. For Uppuluri's part, Glossier will need to create an online shopping experience that parallels the joys of shopping in its stores, to help offset a drop in revenue. "Given COVID-19 and its impact on our ability to gather in person, this work is even more important," Uppuluri said. "We're evaluating new, creative ways to foster community and connection when we can't be together in real life."SEE ALSO: Glossier store workers brace for layoffs after company tells employees it may stop paying them at the end of May if stores remain closed, leaked email reveals Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: All the ways Amazon is taking over your house
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