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Redis Enterprise on Google Cloud Enables Ulta Beauty to Build a “Digital Store of the Future”

Company: Ulta Beauty
Industry: Retail


Ulta Beauty, Inc. is the largest U.S. beauty retailer and the premier destination for cosmetics, fragrance, skincare products, hair care products, and salons. Today, Ulta Beauty operates more than 1,450 retail stores across the country and maintains a popular e-commerce website, which includes a collection of beauty tips, tutorials, and social content.


Rapid online growth during COVID-19 motivated Ulta Beauty to renovate its e-commerce presence and adopt a more nimble, efficient cloud-based architecture. The company sought to deploy a more versatile, scalable, and powerful in-memory database within a microservices architecture that offered strong caching support.


Ulta Beauty migrated to Redis Enterprise on Google Cloud to manage its rapid growth and to create a new digital presence powering cohesive customer experiences, both online and in its retail stores. Redis Cloud handles application layer caching via an in-memory database that requires zero storage.


Redis reduced development efforts, simplified integration with third party technologies, and anchored a curbside pickup service that kept inventory moving during COVID-19. The Redis support team ensured a seamless migration from open source Redis to Redis Cloud. This new environment has allowed Ulta to automate development tasks that formerly consumed lots of cycles for Ulta Beauty’s innovation team, including designing a “digital store of the future” and refreshing the Ulta website with new personalization tools for shoppers.

Pivoting Ulta Beauty in response to retail upheaval

The retail world experienced a major shakeup in recent years, with momentous changes in operating models and shopper preferences, partly motivated by the reaction to COVID-19, as consumers embraced online shopping. Ulta Beauty’s CEO Dave Kimbell called 2020 an “incredibly disruptive year” noting “permanent shifts in consumer behavior.” However, at a time when e-commerce, consumer packaged goods, and supply chains saw tremendous upheaval, Ulta Beauty thrived, growing its 2021 revenue by about 40%.

Kimbell credits the company’s innovation team for helping transition from an old business model, based on legacy applications and on-premises information systems, to a more sustainable IT infrastructure that is quickly migrating to the cloud. Omar Koncobo, IT director on Ulta Beauty’s innovation team, is leveraging the power and scalability of Redis Cloud to meet ambitious business goals such as curbside pickup, same-day delivery, and a new service called Beauty to Go, where shoppers order products online and pick up at a store two hours later.

“Today’s customers expect great experiences online–and in the store, especially for high-touch retail segments such as beauty,” says Koncobo, who is responsible for Ulta Beauty’s e-commerce and digital systems. “We need to deliver a seamless experience that delights customers while inspiring loyalty so they keep coming back to Ulta Beauty.”

As the e-commerce business escalated, the innovation team shifted into high gear to accommodate a rapidly growing volume of user sessions. During one busy holiday period, Ulta Beauty’s business analysts estimated inventory services would need to scale at least four times. To improve performance and reliability, they migrated key portions of the technology stack from an on-premises, open source Redis deployment to Redis Enterprise on Google Cloud. “Moving to the enterprise-grade managed cloud version of Redis was night and day,” Koncobo says. “Redis Cloud was easy and fast to get working. We don’t need to spend time sizing servers, and all the installation and configuration go away. We just spin up a Google Cloud instance.”

Adopting a modern software architecture

One thing that motivated Ulta Beauty’s innovation team to move to Redis Cloud was its ability to optimize the data layer for a microservices architecture. Many of the previous software processes were tightly coupled and ran as unified deployable artifacts, so scaling or modifying one part of an application generally required updating the entire service.

With Redis Cloud, new applications can be constructed as a collection of loosely coupled microservices, each of which can be independently updated and scaled. These discrete services were easier to build and manage than large monolithic applications. A microservices architecture enables faster development and frequent deployments–ideal for urgent rollouts such Ulta Beauty’s successful Curbside Pickup launch, which blends many online and in-store processes.

“It only took four weeks to develop a strategy to open our entire retail chain to curbside pickup,” Koncobo recalls. “As we expanded the curbside pickup service, we didn’t have to add additional capacity. Everything scaled perfectly.”

Ulta Beauty also takes advantage of the advanced caching capabilities of Redis Cloud. For example, the previous e-commerce application relied on a legacy middleware orchestration layer which called a third-party inventory system to display available products. Time is of the essence: When customers put an item in their cart, they want to know instantly if it is available in inventory for immediate delivery. Unfortunately, the third-party application was not very reliable. Some calls to check current inventory failed outright. Others took too long or returned inconsistent results.

To remedy the problem, Koncobo and his team spent weeks attempting to create a custom caching solution before they decided to use Redis Cloud’s out-of-the-box caching capabilities. One of the advantages in doing so was that Redis Cloud temporarily stores data in-memory so repeated database requests could be served faster and linearly scaled without performance degradation.

Thanks to optimized capabilities, the fully managed version of Redis Enterprise automated many development tasks that had formerly consumed a lot of time for Koncobo and team. “Why bother with short term, in-memory storage when Redis can do that for us?” Koncobo asks. “Why try to create a caching solution when I can use Redis to handle that as well? With Redis, instead of calling the third-party app, we have a back channel that updates the [e-commerce system] with the latest inventory position. Everything is in-memory, so there is no need for cold storage. It’s much cheaper as well.”

Performance has also improved dramatically. For example, in the previous Redis open source implementation, calls to the inventory application took one to two seconds to complete. Now, with Redis Cloud, inventory calls take two to three milliseconds, thanks to the abundant resources of Google Cloud and the fast in-memory processing capabilities of Redis Enterprise. “We obtain unbelievable savings by leveraging Redis Enterprise on Google Cloud—not only to power the system, make it very fast, and improve our operational efficiency, but also to reduce the cost of operating our technology platform,” Koncobo sums up.

Moving from self-managed open source to fully managed Redis

Ulta Beauty’s philosophy is to “test the waters” with open source technology relative to software purchases. Once a particular software environment can become an integral part of its ecosystem, the company moves to the licensed, enterprise version. Redis accommodated this strategy well. “The transition from on-prem Redis to the Google Cloud configuration has been easy,” Koncobo says.

Redis maximizes flexibility for the future as Redis Cloud can move amongst all the major public clouds, such as from the current Google Cloud implementation to Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. “We looked at many other [database] solutions, most of which appeared to be very complex to implement,” Koncobo says. “Redis worked perfectly. It was easy to get going at a reasonable price. When we upgraded to Redis Cloud, the Redis support team was amazing.”

From brick and mortar to the “store of the future”

Ulta Beauty’s evolving Redis-based real-time data layer also helps the innovation team to unify the in-store and digital experiences. The retailer’s online strategy includes a major refresh of its website combined with new content and increased personalization tools. A partnership with Google leverages Ulta Beauty’s GLAMLab, a virtual try-on tool with select brands found in Google’s Search and YouTube platforms. “The new platform we’re building is more than just an e-commerce channel,” Koncobo notes. “It will power our omni channels as we take the shopping experience to a new level.”

A key part is the “roaming cart” or “roaming basket” concept, which merges physical and digital experiences. “Whether you log in online or go into a store, your profile will be the same,” Koncobo explains. “If you add a tube of lipstick to your digital shopping cart but don’t check out, the in-store associate will help you complete the purchase during your next store visit —perhaps with a special coupon for that product. Similarly, all orders guests place in the physical store appear on the digital site. Redis supplies the technology to help us make these personalized experiences possible. Our innovation team works hard to see what else we can do to keep guests engaged and provide what they’re looking for. Redis allows us to invest in what is critical to the business.”

Podcast: How Redis Helped Ulta Beauty Dazzle Customers During Lockdown

As the coronavirus pandemic forced physical retail stores to shut their doors, Ulta Beauty found a way to grow its business by 40% in calendar 2021. On this sponsored episode of the Cloud Wars Live podcast, IT Director Omar Koncobo talks with Bob Evans about how Ulta pulled off that unlikely feat. Omar shares how the Redis real-time data platform allowed Ulta to implement a brand-new curbside pickup system in just four weeks and to pursue its primary goal of delivering customers the products they want, when and where they want them.