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L’Oréal shoppers will soon be able to interact with beauty assistants via live video chat enhanced with a layer of augmented reality, as demonstrated at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
Launching later this year, the experience means that shoppers using L’Oréal-owned beauty brand NYX’s app, will be able to book live streamed sessions with in-store assistants and receive a one-to-one service similar to what they would get at a physical beauty counter.
AR in this case will enable the assistants to show customers what make-up, such as lipstick or eyeshadow, would look like on their face and recommend products accordingly. That is made possible thanks to the acquisition of AR startup Modiface earlier this year, and is a first indication of what else will follow from the partnership.
Speaking on stage with Modiface founder, Parham Aarabi, L’Oréal’s chief digital officer Lubomira Rochet, said: “What we are doing with those technologies is to really mimic and recreate this really personal relationship you have with a beauty assistant at the counter. She looks at you, understands you, has more (makeup) experience. You get into a really personal conversation so you can have a really personalized recommendation. This is exactly what we want to do with our AR experience.”
Within the experience consumers will be able to purchase products and book upcoming appointments. The service is expected to be rolled out in 65 countries and to other L’Oréal-owned beauty brands, following the launch with NYX.
In a further conversation on stage with YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki, Rochet added that the acquisition of Modiface, which is the group’s first in the tech field, was a strategic one as the company truly believes AR and artificial intelligence are the future of the industry.
Rochet also expanded on how a customer-centric strategy is informing everything that the company does – from the aforementioned digital assistant experience, to understanding how beauty fanatics consume content online. This insight informs everything from R&D through to communications accordingly, she explained.
Paying close attention to searches and comments on YouTube videos, for instance, helps better understand what the potential customer’s concerns and beauty goals are when developing product, while from a communications perspective, social listening allows L’Oréal to tailor its language to better relate to how its audience already speaks about its products.
From a branding perspective, what also works is engagement – the typical sponsored lens (the augmented reality filters Snapchat has become increasingly known for), are used on average for 20 seconds.
All of that combined, and beauty brands have particularly been taking note. Looking to raise awareness and build new audiences, companies such as Urban Decay, Benefit and L’Oréal have recently launched their own lenses on the social app and, for 24 hours, reached a potential public of up to 100 million.
For Benefit, the biggest ROI in numbers wasn’t sales conversion, but rather usage and shares. As Nicole Frusci, vice president and digital marketing at the brand, told WWD: “We noticed there was a huge amount of usage from consumers to beauty influencers to other partners of ours. We saw a huge spike in the cross-sharing on other channels that was greater than we expected.”
In another creative application, beauty subscription retailer Birchbox recently invited followers to use Snapchat’s call feature to speak to its customer service agents.
The way these companies are using Snapchat is indicative of how beauty brands are putting their customers’ digital behaviours at the core of education, product discovery and experimentation. As digital has evolved, the always-on millennial beauty audience has grown accustomed to responding to visual, engaging digital content. This has been driven by the popularity of beauty vloggers, from grassroots names like Zoella to professional make-up artists including Lisa Eldridge and Charlotte Tilbury.
In 2015, leveraging the popularity of the contouring trend, partly thanks to the Kardashian clan, Sephora teamed up with beauty firm Map My Beauty to launch Pocket Contour, a mobile app that teaches customers how to master the sculpting look. Explaining the approach of hand-holding customers once they leave the store, Bridget Dolan, Sephora’s Innovation Lab VP, told USA Today: “We don’t want them to go home and throw the product in a drawer because the consumer can’t remember how the beauty adviser applied it.”
She added that women can buy the wrong foundation up to seven times before finding the correct shade for their skin. Teaching them how to buy and use the correct product first time around, helps avoid customer dissatisfaction, she explained.
Sephora’s strategy in the digital space is clearly rooted in insight about how its customers behave and what barriers might be stopping them from experimenting with new make-up. The brand has also recently launched the Beauty Uncomplicator online, which helps narrow down its extensive merchandise using a Mad Libs-style questionnaire, where users have to fill in blanks. By promoting interactivity, Sephora is trying to create “really fun, addictive shopping experiences”, according to Deborah Yeh, SVP of marketing and brand.
Being fun is also key to how the beauty industry is approaching digital. This is particularly important for luxury beauty brands, who are notoriously less adventurous in the physical sphere in order to protect brand equity. Digital gives them room to play and to be experimental, which is perfectly exemplified by Burberry bringing its beauty license back in-house in 2012. When luring the millennial customer into buying an affordable piece from the label, quirky campaigns like Burberry Kisses from 2013, show flexible brand image, with a digital sensibility that matches its younger target audience.
And as brands play with digital platforms, from established social media apps, like John Frieda’s recent Instagram campaign, to the sci-fi world of bots (another Sephora initiative), there is one clear go-to tech when it comes to getting the best of both work and play: augmented reality. Spearheaded by industry leaders such as Modiface and Holition, AR bridges the gap between the experience of trialling a physical product in-store and doing so on your smartphone.
Brands ranging as far and wide as L’Oréal, Lancôme and Covergirl have taken on the technology to help customers virtually try on make-up (mimicking that Snapchat user behaviour), while Rimmel has employed it to allow users to ‘nab’ the look of others. Modiface even has a new chatbot that brings virtual lipstick try-ons to Facebook Messenger.
Max Factor meanwhile is using it to enhance access to content in-store; recently announcing a partnership with augmented reality app Blippar that allows customers to scan more than 500 of its individual products to see additional information, from peer reviews to before-and-after pictures.
Digital and tech are most successful when they enhance – and not replace – the shopping experience. Customers will only interact when they are willing, so getting the basics right first, such as customer-focused product categories, is essential. And the message from the beauty industry is clear: use digital as a tool to help customers navigate choice and facilitate trial and error. Make it ‘sticky’ and you will become their brand of choice.
Chatbots in the fashion and beauty space are increasingly commonplace thanks to the launch of simple bot tools on the likes of Facebook Messenger and Kik. But how about one that not only has a conversation with you about what to purchase, but can show you what said item looks like on you in real-time too?
Modiface, an augmented reality (AR) company serving the beauty industry with custom try-on apps, has integrated its simulation technology into a conversational beauty advisor on Facebook Messenger.
The AR bot enables users to discover lipsticks specifically at this stage, providing them with the ability to virtually try different options on by uploading a selfie of themselves directly into the chat. Using advanced facial tracking and simulation technology, the bot then shows them what they look like in that exact product.