All who invest in beauty products have their own routines. For years, consumers have headed to the stores, whether that meant beauty counters at the finest department stores, beauty chains like Ulta or Sephora, or even corner drug stores like Walgreens or CVS, to grab familiar products or test out some of the latest and greatest. While in modern times beauty seekers may go online to purchase some of their products, the physical stores, where shoppers can try shades and get a real makeover, have reigned supreme.
But everything changed in March 2020. The ease of popping into your favorite store to grab makeup or try on new shades evaporated during quarantine, and even when brick-and-mortar stores began to reopen, trying products was rendered obsolete because of new health and safety precautions. Those faithful to venturing out to stores had to turn to online shopping, but they faced the same problems that previous online beauty shoppers faced — the ability to try new products or shades. Because of these problems, experts anticipated that global beauty-industry revenues would fall 20% to 30%, as the online stores couldn’t offset the loss of instore revenue. Yet, many brands did not want to count themselves out just yet. Some brands turned to two technologies to try to keep their businesses afloat — artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR).
Understanding AI and AR
In an ever-changing world, scientists and technologists have been working hard to meet the needs of current beauty consumers. Their efforts have been mostly focused on accelerating AI and AR, even more so since the pandemic. However, this trend was already a part of the luxury beauty space, thanks to interest in new technology and customization features. For example, the handheld makeup printer was developed by the Defense Department, and NASA approved a skin-care micro mist. The pandemic rapidly pushed these technologies into the public beauty domain.
“The pandemic has pushed forward our virtual presence and how we live and shop,” states VP and creative director of beauty at Fashion Snoops, Melissa Hago. “New challenges demand innovative solutions, and technology is innovating as our lives shift onto digital platforms.”
While AI and AR may not be a brand-new development, the average layperson is often unfamiliar with these technologies, especially in relation to the beauty industry. Simply put:
- Artificial intelligence is the ability of a digital platform, like a computer, to perform tasks that are often completed by humans.
- Augmented reality is the modification or enhancement of the real, physical world that is achieved through the use of a digital element. These digital elements could be visual, audio, or other sensory features.
In other words, AI is used to make AR a reality. For the beauty industry, technologies are used to make things easier and more personalized for the customer.
A New-Age Shopping Experience
With this new technology, shopping online for beauty products is becoming less of a chore. In fact, for some people, their online shopping experience is a lot better than shopping in a store.
Beauty brands are taking their brick-and-mortar stores online, where, almost literally, they are duplicating in-store experiences. Customers can “walk” through their stores and zoom in on products as they browse, while never having to leave the comfort of their own homes. There are new “sales floors,” as the customers can virtually simulate trying-on products.
Furthermore, social media is helping beauty products campaign online and gain a following like never before. According to Coveteur, “Social media is hugely influential, with TikTok [being] a major beauty player, while other new platforms are helping brands reach consumers [via] AI-powered products, augmented reality, and 3-D experiences, [which] help turn computers and phones into an inviting digital landscape.”
One of the biggest inconveniences in-store shoppers worried about facing once they migrated their business online was trying to figure out which products were perfect for them. They no longer had the option of physically trying on products in the store. However, AI and AG technologies have now made that task essentially obsolete. Companies like Perfect Corp are transforming how consumers, content creators, and beauty brands interact together through these technologies. The company has created an online platform that works with over 370 brands and has mastered the art of personalization and virtual try-ons.
“Advanced technology, such as AI and AR virtual try-on experiences, are helping brands to create a seamless omnichannel strategy that provides customers with entertaining and personalized experiences that speak to the modern-day consumer,” says Alice Chang, CEO and Founder of Perfect Corp.
Perfect Corp is not the only company to be personalizing the shopping experience for consumers. Revieve is analyzing skin selfies and offers relevant and personalized product recommendations. And Color&Co, L’Oréal’s new system, has colorists create a personalized hair-dye kit that’s manufactured and bottled on demand for consumers to dye their hair at home. All that is needed upfront are a few questions answered and a short video chat with a hair consultant. And, these are just a few of the companies making the effort to reach and personalize for the online consumer base.
“The implementation of this advanced technology also allows customers to spend more time connecting with a brand, either in-store or on the brand’s website, through interactive virtual experiences that allow customers to try-on more products than ever before and in turn have more positive, personalized shopping experiences that drive impactful results,” said Chang of AI and AG technologies.
In fact, the impacts of these companies and their technologies are not only being felt by the customer. It is also circling back to the brands. For example, Estée Lauder saw a 2.5 times higher conversion rate using its Lip Virtual Try-on, which was headed by Perfect Corp. E.l.f. Cosmetics also reported gaining a 200% higher conversion rate from online consumers using its virtual try-on technology.
Fostering Inclusivity With Shade Matching
Personalization for consumers and the big, better online shopping experiences attributed to the implementation of AI and AR technologies in the beauty industry are changing the game for both consumers and brands in the industry. Once only possible in stores, personalization can now be done online. However, beauty brands and their partners are taking this one step further. These new technologies are now allowing companies to reach more consumers and create or suggest products to help all demographics, especially in terms of skin-matching. In essence, this new age of beauty is one of inclusion.
When AI software was first introduced to help with skin-matching, it was showing a bias toward light-skinned users. When tested on those with lighter skin tones, it was helpful 95% of the time. With darker-skinned women, it threw up an error message 10 times more frequently. However, beauty entrepreneurs are becoming crusaders in this space, making sure their technology can reach everyone. Atima Lui, a Black woman and founder of Nudemeter, for example, has trained her algorithm to reach everyone.
Skin Match also stepped up when the pandemic started. They developed an AI-driven foundation shade finder for It Cosmetics that covers 112 skin tones and uses brand cross-matching. But they’re taking their commitment to inclusivity a step further. They only work with brands that truly offer a full spectrum of skin tones for their foundation shades.
“In the beginning, I was afraid because I had my values and I knew I wanted to push them forward, but I didn’t want to offend certain brands that are more old-fashioned,” says Estella Benz, CEO of Skin Match. “During the pandemic, I decided I’m going to do it my way. I realized that having those clear values makes us more tangible. Brands know what they’re getting [and] want to be associated with that.”
Yet, Skin Match goes beyond simply skin tones. They are also working with Look Fabulous Forever, which targets customers 50 years of age and older. According to Vogue Business, “Skin Match is developing a foundation finder that takes into account aging skin’s needs, such as the changes that occur during menopause or the drier skin that comes with aging.”
In November 2021, No7 also introduced its new shade matching AI and AR experience. Known as AI Foundation Shade Finder, it analyses skin tones in real-time against ten million samples across nearly 90,000 diverse skin tones in order to provide customers with their No7 foundation shade.
In 2020 over 107 million American women claimed that they wear foundation, so this is a good start, but not the end of the road for true personalization.