Beauty brands are going all out to gather consumer data via digital and interactive content platforms, designed to enhance an ever-personalised experience both in-store and online. From on-counter smart mirrors and face-mapping programmes, to apps that allow you to colour-match before you buy, the beauty industry is embracing a more intuitive, digital journey to purchase.
‘Digital is going to boost the business of beauty,’ L’Oreal chairman Jean-Paul Agon said in an interview with Bloomberg in Paris. ‘We think it’s going to change everything.’
As retailers launch their own content platforms and mimic traditional media channels, beauty brands are following suit. Over the last few months, we have seen some of the industry’s biggest names launch editorial platforms that serve to engage and inform consumers with 360 degree brand-centric content.
After Sephora created its own user-generated content site The Beauty Board, beauty conglomerates such as Estée Lauder and L’Oreal are creating online brand destinations, taking readers and their valuable data with them.
L’Oreal is the latest to talk about its online content initiative. The French beauty giant unpacked the business strategy behind its new content-to-commerce ‘luxury digital flagship’ (online) stores at the World Retail Congress (WRC) conference in Paris last month. According to Internet Retailing, a re-focused direct-to-consumer e-commerce strategy will help the beauty conglomerate boost its annual direct e-commerce revenues to €300m in 2016 from €250m.
‘It’s not the digital revolution it’s the customer journey evolution,’ Vincent Stuhlen, global head of digital at L’Oréal Luxe told the WRC audience at a breakfast briefing. Customers are choosing to shop on their devices wherever they are, L’Oreal is simply putting itself in the right place, he said.
‘Our digital flagship strategy places the customer at the heart of the shopping experience; we want them to explore our brands and have the ultimate journey of discovery. We are testing the shopability of our content all the time – ideally with the aim of allowing customers to buy in just one click,’ he explained.
For L’Oreal Luxe, the digital flagship brand stores (including Giorgio Armani, YSL Beaute, Lancôme, Kiehls, Shu Uemera among others), have been created for ‘personalised brand-to-customer relationship building’, through understanding user cookies, said Stuhlen.
For example the Lancôme site is a digital branded experience for consumers who are ‘influencers’. The content-commerce platform sells direct to customers; it’s editorial driven and the customer curates their own page. They can get rewards from purchases, are encouraged to personalise their page and share their choices on social media, Stuhlen said.
In the summer, Estée Lauder launched its biggest online content platform to date, The Estée Edit. The daily news and inspiration site features editorial from Estée Lauder spokespeople and industry collaborators such as French blogger, Garance Doré or model Joan Smalls. The content resembles a lifestyle magazine with posts across food, culture, music and fashion as well as business-led profiles of successful entrepreneurs. Celebrity guest posts work well on the site too. There have been spikes in readers following product reviews by Dore, or a three-day editorship by Smalls. There is a ‘shop the story’ section at the end of each article that links to Estée Lauder’s product-driven e-commerce site.
This collaborative content-to-commerce strategy is a smart one for the brand. According to the L2 Digital IQ Index , Estée Lauder has the fourth largest e-commerce presence in the US, UK, France, and China combined (after Bobbi Brown, Clarins and Clinique).
The Estée Edit was created for readers to share content across social media and make the brand relevant in a digital world. ‘Blogging has always been a way for me to express myself creatively and practice telling stories,’ Helane Crowell executive director of online global communications at Estée Lauder told the Business of Fashion. ‘Storytelling is essential for personal social channels and even more so for brands. All of these platforms bring us closer [to brands] and with this intimacy comes a desire for authenticity and access.’
Back to L’Oreal and its digital push to engage with consumers. Coinciding with the Cannes Film Festival in May, the French giant launched its Makeup Genius App, as a way for its customers to try out more products on themselves, wherever they are via mobile and without even visiting a beauty counter.
The app utilizes the front facing camera on smartphones and through facial mapping technology, the app can augment a range of L’Oreal’s key seasonal colour products and spokesmodel’s key looks onto the users face. If a shopper is using the app at a L’Oreal counter there are also products that can be scanned to instantly test the virtual looks. The 3D virtual mirror works by mapping 64 facial points and can be seen from whatever angle the user tilts their head and in real time. L’Oreal harvests data from every Makeup Genius session and if users like their new look, they can both buy the items directly via the app’s built-in shopping cart and snap selfies to share across social media or reference when applying the products in real life.
‘The reason why we started it is we see the beauty consumer has changed in terms of what they actually want in a product and an experience,’ Guive Balooch, global director of L’Oreal’s Connected Beauty Incubator told the New York Times. ‘We are moving more and more toward service, personalization and customization.’
Sephora is usually ahead of the curve when it comes to trying out new technology in stores. In June the retailer partnered with Modiface to trial 3D facial-recognition mirrors in its Milan flagship that simulate how cosmetics products will look on a shopper’s face from multiple perspectives. Users tap a touchscreen display to try different colours and looks, then save the results for trying out at home or purchasing in-store.
If augmenting beauty looks onto shoppers’ faces via ‘try-before-you-buy’ apps is becoming the norm, perhaps we are not far off a more creative, virtual approach. We might see consumers booking data-driven face-mapping sessions similar to that shown in this beauty video from Project Omote by Japanese artist Nobumichi Asai.
Not content with creating a suite of virtual make-over, anti-aging and photo-enhancing beauty apps, as well as working with Sephora, Modiface is going one step further with a new data-driven Beautiful Me app.
The app works in conjunction with users’ Facebook photos and scans 500 of their images to determine skin tone, then makes product recommendations. Instead of basic analysis of a single photo, the Beautiful Me app gives people a much more accurate description of their skin profile, through the combination of big data and machine-learning algorithms, says Miriam Pettinen, ModiFace director of partnerships and mobile strategy for Beautiful Me.
When you mix analytics-based algorithms with personal preferences you should get near-perfect product suggestions. That’s the strategy behind BeautyDNA a new subscription-based online matchmaking service similar to music or TV streaming services such as Pandora and Netflix.
‘BeautyDNA is a game changer in that it will evolve how women discover beauty products,’ said Adam Sandow, founder of the site. Dubbed ‘the Pandora of beauty’, the site uses analytics to match consumers with brands that match their skin or haircare needs. ‘It will empower women so that they aren’t making the same beauty mistakes time and time again. Imagine a warehouse full of thousands of products, it’s completely overwhelming. One person comes and hands you a box of the perfect products for you from that warehouse — that is BeautyDNA,’ he told Women’s Wear Daily.
After three years of supplying beauty junkies with samples via a monthly subscription, online retailer Birchbox decided to experiment with a physical store that opened this summer in New York. With over 300,000 regular customers the company had enough preferences data to merchandise the store with online bestsellers and chose to position products by category not brand. Birchbox joint-CEOs Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna told Fortune magazine, that visitors to the store have taken to inputting their personal data via an interactive screen to generate their own Birchbox product recommendations, which they can either buy in-store or create an account for their own instant subscription.
Clinique is the latest beauty brand to combine data-mining and store design with its new 700 sq ft pop-up retail concept called the Great Skin Lab. Billed as a digital experience that will guide consumers through a ‘day in the life of their skin’, the Covent Garden store houses interactive pods and a moisturising station, where shoppers answer a series of questions on their lifestyle to determine their future skincare needs. Along with fellow Estee-Lauder owned brand, Bobbi Brown and its personalised selling techniques at the new Studio flagship that has opened just next door, the area is fast becoming known as London’s Beauty Quarter.
While consumers are still wary of brands using their data to advertise products at them, Unilever’s All Things Hair YouTube channel has done much to change that since it launched in late 2013. The dedicated hair channel features vloggers’ ‘how-to’ tutorials and was developed as a way to analyse consumer search data from Google or YouTube. Through mining the search data, vloggers create and deliver highly relevant content using products from the Unilever brand portfolio (Dove, Toni & Guy, V05). Described by Unilever as a way to predict the next hair trends, the channel now has more than 132,000 subscribers. When the campaign won an award at this year’s Cannes Lions advertising festival, Unilever CMO Keith Weed said: ‘The content is relevant, useful and authentic. It’s a really cool application of big data, based on what is actually big insights’.
- Through dedicated social platforms or augmented reality ‘try-before-you buy’ apps, beauty brands and retailers are able to mine consumer preferences then generate hyper-personalised product recommendations. As the beauty industry introduces ever more compelling reasons to harvest big data, it adds up to consumers getting more of what they want, how they want it and when they want it.
- For more on the future of beauty see Disney Roller Girl’s coverage of The Future Laboratory’s Beauty Futures forum: