Disruptive technologies are changing the way we discover, experience, and purchase health and beauty products, shifting the customer journey from a traditional linear path to one that crosses online and offline touchpoints. Brands are now venturing beyond websites to create seamless, personal engagements with customers.
Health and beauty are expected to be the fastest growing retail sector in the coming years, surpassing fashion and apparel, food and beverage, and automotive. The global cosmetics market alone is expected to reach $429.8 billion by 2022, a CAGR of 4.3%.
The nature of health and beauty products often means customers want to physically try products before buying. But this contradicts the growth of online shopping, via mobile. Social media and the impact on shopping behaviours by the likes of Amazon mean customers demand stronger relationships with brands online.
So, health and beauty brands need to think about how they design, market, sell, and distribute products in digital, personal, and creative ways. And there are a few recent examples of new technologies and means of engagement that are giving the beauty industry a makeover.
AR has become a mainstay try-before-buy tool, both online and in-store. In-app AR ‘mirrors’ can simulate cosmetics on a user’s face photo-realistically in real-time, at home. In-store, kiosks are equipped with touchscreen monitors so customers can try products without the lengthy process of applying several variants with a store assistant.
The technology has become increasingly more realistic, meaning users can easily try combinations of eye shadow, mascara, foundation, blush, and lipstick, and switch between different colours and textures in seconds. And it’s not limited to the face – Maybelline launched an AR campaign that lets consumers virtually test nail polish shades.
3D printing has evolved into full-scale production, manufacturing incredibly complex and customised products faster and cheaper than previously possible. And the beauty industry is eager to find ways to capitalise on this new production technology. Chanel was one of the first to experiment, releasing a 3D-printed mascara wand, with a complex honeycomb structure that promises to coat lashes in ‘long-lasting, intense thickness and nourishment’.
But customisation is where 3D printing can really come into its own. 3D scanning tools are already widely used for medical and dental applications, facilitating custom-printed prosthetics, organs and dentures. And Neutrogena’s MaskiD has brought this concept into the beauty domain. The personalised mask follows Neutrogena’s Skin 360 – which used smartphone camera technology to capture facial measurements and skin data and make recommendations on certain skincare products specific to the needs of each user. MaskiD will take this to another level, with a custom 3D-printed mask made from natural cellulose and skincare ingredients based on the user’s unique needs.
So, 3D-printing is one way of manufacturing personalised goods. But there are other ways of producing products that are designed specifically for customers’ individual needs. AI engines can now mine huge data sources to generate highly-personalised products. Data like skin type, genetics, environment, and lifestyle can be collated, and matched with optimal ingredients through AI. Skincare brand Proven is using this approach, and Function of Beauty is applying similar intelligence to shampoo products.
AI recommendation engines can also be used to curate recommended products, and chatbots can face-up operations to naturalise conversations. HelloAva launched an app centred on this concept – think ‘Alexa’, for cosmetics. Users start by chatting with ‘Ava’ about basic information such as skin-care concerns and product categories of interest, as well as uploading a selfie. Ava then goes through more in-depth questions designed to zero in on skin type and more specific issues. After the evaluation, the app generates a list of personalised product recommendations, from a huge range of top cosmetic brands.
The subscription model has been successfully implemented by startups across many CPG sectors. Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s shook up the male grooming market. Hello Fresh and Blue Apron deliver groceries and recipes through the mailbox. There’s Barkbox for dogs. Candy Club, Sock Fancy, Tea Box… the list goes on. For brands, this means a stable and reliable income. For consumers, it’s a hassle-free, fun way of receiving everyday products.
Product curation through recommendation engines has become a factor of subscription success. Personalisation and recommendations drive sales on highly-converting eCommerce sites, such as Amazon. Curated subscription boxes are essentially those personalised recommendations on your doormat before you’ve even thought about them. Birchbox targeted the online beauty market through this model. Consumers receive a box of cosmetic products for $10 a month. And Birchbox’s eCommerce store allows subscribers to buy the products they like. People who don’t have the time or desire to go to stores now don’t need to, as they can try and buy in their own homes.
With AI, IoT, and wearable technologies disrupting everyday objects, it’s only a matter of time before some of these gadgets are seen in the beauty industry. L’Oreal has been one of the first to unveil a smart product – its smart hairbrush is designed to ‘improve brushing technique.’ It vibrates as a warning if the user brushes too hard, and a microphone and other sensors record the sounds of breaking hair, along with other factors, to build a profile of the way the user looks after their hair. The brush then shares the data with an app and can recommend products to complement their routines.
Consumers more than ever are buying what they see on social media, with 72% of retail survey respondents claiming they have made fashion, beauty, or style-related purchases directly after seeing something on Instagram. And shoppable posts have shortened the journey from social discovery to eCommerce – users can now simply tap a post they like to link directly to a purchase site. 90 million people tap buyable posts each month on Instagram, and the beauty influencer brands – Kylie, Fenty, Kat Von D – are all utilizing the shoppable features in the majority of their posts. The functionality has also been added recently to its Stories platform, so the potential is huge.