Why beauty brands need to think digitally to enhance their customer experience

This article, by our Technical Director David Boddington, first appeared in The Drum.

Beauty is one of the most fascinating sectors when it comes to the adoption of technology. It’s an industry that has historically worked best in-store, face to face – after all, how can you smell a perfume or try on a foundation online? 

But that’s not to say it’s a lost cause when it comes to digitising the customer journey – far from it. Instead, brands are thinking outside the box and setting the standard for how technology can be used effectively, not just in their own sector but across the board.  

L’Oréal is one of these brands leading the tech charge. In 2018 it acquired augmented reality beauty company Modiface in a bid to shift the trying-on experience from bricks and mortar to virtual. And the brand has been busy putting the AR technology to use, with launches such as its digital skin diagnostic where, based on a selfie photo, it detects and analyses aging signs, then provides a product routine to address specific skin priorities. It also enables L’Oréal to roll out the more lighthearted features like virtual makeup and hair colour try-ons. 

While tools like L’Oreal’s can’t (currently) replace the experience of going in-store, digital technology can also help customers when in-store, augmenting the physical experience and improving the path to real-life purchase. 

Clarins has been using technology to improve the customer experience; in its case, to help its Beauty Advisors provide a better service. We’ve worked with the brand to digitise its in-store consultation process, moving these conversations from paper-based to a bespoke iPad app called Clarins Connect. It’s used to record the consultations, capture customer and sales data, and help generate leads so that Beauty Advisors can skip the paperwork and focus on the customer. By doing this, Clarins can analyse customer behaviour and trends, track at a store, regional and national level against KPI targets, and manage their ongoing relationship with the consumer both digitally and in-store, wherever the consumer walks up to a Clarins counter. 

While it’s not a beauty company, Chinese selfie-focused photo editing app Meitu is an interesting business for beauty brands to be aware of. Earlier this year, it was announced that the company’s smart mirror product, MeituGenius, would be rolled out in DFS stores in 13 countries worldwide including the US, Italy and Australia. MeituGenius offers virtual eye shadows, lipsticks, blushes and makeup look recommendations, as well as sunglasses suggestions, based on its AI analysis of the user’s features. Meitu cites issues such as hygiene concerns when using communal testing products as one of the problems it’s looking to solve. 

These are just a few examples, but there’s lots of inspiration out there and clearly technology is increasingly important in the beauty world.  And it won’t go away. 

So, for brands who might not be quite so far down the journey, here are some ideas of how to progress. 

Enhance existing behaviours: rather than trying to change the way your team works, use technology to make what they are currently doing easier. For Clarins, we worked closely with its Beauty Advisors in the development of the Connect app to make sure the user flow mirrored that of their consultation process and they played a role in shaping the solution.  

Capture and use data wisely: in the post-GDPR world, data capture can be a bit of a minefield. Think ahead to ensure that you’ve identified the purposes for which you will collect and use data, who else will be involved and that clear consents are requested. When you do have access to customer data, you should be using it to make communications more personal and relevant.

Look for digital and IRL consistency: Don’t neglect your in-store experience for the sake of a new technology. The real-life experience is still hugely important, and brands should be looking to offer a seamless journey through both. 

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