Beauty may not be the first area that springs to mind when people think of technology transforming our lives.

But over the past few years, the beauty tech industry has been steadily growing and changing the ways consumers experience beauty products and engage with cosmetics brands. It’s a sector of vast potential with the ability to help the beauty industry overcome some of its longest-standing challenges.

What is beauty tech?

Although Augmented Reality (AR) is a key part of beauty tech, the sector encompasses much more than virtually trying on lipstick. It includes AI that helps consumers find the perfect foundation shade, facial cleansers that monitor skin hydration levels and smart mirrors that analyse a user’s skin and recommends products to help address issues.

But beauty tech doesn’t just improve the beauty experience and help consumers achieve the results they want. It has a role to play in helping brands increase customer engagement, conversion rates and cut sample and product waste. Machine learning is also allowing brands to identify product preferences and trends so they can build effective marketing and commercial strategies that will lead to long-term growth.

The impact of the pandemic on the beauty industry

Beauty tech didn’t begin with the pandemic but coronavirus led to an explosion of growth.

With lockdown restrictions in place, shops shut and in-store samples removed for safety, the beauty industry had to learn to navigate a world where traditional buying avenues were removed and ecommerce skyrocketed. The shift to online ordering wasn’t the same for every sector: the nature of cosmetics means that it’s difficult for a consumer to buy a new product without trying it in some way and, for hygiene reasons, returning products after trying them is rarely an option. Online reviews can only take buyers so far and consumers have neither the desire nor funds to buy endless products until they find the one they want.

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It’s beauty technology that has allowed brands to accommodate this online shift and AR has boomed as a way to help customers vet products before they purchase. Some brands have even merged AR tech with social media marketing efforts: in December NYX launched a Snapchat lens and virtual shopping experience that allowed users to try on products as well as navigate a virtual pop-up shop and make real-life purchases. Recognition of the vast potential and power of beauty tech, sharply highlighted over the past year, has led to the biggest names in cosmetics launching their own tech accelerators, from LVMH and L’Oreal to Coty, Estée Lauder and Puig Futures.

But coronavirus caused more than a change in purchasing behaviour - it led to an evolution in beauty priorities. With more time at home, links to self-care and concerns over ‘maskne’, skincare has boomed over the pandemic. According to research conducted by Mintel among British women, 30% of those using facial skincare said they moisturised more since the outbreak of coronavirus and cleansing and face mask segments experienced significant value growth last year.

This increased attention on skincare has been accompanied by a rise in skincare customisation tools, allowing consumers to be matched with the right product for their skin. For example, Boots’ No7 brand recently partnered with beauty tech company Revieve to create a tool that allows website visitors to upload a selfie, answer a few questions and get personalised advice and No7 product recommendations. Such technology allows brands to tap into the surge in skincare demand whilst giving consumers the personalised, bespoke experience they increasingly seek.

The future of beauty tech

It’s customisation tools like this that are set to be a great area of growth within beauty technology and shape the wider beauty industry as a whole. Creating a personal relationship with each consumer and demonstrating that they know an individual better than competitors is crucial in helping brands develop long-term customer engagement. Building an interactive tool that draws consumers to a brand’s website also helps push higher conversion rates: when a user visits a website they are 54% more likely to convert. 

However, customisation extends beyond what’s presented to a consumer. Hyper-targeting will only become more vital for brands as the beauty market becomes ever more crowded and customers are flooded with choice. Whether it’s monitoring the levels of interaction with a social media campaign or closely observing whose hands beauty samples end up in, sophisticated technology is needed to ensure brands are showing the right people the right products, at the right time. 

Our work with Clarins shows how effective this can be. The brand used our smart sampling device to provide consumers with a hyper-personalised cosmetic sample, targeted specifically to their unique beauty needs. The campaign results were impressive, with 92% of surveyed customers saying they “liked” or “loved” their sample and 8 in 10 (79%) stating they were likely to purchase a Clarins product in the next 6 months.

Other trends to look out for within the sector include tools that help build digital communities, as cosmetics brands of all sizes are always looking for ways to gather and grow a loyal following and overcome the brand agnosticism of consumers’ beauty bags. There’s also exciting work to be done in leveraging customer feedback: for example, Volition Beauty is a brand that allows members to submit their own product ideas and, if enough support is received from fellow members, these ideas will become actual products anyone can buy.

Personifying the Beauty Experience

Beauty tech is fast redefining the cosmetics industry and helping consumers gain a better, more personal beauty experience whilst allowing brands to develop a clearer understanding of their customers and create a deeper connection. As consumer expectations and priorities continue to evolve and digital capabilities expand, beauty tech will only become more important to cosmetics companies at every level of their business, from product development through to marketing campaigns.

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