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How beauty retail is leading the way in tech innovation

By Rachel Douglass


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Credits: Obsess. Branded Avatars feature launched by Obsess in 2022, avatars created for Charlotte Tilbury's virtual store experience.

Virtual try-on – or VTO – refers to the use of augmented reality (AR) to view digitised versions of an object, most often seen in the overlay of an image that aims to give an idea of what something may look like in the ‘real world’. It is this technology that is at the forefront of Perfect Corp’s B2B offering, sitting alongside other artificial intelligence (AI) powered resources and tech-backed retail enhancements.

For the most part, the Taiwanese firm has partnered with a series of large-scale beauty brands on bringing this technology to e-commerce and physical stores, putting the industry well-ahead of consumer demands when it comes to tech. To highlight all of its offerings, and the work that it has been doing, Perfect Corp hosted its annual Global Beauty and Fashion Tech Forum, where some of its biggest partners took to the stage to speak on recent advancements and how beauty is truly leading the way.

Generative AI and the new retail experience

Perfect Corp’s founder and CEO Alice Chang kicked the forum off with a keynote speech, where she declared that the company was “committed to generative AI development”. Chang went on to share Perfect Corp’s latest innovations over the last 12 months, including its AI Fashion Stylist, which allows users of the company’s YouCam app to view IAI-generated styles via a photo of themselves. The newly launched AI personalised makeup experience also provides information to consumers on recommended makeup styles, with tutorials to further elevate the buying experience.

Credits: Perfect Corp. Alice Chang, Perfect Corp's CEO and founder speaks at the company's annual Global Beauty and Fashion Tech Forum.

Each of the participating brands touched on how elements of VTO have become ingrained in their day-to-day retail and customer experiences. However, some also expanded on other areas of digitalisation that beauty in particular has been a leader in. Neha Singh, the founder and CEO of Obsess, spoke on her own platform’s virtual store offering, a relatively new form of shopping that has been making a mark on the industry. Obsess helps to identify the objective of a brand and design a virtual store experience that then resonates with their consumer. Here, Singh said that AI played an important role in speeding up the design process of such stores, while also generating visuals and increasing available content to use in the experiences. According to her, 25 percent of US consumers have said they have shopped in virtual stores, much of which are understandably from younger generations who are familiar with gamified experiences.

This response was commended by Marie Driscoll, Coresight Research’s managing director for luxury and retail, who said: “The fact that people are staying longer in virtual stores means they are getting more out of the experience. For physical beauty, meanwhile, it is imperative to provide accessible information. We need to have in-store tech that offers the best of online shopping.” Driscoll noted that, alongside the rise of omnichannel, physical stores also need to be prepared to predict exactly what an individual wants the moment they walk into the location, an element that can be enhanced with the use of data and AI.

Credits: Obsess. Ava by Obsess, a virtual store developer launched in April 2023.

Predictive personalisation

An additional, and arguably one of the most important, steps in the customer journey is providing consumers with the confidence to make a particular purchase. While still under development, efforts towards this can already be seen in the implementation of predictive experiences for consumers using VTO as a base. At Colgate-Palmolive, director of technology Gary Binstock said this was evident in the firm’s recently launched AR teeth whitening technology, where users can view what the use of certain products will do once applied.

A similar mindset was present during a fireside chat with Salima Popatia, chief digital officer at Orveon, the conglomerate that acquired BareMinerals, Buxom and Laura Mercier in 2021. Through the takeover, the group said it was hoping to reinvent each of the iconic labels via new platforms offering zhuzhed up store experiences that made the brands more portable and consistent throughout. This strategy has seen the trio make fast advances. BareMinerals, for example, became one of the earliest adopters of VTO tech, first introducing the feature into Japanese stores before expanding elsewhere. When asked what she saw in the future of AI, Popatia questioned: “How can VTO be used as a promise in relation to the use of skincare? Using it this way holds brands responsible.”

The idea of personalised predictions was also spoken on by Alandra Maka, senior lead, consumer engagement and beauty tech at Unilever. In the future, Maka believes tech can be used more elaborately, providing a proof point to push for trust among consumers. She already commended Perfect Corp’s ability to work with hair in their technology, noting that with the vast variety, hair can be difficult to address. Unilever’s Tresemmé, however, has already put to work Perfect Corp’s hair recommendations feature, allowing clients to try various styles and receive custom regimens and tutorials. Maka noted that this not only offers an educational base for consumers, but also adds value, bringing them to the website to engage directly with the brand.

Credits: Obsess. Laura Mercier Virtual World of Beauty.

Metaverses and digital sampling: Big name players lead the way

Unilever wasn’t the only large scale conglomerate in attendance. Coty and Estée Lauder Companies (ELC) were also among those showing off their digital wares at the forum, giving an insight into how their wideset portfolio of brands were handling the technological revolution. Speaking on behalf of Coty was Shanna Weinblatt, the group’s vice president, innovation, beauty, tech and metaverse, who spoke broadly on the company’s three year partnership with Perfect Corp, over which time it has leveraged every beauty tool the firm has made available. Weinblatt said that, as Coty was such a large conglomerate, it was important that digital features were integrated consistently across touchpoints and that the team was always aiming to think one step ahead on how to reach certain consumers in the right way through each brand.

Weinblatt noted that AI had already been heavily integrated into the company, even applied to the roles of its employees, with even in-store beauty advisers using the technology to help inform their recommendations. When asked what Coty was planning in the future, alongside further digital tool roll outs with Perfect Corp, Weinblatt did include AI in her vision, adding: “We want to look at how to make generative AI more consumer-centric and develop trust around it.” She also commented on an ongoing project that is currently being tested internally – the development of Coty’s own virtual metaverse world. The platform is initially being used by employees to gain an understanding of what consumers are doing online, before it becomes available on a more public scale this autumn.

Credits: Estée Lauder. YouCam Makeup and Estée Lauder expand global partnership.

ELC, on the other hand, is bolstering its own technological developments in ways that appear to contrast Coty’s approach. In a talk centred around the evolution of media, ELC’s Tara Sparks, the executive director for global media and partnerships, highlighted the group’s efforts to create use cases specific to individual brands, with launches that vary per media partner that allow consumers to explore ELC products on platforms that suit them. A particular highlight was the company’s partnership with Dash Hudson, which worked with ELC on Snapchat lenses that allow users to claim free samples, a feature that led to the eventual “selling out” of such samples.

SoPost’s founder and CEO, Jonathan Grubin, spoke at length on this idea of digital-led sampling, a concept that his company was formed around. Grubin touched on AR tech, which has allowed customers to sample live wherever they are and gives brands the power to match them with the right SKU or product shade, something that Grubin said was one of the main obstacles for beauty as a whole. He continued: “There can often be a big challenge around ensuring that there isn’t product wastage and ensuring there is going to be conversion at the back end. VTO solves that important question of if consumers are receiving the right SKU for them.”

Digital Fashion
Estee Lauder
Perfect Corp