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Sep 11 2015

How technology can add sparkle to the cosmetics industry


Cosmetics brands could unlock growth by using digital in new ways, enabling experimentation and self-expression



The beauty industry is worth an estimated $20bn and continues to grow at a rate of around 3% per year, mostly through geographical expansion and the knock-on effect of rising gross domestic products (GDP) across the world. However, while some industries are thriving in the digital age, it could be said that beauty merely survives.


Despite the analogue nature of the lotions and potions that enhance our external appearance, technology is becoming the key to unlocking exponential growth for this industry. There are three key ways in which it can be harnessed.



Breaking the tangibility barrier
Currently, digital only really helps to supplement rather than grow sales in the beauty market, since digital purchases are often discount or replenishment purchases, rather than first, or experimental purchases. Despite this trend, it’s possible that there’s a future where technologies like augmented reality (AR) and face-mapping could transform the way consumers discover products.


A good example of this is Maybelline, which trialled an AR nail app that allows users to discover new nail shade combinations at home. Within the next year, we will start to see more sophisticated AR technology that could allow consumers to digitally discover and trial products in new ways that feel tangible enough to drive new purchases.


This technology will impact on self-serve in retail outlets that comprise of walls and walls of products. Shoppers are currently offered little guidance or assistance to select what they need. AR creates the possibility of a seamless and tailored sales process that takes customers on a journey of discovery, which will have huge implications for the beauty sector and its rate of growth.


Smart personalisation
Technology will also lend a helping hand when targeting first-time buyers. According to make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury, 50% of women in the UK don’t use makeup. With so many primers, pots and potions available on the market, category apathy is alarmingly high for this segment. Tapping into those potential customers who aren’t actively using or buying products would lead to significant growth for the beauty industry.


In this vein, YouTube and the 14.9bn beauty-related videos that exist on the web have certainly helped to aid education, but new technologies can further help brands provide a customised service, to help connect with a broader group.


In the future, artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to analyse skin tone, type and texture, as well as eye shape, hair type and our colour and lifestyle preferences, pulled in from Instagram, Facebook and other social channels. Using all of these data points, brands would be able to automate the kind of tailored experience that consumers could previously only get from visiting a top make-up artist or stylist.


Taking this idea further, software that recognises facial features, coupled with technology such as 3D printing, could offer consumers the ultimate made-to-match beauty service. Technology such as the prototyped Mink, a personal 3D cosmetics printer, can take identified skin tones and print the exact pantone onto foundations, blushers and lipsticks.


Reimagining self-perception
There is a level of personalisation that the industry needs to be able to replicate at scale, in order to cater to a mass market of potential consumers. However, what if we could do this at a genetic level, where we could select new products based on what fits with our physiology at a DNA level?


From elaborate hairstyles designed to display wealth to make-up that highlights our best features, throughout the centuries, people have worked to shape their outward appearance to fit with their personality and identity. In today’s world, digital is forcing a new shaping of our identities since we spend as much time curating our online presence and appearance as we do our physical selves.


Since the psychology of beauty is rooted in our identities, in the future it’s conceivable that brands will take the opportunity to own an entirely new space by taking the concept of the “curated self” and enabling people to bring this new reality into the physical world.


It’s a long way off, but through bio-hacking – the process of bringing together technology and biological processes to optimise how our bodies work – we could effectively alter our physical selves using digital tools.


The technology to do this is still years away as we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of what bio-hacking can achieve, and the ethics are still to be debated. However, the concept certainly opens up new opportunities for beauty brands to look beyond catering for women who want to look good and enabling everyone to own their identity on a much deeper level.


Cosmetics brands could unlock major growth by using digital in new ways that enable more personal self-expression. At the intersection of beauty and tech lies the opportunity to give the category a complete makeover.


Adriana Coppola is a strategist at SapientNitro



Originally published on The Guardian

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