Are beauty aisles set for extinction?

15 : 11 : 2017 Beauty : Retail : Technology

Cassie Powney, beauty editor of Cosmopolitan, asks whether new technologies will replace in-store beauty shopping.

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Fenty Beauty by Rihanna

The narcissism of modern-day culture makes us susceptible to new augmented-reality sales tactics.

Cassie Powney, beauty editor, Cosmopolitan magazine

‘This is the new world. And in this world, you can be whoever the f**k you want.’ This sentiment, from the HBO sci-fi series Westworld, comes to mind during my first virtual reality experience. I’m standing in a sleek, high-gloss office, looking down at my breasts – at least they look like mine, except they are a size 34DD. When I remove the VR headset I’m fully clothed again, and noticeably flatter up front. But professor Marcos Sforza of the MyAesthetics Ltd cosmetic surgery group insists this isn’t a sales gimmick. ‘The women who come to see me are already seduced by the idea of surgery,’ he explains. ‘If anything, this manages their expectations and gives them more than an implant tucked into a bra to base such a big decision on.’

While brands are experimenting with augmented reality (AR) across all sectors, in a space as intimate as beauty, where augmenting tends towards changing a person’s physical appearance, AR can be a tricky realm to navigate. James Intriligator, professor of consumer psychology and innovation at Bangor University, believes that the narcissism of modern-day culture makes us susceptible to these new augmented-reality sales tactics: ‘With the rise of selfies and social media, our image is becoming massively meaningful to others and, more importantly, to ourselves.’

In a space as intimate as beauty, where augmenting tends towards changing a person’s physical appearance, AR can be a tricky realm to navigate.

L’Oréal Paris clearly realised the power of self-image when it paved the way with its Makeup Genius app, enabling users to ‘wear the looks’ without any of the clunky and inaccurate facial scanning associated with earlier versions of the technology. But is this sophisticated sofa shopping set to send Westworld-style tumbleweed floating down the beauty aisles?

One day, perhaps. But not yet, according to Mintel’s 2017 Beauty Online report, which showed slow growth in online consumer expenditure on beauty. It reveals that 47% of people in the UK haven’t purchased beauty products online in the past 12 months – and of the 53% who have, 25% of those sales came from a supermarket website, suggesting that bricks-and-mortar stores build trust. Fenty Beauty by Rihanna still has people queuing around the block for its beauty counter, months after the hype-fuelled launch. ‘It boasts 40 shades of foundation, so customers want to be colour-matched and receive face-to-face application tips,’ explains Harvey Nichols group commercial director Daniela Rinaldi. Make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury has placed her brand ahead of the curve by merging the two – drawing crowds to her London Westfield store with a Magic Mirror, described by Holition, the company behind it, as ‘technology meets human experience’.

It’s the same try-before-you-buy technology seen on the L’Oréal app, and the thinking that led to my surreal experience in the MyAesthetics Ltd office, the key difference being that technology-minded Charlotte has set up shop where consumers are spending their money now: the real-life beauty aisle.

What this means to your brand

  • While digital technologies are shaping the future of retail, there is still a fine line when it comes to augmented reality and ensuring it is engaging and not a gimmick
  • The beauty aisle is not going anywhere – but it will increasingly become a space that converges online inspiration with offline activations. For more, see our Instagram Beauty Market