I was interviewed by Christine Esposito from Happi about the role of technology in ensuring consumer engagement for many beauty brands and retailers during and even after the pandemic. Here is an excerpt:

“Technology performed a pivotal role in ensuring continuity for many beauty brands and retailers during the pandemic. It enabled them to continue engaging with consumers and servicing consumers when human interaction wasn’t possible,” agreed Sampo Parkkinen, CEO, Revieve, a beauty technology company. “Although beauty, like any other sector, wasn’t—and still isn’t—immune to the impacts of the pandemic, beauty-tech was at the forefront of enabling brands and retailers to continue to stay relevant, top-of-mind and retain much of their revenue.”

“Many forward-thinking brands and retailers had already made investments into technology to help drive the customer-experience before COVID. During COVID, some of those early investments proved essential in getting a head start and hitting the ground running,” said Parkkinen.

According to Parkkinen, the pandemic has changed how technology is perceived.

“What the pandemic has changed is the perception of technology as an individual, isolated use-case (like a virtual try-on) into something that can fundamentally help drive the entire customer-experience and journey through helping consumers not just with a try-on but with education, product discovery and after-purchase loyalty generation,” he said. “The role of technology in beauty is also transforming into something that provides value in an omnichannel world, remotely or in person.”

Revieve recently rolled out AI Nutrition Advisor, which delivers customized vitamin and supplement routines.

“As we’re now heading into 2021, the role of technology in the beauty customer-experience isn’t fading,” he said. “Rather, the somewhat shifted or accelerated move to digital many consumers have made makes the role of technology in driving the customer-experience in beauty even more fundamental moving forward. Technology in beauty has become table-stakes.”


You can read the entire article below or click on the link to Happi here:

https://www.happi.com/issues/2021-02-02/view_features/the-future-has-arrived/

Loyal brick-and-mortar beauty shoppers found themselves stuck at home in March when COVID-19 ordered many states and municipalities to close stores, forcing retailers from Bloomingdale’s to Sephora to shut their doors. It all left eyeshadow aficionados locked out of their playground.

Artificial intelligence and artificial reality were once a considered novelties or secondary revenue generators by retailers and their suppliers; but when the pandemic hit, AI and AR, along with sturdy e-comm platforms, enabled consumers to take shades for a test run and make purchases all from the safety of their homes.

“Technology highly impacted the beauty business in 2020 as product discovery and accessibility moved heavily toward e-commerce. Brands became reliant on technology to forge relationships with consumers, to highlight new offerings and to make the buying process simple and reliable,” said Lauren Goodsitt, global beauty analyst at Mintel.

Brands and retailers already engaged in tech were in a better place than others in 2020.

“Those that utilized social media platforms were able to stay in-touch with their consumers, as physical retail presence was limited. Additionally, brands that mastered shade matching technology and the use of online-diagnostic skin care tools helped ease weary consumers into virtual shopping. Facebook Shops and Instagram Live Shopping created seamless shopping experiences that allowed brands and creators to tag products from their shop catalogs within both platforms, again promoting the ease of online shopping,” Goodsitt said.

“Technology performed a pivotal role in ensuring continuity for many beauty brands and retailers during the pandemic. It enabled them to continue engaging with consumers and servicing consumers when human interaction wasn’t possible,” agreed Sampo Parkkinen, CEO, Revieve, a beauty technology company. “Although beauty, like any other sector, wasn’t—and still isn’t—immune to the impacts of the pandemic, beauty-tech was at the forefront of enabling brands and retailers to continue to stay relevant, top-of-mind and retain much of their revenue.”

With the onset of the pandemic, brands that had been building up their digital capabilities found it much easier to connect and engage with their customers.

“Many forward-thinking brands and retailers had already made investments into technology to help drive the customer-experience before COVID. During COVID, some of those early investments proved essential in getting a head start and hitting the ground running,” said Parkkinen.

“Before COVID-19, we were ahead of the game,” said Sowmya Gottipati, VP-technology for the Estée Lauder brand, during one of Perfect Corp’s Global Beauty Tech Master Series events last year. “After, it was easy for us to switch over to tech, to engage online or on a social platform,” she said.

While brick and mortar will always be a part of the buying process, the pandemic has changed how consumers think about shopping—from changing how they shop (think BOPUS, a.k.a. Buy Online Pick Up in Store) to their expectations inside the store.

According to Parkkinen, the pandemic has changed how technology is perceived.

“What the pandemic has changed is the perception of technology as an individual, isolated use-case (like a virtual try-on) into something that can fundamentally help drive the entire customer-experience and journey through helping consumers not just with a try-on but with education, product discovery and after-purchase loyalty generation,” he said. “The role of technology in beauty is also transforming into something that provides value in an omnichannel world, remotely or in person.”

Revieve recently rolled out AI Nutrition Advisor, which delivers customized vitamin and supplement routines.


Tech Talk

Companies in AI/AR and e-comm continue to innovate to make processes more accurate, touchless and seamless, and that’s catching the attention of brands and investors alike.

Perfect Corp. recently announced a Series C investment of $50 million led by Goldman Sachs.

“The integration of technology through artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality into the beauty industry will unlock significant advantages, including amplification of digital sales channels, increased personalization and deeper consumer engagement,” said Xinyi Feng, a managing director in the merchant banking division of Goldman Sachs.

The investment news came just ahead of Perfect Corp’s participation at CES, which, due to the pandemic, was an all-digital event this year.

For Perfect Corp., technology improves the passive process of consumers scrolling and clicking through e-commerce sites and reading product reviews.

“We enhance the online experience by adding the human element into ecommerce,” said Perfect Corp. SVP and GM Wayne Liu during a retail-focused panel discussion held during the virtual CES, which normally takes place in Las Vegas.

Perfect Corp. has a number of new developments that enhance the beauty. For example, Perfect Corp.’s AR Livestreaming for Web, a new one-to-many AR live stream video service, helps beauty brands enable livestream e-commerce and build on their direct-to-consumer strategy through interactive live shows hosted on their websites. Another is Beauty Advisor 1-on-1 for Web, on-demand, one-on-one beauty consultations powered by virtual try-on technology to provide personalized beauty advice from a smartphone.

Perfect Corp. continues to improve the accuracy of its analysis, too. According to the company, its AI skin diagnostic, its most requested new service, can detect a dozen common skin health concerns—hydration, oiliness, redness, spots, wrinkles, textures, dark circles, eye-bags, droopy eye lids, firmness, visible pores and radiance. The ultra-fast analysis comes in less than two seconds. Perfect Corp. Facial Aging Simulation through AI GAN (Generative Adversarial Network) Technology generates facial simulations for facial aging and anti-aging results, and its AgileFace Face Tracking system uses some 200 plus facial landmarks to deliver 200% improvement in tracking stability and 20% improvement in tracking accuracy.

Perfect Corp., is also collaborating with Snap Inc. to integrate AR beauty try-on experiences. The partnership enables brands to bring digital and AR experiences that they’ve already created with Perfect Corp. into Snapchat and turn those experiences into Snapchat Lenses that live on their brand profiles. According to Perfect Corp., brands have the opportunity to efficiently scale their interactive AR experiences, amplifying the impact of their investments and extending their experiences to the Snapchat community without additional resources or effort, and Snapchatters—including the highly coveted Gen Z audience—can discover, experiment with and shop for beauty products.

Social can be a superhighway to reach core customers. Maybelline’s Lash Sensational Sky High Mascara has had more than 49 million views on TikTok. No surprise, then, that it sold out four times on Ulta.com.

New tech developments are aimed at making customers more comfortable in the store, too. For example, Perfect Corp.’s latest touchless virtual try-on technology for retail now features gesture control, voice activation, face mask detection and virtual arm swatch (for lipstick). Each delivers safety and hygiene measures that consumers will expect moving forward.

Brands continue to invest in tech to reach more consumers wherever they are. Last month, Beautycounter created a livestream, shoppable content studio that was integrated into its new store in Los Angeles. It allows the brand to bridge the gap between traditional physical retail and virtual livestream shopping to build community and a closer, one-to-one relationship with customers, according to the firm.


Virtual, Not Vegas

While CES moved online this year, beauty brands didn’t shy away from taking part and showcasing their latest developments.

Amorepacific marked its second consecutive year exhibiting at CES, where it promoted two advancements.

Amorepacific’s Lip Factory by Color Tailor combines an AI-based mobile app and a pigment dispensing system that produces more than 2,000 shades. It is in use at its Seoul flagship, the Amore Seongsu.

“In order to create the exact color of choice and to manufacture as many colors as possible, the equipment needed to precisely discharge pigments in very small increments. Lip products, in general, combine more than 10 pigments, each only around 0.1% of the total mixture amount. And for high viscosity products like lip makeup, achieving repeatability with seamless discharge and preventing liquid condensation was critical. This is why we integrated precision technologies that are used in semiconductor manufacturing processes—the air-powered fluid dispenser and precision fluid control system. As a result, our Lip Factory is able to discharge 15 different pigments in 0.01g increments,” explained Myeongjin Goh, a customization solutions developer at the Amorepacific R&D Center who led this project.

Amorepacific also unveiled Formularity, an at-home device that blends a dose of skin care product and dispenses it on a cotton pad for hygienic application. It also heats or cools the pad to an ideal temperature for skin absorption.

At CES there was a company with a smart perfume concept called Ninu. Still under development, Ninu has cartridges that contain one of three scent families; the device dispenses the juice in different quantities based on consumer input guided by an AI assistant.

L’Oréal made its return to CES with Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Sur Mesure Powered by Perso (the AI-powered at-home system it unveiled last year). This iteration can create thousands of shades of YSL’s Velvet Cream Matte Finish lipstick.

L’Oréal also used CES to unveil sustainability-driven technology. Through a partnership with Swiss environmental innovation company Gjosa, the L’Oréal Water Saver helps reduce water usage by up to 80% by combining high-powered water-optimizing technology with specially designed, micronized hair care products that flow directly into the water stream.


Modern Salon

Also making waves in the pro hair care, Ted Gibson has opened a new smart salon that, while in development before the pandemic, has elements that are apropos for our new normal and into the future.

Starring by Ted Gibson Salon, located in Los Angeles, is said to be the culmination of Gibson’s and Jason Backe’s vision to provide guests with a forward thinking, multi-dimensional smart salon and an unprecedented luxury experience.

“We wanted to update the salon model that hadn’t been updated in forever,” Gibson told Happi.

The salon features individual pod spaces—known as “clouds”—that include voice activated lighting and music.

“Ideas for the space came from a first-class cabin on an airplane. You have your own individual semi private pod that you have everything in it to have an experience,” said Gibson.

In addition, the salon is completely cashless, stocks no retail products (but products are shoppable via smartphone) and does not have front-desk staff; the stylist/colorist is the only “touch point” in the salon.

“These ideas came before the pandemic and the last 10 months have [definitely] proven the concept,” he said.


What’s to Come

The pandemic has clearly accelerated the speed at which consumers adopted new behaviors and technologies into their everyday lives. But brands are wise to navigate with care.

“Consumers view tech as a lifeline for experiences, connection and shopping, but they are also becoming more mindful of the impact technology can have on mental health. In many ways it’s the ability to interact with the world through a screen that is inhibiting people from going through the same beauty routines they did pre-pandemic and, as a result, is only further enhancing the natural beauty movement.

This will drive beauty tech to prioritize the aspirational nature of beauty as a source of inspiration as much as it’s about the day to day routines,” said Diana Kelter, Mintel senior trends analyst.

As the vaccine rolls out and life makes its way back to (the new) normal, there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle when it comes to tech-enabled experiences and services consumers expect.

“A lot of what developed from the pandemic will stay,” insisted Liu of Perfect Corp., who said brands must develop strategies rather than one-off solutions when it comes to technology.

Parkkinen of Revieve agrees.

“As we’re now heading into 2021, the role of technology in the beauty customer-experience isn’t fading,” he said. “Rather, the somewhat shifted or accelerated move to digital many consumers have made makes the role of technology in driving the customer-experience in beauty even more fundamental moving forward. Technology in beauty has become table-stakes.”


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