We don’t normally think about beauty retail and technology at the same time. That’s not because there’s no relationship; technology has helped manufacturers create new, innovative products that weren’t available twenty, ten, or even just a few years ago. Nowadays products usually come in a huge range of colors, are often higher quality, and cost less in real dollars than their less-advanced counterparts.
However, although the relationship between beauty product manufacturing and technology runs deep and strong, the relationship between beauty retail sales and technology is not nearly as close. Historically, the beauty retail industry is slower in adopting retail technology solutions than their fashion counterparts. In 2022, however, the world of beauty retail is going to see a digital revolution according to the Business of Fashion and other industry thought leaders.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
Now, to be clear, we’re not trying to shame beauty brands for being a bit slow about their technological adoption. After all, until COVID reshaped the world, in-person sales were pretty much the optimum approach for selling beauty products. Consumers could try on different foundations to find the perfect match for their skin tone, get consultations from brand ambassadors, and walk away from the experience confident in their purchases.
Live beauty sales understandably towered over online purchases, so why invest in expensive digital services when purchasers preferred personal engagement with associates in-store?The answer to that question was of course, the pandemic.
It didn’t take retailers long to recognize that virtual customer engagement technology was their best bet for surviving COVID-19 lockdowns. With stores shuttered and customers stuck at home, online stores suddenly became the only channel available for most people. Worse, although demand dropped and the industry shrank by an estimated 15-20% according to McKinsey & Company, many people still wanted to look their best for video conferences and remote work. The result was an unexpected exposure of glaring online service shortcomings in the beauty sector right when they suddenly became needed the most.
Rising to the Challenge
Fortunately, many of the technologies that address online customers’ concerns were already developed and implemented in other retail industries, so the applications and vendors’ infrastructure were already mature. For example, Euromonitor International’s 2021 Beauty Trends Survey identified that “…consumers [now] expect to get high-quality expert advice through these digital platforms instead of solely in person,” and this particular need has already been addressed with great success using the Salesfloor platform’s virtual selling features, which allow associates on the floor to connect directly with online shoppers to provide advice and guide their sales experience.
What does all this mean? In the short term it means that all beauty retailers need to do to catch up now is identify the services their clients are demanding and implement the appropriate solution(s). In the long term, it’s an opportunity for beauty executives to re-evaluate the importance and opportunities advanced technology represents to retail beauty sales.
So how has the pandemic impacted consumer preferences and technological trends? What live experiences do beauty retailers need to recreate to capture customers in digital environments? There are three major practical technological trends helping beauty retailers address customers’ shopping concerns.
- Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality—Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) have already found a place in retail by helping online stores recreate the feeling of browsing in person at home using the VR headset of their choice. With the success of virtual try-ons in the eyewear and fashion industries, beauty executives would do well to make VR an option for consumers who can no longer compare products directly against each other in-store.
- Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning—These days, AI can be leveraged to help clients find the perfect foundation for their skin tone and get recommendations for skin care products. There are also scanners for other issues such as hair health and color that use machine learning to help associates make recommendations.
- Other online services—This may seem like an obvious catch-all (because it is), but the fact is there are many components to the live sales experience. Product personalization, ingredient scanners, and in-depth analysis of customer data are all technological trends taking retail by storm that beauty businesses should consider adopting sooner than later.
In addition to these practical solutions, technology can also help address customers’ growing concerns about intangibles such as sustainable practices, diversity and inclusion, and general corporate social responsibility.
Preparing for Customers of the Future
Technology is always advancing, often at breakneck pace, so it’s not enough to just catch up. Beauty retail executives have an opportunity to take the technological bull by the horns and become leaders in technological adoption. However, it won’t happen easily, and requires serious foresight. Emma Spagnuolo, a partner at McKinsey & Company Global Management Consulting focused on the North American beauty market, encourages beauty retailers to contemplate “What is the next leapfrog step in digital and e-commerce that makes you uncomfortable, that you think could never happen in a million years?” Finding and fixing your technological weaknesses now will help you prepare for the future, regardless of what it might bring.
Advancing technology has transformed every aspect of modern life and will always continue to. Change, after all, is inevitable, and yet far too few of us take it into account when contemplating the future. Yes, guided online selling, VR/AR, personalization, and AI recommendations are all marvelous new technologies that beauty retailers can and should be leveraging to meet evolving client expectations, but reframing your understanding of the value new technologies can provide is likely the most important change retailers can make in their corporate mindset to not just survive but thrive in the post-pandemic world.
Create Immersive Beauty Retail Experiences
Salesfloor has partnered with leading national beauty retailers to create immersive beauty retail experiences that connect online shoppers with local beauty advisors who can guide them towards the right products for their unique needs.
Download the Beauty Retail Performance Report to learn how one major drug store beauty brand improved their sales, engagement, and loyalty KPIs by implementing the Salesfloor platform.