Clinic and click: Digital skin care start-up for practitioners eyes international expansion

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Harley helps practitioners sell products better and makes it easier for consumers to replenish and stick to plans, says founder Charmaine Chow - Getty Images
Harley helps practitioners sell products better and makes it easier for consumers to replenish and stick to plans, says founder Charmaine Chow - Getty Images

Related tags Cosmetics Skin care clinics Skin care product personalised beauty digital Startup company

UK tech start-up Harley has developed an online platform enabling cosmetic practitioners to make personalised product recommendations to patients, and just months after going live is now looking to expand internationally.

Founded at the beginning of this year after two and a half years in development, London-based Harley is an algorithm-driven digital platform enabling practitioners to choose and prescribe skin care products to patients. Harley purchases and stocks product and then sends out personalised packages to consumers, along with usage instructions and reminders, according to a practitioner’s selection. Practitioners have full control over brand and product selection and can also select communication styles and delivery box designs that reach the final consumer. Harley currently finances its model by taking a 20% commission on all product sales.

After just a few months in the market and only available in the UK, Harley is now working on an imminent international launch across Europe and the US, already edging into Ireland.

Better for practitioners, better for consumers

Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Charmaine Chow, founder of Harley, said the concept was born from a desire to make product recommendations easier for practitioners, but also the consumer experience more enjoyable.

“If you compare the retail experience of fashion or even high-street beauty, any kind of online or digital player is very much more focused on the consumer experience than what you get in a clinic,”​ Chow said. 

Harley founder Charmaine Chow
Harley founder Charmaine Chow

She said that after years spent visiting dermatologists, whilst advice-giving and procedure recommendations were always “top notch”,​ product suggestions tended to be lacking.

“Practitioners have only a certain amount of time and are more trained to talk about procedures, there is actually very little time to sell products.”

What Harley was designed to do, therefore, was make this quick and easy for practitioners – enabling them to select brands and products for each individual patient in a matter of minutes on the platform, she said.

“It helps practitioners sell products better; makes it easier for consumers to replenish; makes sure they stick to the plan, which means better product compliance on the patient part, which means better results and ultimately better loyalty with the practitioner. For the consumer, it just makes it much easier and the experience comparable to shopping on Net-a-Porter and feeling happy you got something.”

Tech-driven with a human touch

Harley, Chow said, was based on algorithms and highly tech-driven but time had also been spent on ensuring the platform had a human element – named, personalised delivery boxes; hand-written notes and text message or email reminders were all part of this.

Harley is an algorithm-driven platform
Harley is an algorithm-driven platform

“The patient interaction is codified, so to figure out how to interact with patients on behalf of a practitioner with technology took a really long time, because you can’t get that wrong,”​ she said.  “…Obviously, technology is a big part of the operations day-to-day, but we also spend and invest a lot in the design of the platform. We wanted it to look premium and beautiful so there’s an emotional element.”

Asked what could be considered competition, Chow said there was very little, currently, but if it came, it would likely come from a tech firm. “There isn’t really anybody doing this right now, it’s a complete novel concept with no direct competitors so far. I would say the obvious alternative is the doctors doing it themselves in-house, hiring a team to do it, which would cost tens of thousands of euros.”

The power of practitioners?

The biggest selling point from a business standpoint, she said, was the conversion and repeat purchase rates – around 70% compared to typical online retail sales sitting somewhere between 10-15%.

“Having a practitioner recommend your product is like having the best influencer possible endorsing your brand,” ​Chow said.

Importantly, she said all practitioners on the platform were vetted before, ensuring all were fully qualified and compliant and therefore fit to make knowledge-based product recommendations.

“Our practitioners are actually very involved in giving us feedback; they somewhat feel invested in Harley getting better and it being easier to use, which means it generates more value through their clinics (…) Harley really is a combination of a lot of real practitioners giving us real insights on what makes sense for them. The more people use it, the more feedback we’ll get.”

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