With e-commerce and digital technologies evolving fast, CosmeticsDesign-Europe caught up with Michelle Smith, business director at retail design consultancy Fitch – to find out just exactly how beauty brands and retailers could respond.
‘A rise of community’ in the beauty world
“I think it’s been less about the beauty counter and more about the beauty community,” Smith said.
In recent years, there had been “a rise of community” in beauty, she said, showcased by the likes of Glossier and Kiehl’s and fuelled by the insatiable rise of social media and digital connectivity.
Social media had really propelled the visual aspect of beauty forward, particularly for makeup, she said, and advances in technology like Augmented Reality (AR) and diagnostics had created potential for highly personalised online engagement.
E-commerce was also now a “hugely important sales platform” for beauty, Smith said, and industry had to drive up digital presence through omnichannel strategies.
Industry in Asia – in beauty and beyond – had been “early adopters in e-commerce and the technology space”, she said, and whilst omnichannel efforts had kickstarted in Europe, building online-offline connectivity had been far slower.
Dreaming, exploring and locating – tapping into all consumer mind states
Smith said developing stronger omnichannel strategies relied on better understanding of consumer shopping missions, and there were three important stages and mind states to understand: dreaming, exploring and locating.
“It’s quite simple, but dreaming is a customer looking for new choices; exploring is about validating between known choices – at this stage they want information to narrow down purchase options; and then locating is when they want to make that purchase.”
Currently, most beauty e-commerce and brand sites were simply built around ‘locating’, Smith said. “I don’t think that anyone is nailing their brand dot-coms at the moment. One of the questions we’re asking ourselves at Fitch is what an online flagship might look like; how would we design that for all sorts of categories?”
She said there was a clear need to address the consumer ‘dreaming’ and ‘exploring’ mind states digitally. “In beauty, that comes to life through how services are offered online – through events and communities online; that bigger brand experience and experiential aspect that you can traditionally only get through a physical store.”
Matching in-store human service was “really hard to beat”, she said, but some good examples were ‘Apple-esque’ genius bars offering beauty advice; one-to-one online consultations; or Augmented Reality (AR) tools for virtual try-ons. Though, she said it was important these tools were able to “communicate the tone of voice of the brand”.
The rise of AR and AI? Everything needs to be ‘experiential’
A quick scan of the current beauty retail market, however, suggested the likes of AR technology hadn’t truly taken off and translated consumer interactions into beauty sales yet, Smith said.
“The other aspect that is still in its infancy in the beauty category is those chat box services and AI beauty advisors, if you will,” she said.
Whilst AI and AR tools were certainly on the rise, and even more so with the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, she said brands could do more. “AR and AI tools are there, they’re just waiting to be turned on. A lot of the diagnostic tools to be able to understand things like skin tone or hydration – all of that is there – it’s just about connecting that through the omnichannel experience. I absolutely think the technology is there, it just needs to be activated.”
Smith said that no matter what tools or strategies beauty brands and retailers opted for, the priority had to be offering “more experiential services”.
It was about being consumer-centric, she said, and developing a framework around consumer mind states. And industry could take a leaf out of the museum world’s book, she said, with all the virtual tours that had been opened during COVID-19 lockdowns. Beauty brands could draw on that and think about how they too could invite consumers in and tell a story, beyond just offering tutorials and sales advice, she said.
“…The long-term strategy needs to be about thinking about brand experiences online. Whether through different technologies like AR or AI or how you connect humans through different digital platforms, I think it really needs to focus on being more experienced first, versus just those locating missions,” she said.