Four Ways that Technology is Changing Beauty

While the relationships of technology with fashion and luxury have been the source of much media frenzy, its relationship with beauty has, in comparison, been relatively low key. Beauty companies from L’Oréal to Unilever have upped their game through the launch of try-on apps and an extensive social media presence. However, the potential of technology in beauty is still at a nascent stage. As consumers embrace technology in their everyday lives, notably through the increasing use of smartphones, the boundaries between the virtual and real world become increasingly blurred. Virtual wallets, virtual assistants, virtual try-on apps and even virtual currencies like Bitcoin are signs of what is about to come. Now, wearable technology is becoming more commercially available and beauty companies can no longer afford to be on the side-lines. Beauty companies will start to put technology at the centre of their core strategy, making it an intrinsic part of the product.

At home devices bring affordable luxury and high efficacy

As discussed in more detail in “Are Beauty Devices Changing the Rules in Skin Care?”, demand for high-tech treatments at home has given rise to a range of electronic devices whose claims range from improving the efficacy of skin care products to replicating anti-ageing treatments in salons.

Facial cleansing remains the entry level category for brands across both the premium and mass segments, with competition intensifying in the premium segment. While Clarisonic, which is available in over 30 countries, remains a market leader in the US, newcomers like Swedish company Foreo, with its silicon made Luna devices, have been expanding rapidly. Both companies remain focused on the US, with Foreo opening both a manufacturing unit and offices in the country in 2014. Despite Asia’s penchant for technology, the abundance of local players and the availability of cheaper technology create higher barriers of entry for companies specialising in premium beauty devices. Outside the US, where beauty devices have penetrated both the anti-ageing and face mask categories, beauty devices specialists, like Unilever’s and Syneron’s joint venture, Iluminage, have been expanding in Europe, with the UK and France as priority markets.

Technology challenges traditional innovation and creation of beauty offerings

Technology advancements in the form of 3D printers have also had an impact, and can further change how beauty offerings are created. Currently, their usage remains in the supply chain, where they are used to create packaging prototypes, but as their technology evolves so will their usage. While their influence in the manufacturing process will remain the most visible, 3D printers also offer the capability of enhancing consumers’ in-store experience through the creation of customised and personalised products. This is expected to be firstly implemented in colour cosmetics through personalised shades, before entering other categories, such as skin care and fragrances.

The much anticipated launch of Apple’s iWatch has brought wearable technology to the forefront of consumers’ minds. Although most of the products so far, such as smart bracelets, watches and glasses, can be used to enhance consumers’ experience with beauty brands, rather than become an end product themselves, that will not necessarily always be the case. Fingernails and fake eyelashes are already being targeted as products that can carry technology that allows consumers to open and close doors by blinking or waving. While wearable technology is still at its very beginning, its potential remains limitless, reflecting consumers apparent appetite to incorporate more tech devices in their everyday lives.

Customer service and interaction reinvented

Technology in beauty has been most pronounced in terms of customer service and interaction. Skin care diagnostic tools, from DNA testing to skin analysis, YouTube videos and diagnostic applications, are all adding to consumers’ experience, both in store and online, thus affecting purchase decisions. Diagnostic tools have had a technology make-over and now come in the form of online questionnaires, apps or in-store devices. From Sephora’s skin care IQ to Harrods’ Ioma machine and the Organic Pharmacy’s DNA test, consumers’ desire for customising their skin care is stronger than in any other category. Digital apps like OKU (an at-home device and app that analyses skin condition), L’Oréal’s Make-Up Genius and Klara (an app that sends pictures of consumers’ skin to dermatologists) aim to offer professional skin care analysis in the comfort of consumers’ homes. Even Google Glass, despite its short life span, was incorporated by YSL to create videos showcasing how its make-up artists use its products, enhancing consumers’ experience with the brand.

Panasonic’s Magic Mirror takes the concept a step further from trying new make-up looks to analysing consumers’ skin. It suggests solutions like, “Your skin is dry, you should use a moisturiser and drink more water.” This type of technology, which is rolling out to department stores in 2015, and will be available for home purchase in 2016, could also be used to make specific product recommendations in the future, and/or measure the effectiveness of products such as anti-agers. This will have further implications for consumers’ purchasing decisions and habits, creating new rules for beauty players to play with.

Payments and delivery of beauty products enter the 21st century

Tech companies have been expanding their operations beyond enhancing the consumer experience and innovation, to reshaping the payment and delivery industry. Google’s launch of Google Wallet and, even more crucially, Apple’s Apple Pay, has brought alternative payment methods to the mainstream. Driven by two key features, security and convenience, digital wallets are becoming more popular, especially in the US. Sephora’s latest cooperation with Apple to combine Apple Pay with the Sephora app and create a Sephora Wallet is showcasing the increasing influence digital wallets can have in beauty. Beyond digital wallets, the rising possibility of monetising tweets, Amazon’s drone delivery service and Bitcoin growing in acceptance are indications that retailers, not beauty players, are the drivers of incorporating technology in the beauty industry.

In technology, creativity remains in the hands of innovative start-ups, thus helping them grow is essential to the category’s progression. While fashion companies and tech companies have long mentored start-ups and creators of new technology, benefiting both the industry and themselves, in beauty it has been a rarer occurrence. However, the technological push of the past couple of years has made it vital for beauty companies to embrace the tech world openly. L’Oréal, which has already joined Grand Central Tech in the US, mentors entrepreneurs and helps them develop, while taking the opportunity to integrate the best ideas into its business. The fierce competitive landscape of beauty, its highly innovation-driven nature and consumers’ increasing desire for, and interaction with technology creates a “must-do” alliance between beauty and technology start-ups.