The beauty industry is booming. Today, the beauty industry is valued at a staggering $532 billion – a figure set to reach further heights in the coming years. And that’s not all:
- A 2016 report by Lucintel predicts the skincare subsection will grow in value by 4% each year.
- Statista estimates general global retail sales to reach $28 trillion by 2020 (up from $22 trillion in 2016)
The stats don’t lie; the beauty industry is trending upwards, which is why beauty companies want to harness the mounting spending power of global consumers.
But what’s driving this beauty boom? Simple: technology.
Technology is helping to create new experiences for the customer. It’s putting the consumer in the driving seat of product design and enabling them to acquire exactly what they want, when they want it.
From try-before-you-buy apps and the incorporation of artificial intelligence (AI), to the harnessing of augmented reality (AR) and 3D printed makeup, beauty brands are tapping into revolutionary methods to improve customer engagement, satisfaction and loyalty in an increasingly cut-throat market.
In this post, I discuss some of the major tech trends that are reshaping the beauty industry today and taking the world of appearance to a whole new level.
Personalization, AI and Virtual Testing
With such importance placed on digital devices in our lives today, it comes as no surprise that consumers expect a certain level of ease and efficiency when purchasing from a brand online. However, customers’ experience isn’t the sole technology focus for most companies. Brands are currently harnessing AI to personalize the products themselves in addition to the service.
According to market research firm Mintel, nearly half of consumers like the idea that a beauty product is personalized especially for them, and a third think such products give better results.
So, where are we seeing this play out?
Lancome’s custom-made foundation machine
Le Teint Particulier is a custom-made foundation machine which finds the exact match foundation for your skin tone using AI. Consultants determine your facial skin tone using a handheld digital scanner. An algorithm then chooses from 20,000 different colour shades.
Finally, the results are sent to a machine that mixes the foundation for you, on the spot.
Lidl’s DIY face mask maker
German-based supermarket chain Lidl, which offers a label budget beauty line, boasts its own DIY face mask maker.
The machine creates custom hydrogel face masks using fridge ingredients of your choice, such as milk, blueberries, kiwi, papaya or oranges. You are provided with 24 collagen tablets to mix in too.
ModiFace Skin AI
This AI tool is able to detect minute changes on your skin over time, including dark spots, discoloration, dryness, uneven skin, new wrinkles and rosacea. The technology is available via a mobile app or web-API capable of skin assessment.
Neutrogena has come up with a nifty solution to the ill-fitting sheet face mask that aims to be affordable for everyone. Its 3D printed face mask is customized to fit your exact face shape, skin type and unique needs.
The custom beauty concept, while not available until late 2019, will be formulated via an app.
"Smart" Beauty Tech
As we do more of our shopping online, beauty brands are increasingly turning to augmented reality (AR) to enhance the experience. Improvements in image recognition and face tracking is making these digital overlays more accurate too.
Using AR, Sephora’s app enables customers to virtually try on on shades of lipsticks and eye shadows via their smartphones or at kiosks in make up stores. The technology measures your eyes and lips in real time, before tracking those facial feature points to ‘paint’ the cosmetics.
It is also able to guide you through make up tutorials and color match to your skin tone. It potentially speeds up the lengthy process of ‘swatching’ and Sephora says more than 200 million shades have been tested through Virtual Artist since the 2016 launch.
Beauty tech creator Shiseido’s skincare system is an app which assesses the skin type of the user and the conditions of the immediate environment to determine the right products to support optimum skin condition.
The technology monitors a range of factors affecting skin — from temperature and humidity to mood and phase of the menstrual cycle — and then sends a unique product recommendation for that particular day.
The app is paired with a special device that loads a cartridge with the recommended product.
New Kinpo Group offers an Amazon Alexa voice-controlled ‘smart mirror’ that provides unique beauty advice and analysis for users. Using AI, it rates difference sections of your skin on a scale of 100 and uses AR to enable users to virtually try on make up before manually applying.
3D Printed Makeup
I'm sure this one surprises you. Design agency Seymour Powell has unveiled a printer concept that would allow online makeup looks to be downloaded and printed directly on to the face.
Combining 3D-printing, facial recognition technology and AI-powered image analysis, the Élever would allow brands and influencers to sell make-up looks direct to consumers from wherever and whenever they want.
Then there’s Mink, the portable 3D make-up printer which boasts 16.7 million color shades. You start by downloading the Mink app to your device. Next, you import any image you like - a screenshot from Instagram or Pinterest, a Google image, even a selfie from your camera roll - then choose between printing the whole image or a specific color from it.
After 15 seconds, the image of choice will be printed, this time in make-up rather than ink. You can then wipe or brush off and apply on your face wherever necessary.
The Power of The People
Alongside all these innovations within the beauty industry, crowd-led innovation is driving a great deal of the incentive for brands to push the boundaries of tech within the realm. Today’s consumers demand transparency and many favor being involved with or at least instrumental in product development.
Brands that listen to such desires are smart, since consumer-led feedback, whether on social media, an app or in person, encourages a continual line of communication between the company and customer.
It also helps to keep them ahead in a fiercely competitive market. Over the coming years, we can expect to see more beauty brands adopting these methods and creating entire platforms to address customers queries and needs, allowing for even more personalized products and services.
The concept of ‘beauty going tech’ is in fact more commonplace than you might initially think. The likes of Snapchat and Instagram have presented us with an array of filters and editing tools to enhance our digital look for some time now.
The catch? Some beauty industry experts question whether giving skin scores, encouraging further more screen time and placing even greater emphasis on appearance is a good thing. Indeed, in a world where we are already seeing increased anxiety in relation to overuse of technology, sleep dysregulation and perpetual distraction, is all this a move in the ‘right’ direction?
The answers to such questions are up to you to decide, of course. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.
Regardless, the takeaway for beauty brands is this: tech can open up a whole new world and offer a more interactive experience between the beauty company and customer, meaning it must be a key part of future brand strategy.
Brands must be vigilant with tech R&D, and maintain an awareness and ongoing curiosity for new advancements to encourage further consumer interest, trust and sales. I have no doubt that the beauty industry will be an intriguing space to watch in 2019 and in the years to come.