By  on January 23, 2009

Ron Robinson, a 20-year research and development executive for some of beauty’s leading firms — the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., Avon Products Inc. and Revlon Inc., to name a few — had come to believe his role as a scientist and product developer was contributing to women’s confusion about skin care products.

“I was part of the problem,” he said about his past life, one where he concocted everything from antiaging serums to acne fighters for the industry’s best and brightest marketers.

Robinson, who most recently served as global director of skin care product innovation at Avon, left the firm in May 2008 to embark on a new career: informer. For the past seven months, he has interviewed hundreds of women across the country to find out why and how they make decisions to buy a product. He was a little surprised by what he found.

“In general, there is a lot of confusion and dissatisfaction,” said Robinson. “I guess there is a sense of skepticism given the strong claims [products make], and women are confused.”

These days, Robinson is busy trying to address women’s dissatisfaction with skin care products with Beautystat.com, a Web site he founded with a Silicon Valley technology expert, dedicated to providing women (and men) with unbiased views and opinions of products, as well as advice on which items may actually target their specific needs. Currently, the site offers members recommendations on facial and eye treatments. In the spring, it will offer color, foundation, concealer, mascara, lip, nail and body treatment recommendations. And in the fall, hair treatments will be recommended.

“My research showed that the information they most rely on is from friends with similar skin concerns. This site will offer that to them on a bigger scale,” he said.

Beautystat, which launched the first week of January, has about 400 subscribers, most of whom are Robinson’s friends and family. (He hasn’t yet reached out to the trade or to many of his business contacts so as to keep the site under wraps.) Given the launch plan, Robinson estimates he will have more than 500,000 active members in less than a year. Each subscriber is encouraged to chat about his or her favorite products, and also to take part in some site queries. For example, the site’s Voting Booth section asks users about shopping habits, likes and dislikes and what’s on their mind.

This data has several uses. For one, it allows Robinson to best tailor the online experience to each individual subscriber, from product recommendations to targeted advertising. It also helps him build a database of demographic and psychographic data, which can be customized or syndicated to manufacturers and retailers. Each subscriber also must answer 12 short beauty questions upon becoming a member, another way Robinson can target info to each user.

Robinson expects to generate about $500,000 in first year revenues on his site. Beginning today, products can be purchased from Beautystat.com via a partnership with Amazon — however, Robinson’s goal is to have an affiliate program set up with retailers whereby a subscriber could purchase items by clicking a link that brings them to a retailer site. A percentage of every sale would go to Beautystat. Robinson plans to target retailers such as Drugstore.com and sephora.com, among others.

Contributing to most of the site’s content — such as The Buzz, which talks about everything from new products to trends — is Beautystat’s editor-in-chief, Charu Suri, who also serves as editor to CVS’s in-store beauty glossy, Reinventing Beauty. Dr. Jeffrey Dover, a dermatologist who sells an eponymous skin care line at CVS, will also contribute to Beautystat, joining Dr. Adam Geyer, a Manhattan-based dermatologist who currently has an article addressing eczema on the site.

Robinson assured that Dr. Dover is well aware of the site’s mantra: “Beautystat does not support bias or favoritism toward any beauty company, product or tip. It simply reports on what works.”

Beautystat looks to grow substantially when it creates applications for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube, the Internet’s major social networking sites. For example, Facebook, said Robinson, has about 25 million female members, many of whom he considers a major source of membership in the coming months. A Facebook application is planned for February. MySpace is planned for May, and a mobile application for Blackberry and iPhone users is planned for fall. Creating inbound links from other social network sites and blogs looks to grow subscriber numbers, too.

Mobile applications is where Robinson’s dream of providing at-a-glance information for consumers has such large potential.

“What if you could get product info at point of purchase?” asked Robinson, who answered his own question by saying how many more women would actually make purchases if they could have unbiased opinions at their fingertips.

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