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Digital: How Chatbots Are Transforming Beauty

Andy Mauro, chief executive officer and cofounder of Automat, talks artificial intelligence and chatbots at WWD's Digital Summit.

Facebook counted 2 billion messages sent between consumers and businesses last year. This year, that number has already quadrupled.

Andy Mauro, chief executive officer and cofounder of Automat, a company specializing in artificial intelligence-driven conversational marketing, spoke at the forum about the rise of chatbots. Mauro said the technology is especially popular in beauty, as “most beauty brands” have already launched at least one bot or voice system.

“Our customers thought that, using conversational AI, they could achieve this marketing dream of talking to every customer,” he said. “That’s an impossibility. Technology is making that at least partly possible. What happens when you start talking to customers is you start learning about them in their own words.”

Chatbots, he said, allow the customer to be more vocal about what they’re looking for. This in turn provides more insight to companies on their customers in a way that is personal and less creepy — an increasingly important distinction in a post-Cambridge Analytica world — than other modes of online marketing.

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Most current systems offer product recommendations, which Mauro called “guided selling on steroids.”

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According to a study Automat conducted with Wakefield, two-thirds of women felt overwhelmed by the amount of products in stores, and nearly the same amount said they didn’t want in-person help. About 71 percent of respondents said they were on their phones — on Amazon, Google and Sephora — while in store, and 49 percent said they would speak to a virtual beauty adviser if one were available.

“In a post-Siri, post-Alexa world, people are willing to give this stuff a shot because they need help,” Mauro said.

He said it’s most beneficial for companies not to use separate vendors for chatbots and voice channels, since chatbots can be a great data source for doing voice in the future.

“L’Oréal, who we’ve been working with for a long time, are seeing that benefit,” he said.

Mauro said the data shows a positive response to the technology. Cover Girl, for example, launched “the world’s first influencer marketing chatbot” with Kalani Hilliker, who has 5 million followers on Instagram. Within the first 24 hours, 14 times more people sent messages to her bot than to the real her. Users knew the bot wasn’t a real person and yet, 91 percent of them said they loved it.

A chatbot, Mauro said, is a great way to get people to do something, whether it’s buying a product, completing a form or giving you data, which you own.

“It’s first party data,” he said. “You don’t have to license it from somebody else like Google or Facebook. You own the data.”