ModiFace, the technology firm known for augmented reality makeup try-on apps, has programmed a conversational bot to help shoppers pick out lipsticks by brand, color or shade name from a selection of 20,000 products. The first of its kind in the beauty industry on Facebook Messenger, the bot offers a glance into a future in which salespeople will be increasingly replaced by artificial intelligence to meet consumer demands.
“There is a sense of comfort going to a counter and talking to a beauty advisor. One day, that is going to be replaced by technology, and this is a step in that direction,” said Parham Aarabi, founder and chief executive officer of Toronto-based ModiFace. “You have seen with Siri and Google Voice that technology is becoming a personal assistant, and beauty is a perfect industry for those assistants.”
ModiFace’s Facebook Messenger beauty advisor bot answers most questions about lipstick options, even seemingly sophisticated ones related to texture; harnesses facial tracking and simulation tools to show how lipsticks appear on customers’ lips in selfies; and directs customers to where they can buy the lipstick of their choice. Lipsticks are a test case for ModiFace as it begins to understand the power of bots to guide purchasing decisions, but it will eventually expand bots’ expertise to more complex categories like complexion.
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“It will take time for us to have the capabilities to have a full conversation around foundation,” said Aarabi. “What we have done initially is focus on lipsticks because we felt this technology can do that well. It can understand basic requests. All it is trying to do is narrow down to a single shade. Obviously, there are curveballs that you could throw at it that it would get wrong, but we believe that it can help you get to the point of finding your perfect lipstick shade.”
Although commerce on Facebook has encountered serious challenges, the social media network is pushing hard for bots to solve its selling dilemma. It’s far from certain that consumers will flock to Messenger to shop, but Aarabi noted that Asian consumers are already starting to purchase on Messenger-style platforms, suggesting they could be effective vehicles for sales.
“In Asia, there have been platforms like Line where you can purchase directly from a Messenger, and it’s very popular. You simply can message the actual product to a brand and buy it, but it doesn’t have the AI component. It’s simpler,” detailed Aarabi. “That hasn’t happened in North America yet.”
The sheer reach of Facebook Messenger — it’s estimated to have 900 million users — makes it a compelling sales platform. “What I would tell brands is there is a lot of potential in this area. There are a billion users in the right demographic group that are on this technology,” said Aarabi. “Although obviously potential doesn’t guarantee success, brands and retailers that are more experimental can reap the rewards of venturing early into a new technology.”