Hair care is the latest — but certainly not the final — frontier to tap technology that assists with product selection.
In just the past month, several major brands vying for customers in the $80 billion global hair-care industry leveraged tools such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality or chat bots to help consumers pick what to try on their tresses.
Examples include Flawless by Gabrielle Union, which harnesses AI-powered chat bots for personalized hair-care recommendations; Redken and its partnership with Perfect Corp., allowing app users to virtually test hundreds of colors, and ModiFace’s 3-D hair coloration technology currently in use by six hair-color brands. The capability allows users to try photo-realistic hair colors on their live video on any mobile device. The live aspect is a major step forward, according to those familiar with the technology.
Color cosmetics was the low-hanging fruit for apps adoption by brands and consumers, but zeroing in on hair color and hair needs required more muscle. But mistakes are high in hair care, especially hair color, so simulating shades is attractive to consumers.
“It is far more difficult to detect hair than other facial features,” explained Parham Aarabi, the chief executive officer and founder of ModiFace. “Hair strands look and flow very differently than the eyes or lips, and tracking them in live video is generally an extremely difficult problem.”
ModiFace’s live video coloration technology was enabled by a breakthrough in artificial intelligence — along with unique collaborations with global hair care brands. “Getting 3-D hair coloration to the level that it is now involved nearly a three-year, $10 million investment in AI engineers and scientists,” Aarabi said. Since it was unlikely an individual brand would make that large of an investment, ModiFace’s scientists worked with a series of hair brands and offered them sequentially improved versions along the way. ModiFace launched its first hair color apps with Clairol Perfect 10 in 2011 and has partnered with L’Oréal’s Matrix, L’Oréal Professional, Garnier and Conair over the years. “We effectively pooled resources [such as revenues from partnerships] and expertise to focus on a single key problem,” he said, explaining in this case the challenge was 3-D hair tracking and colorations.
Now ModiFace is investigating 3-D live video hair style changes, such as the ability to tweak texture, volume and style of hair. “We are also working at an extreme pace with hair color brands to bring the 3-D hair coloration to in-salon and in-app settings.”
Virtually experimenting with hair has perhaps even greater conversion opportunities than color cosmetics, said Aarabi. “Generally, for try on, we have seen an 80 percent increase when consumers can try on a look. For hair, the need to preview is even higher since the ability to undo and change hair color is far less than, say, a lipstick or an eyeshadow. We expect the 3-D hair coloration to have a 100 percent impact on sales given the ease of use and realism,” he said.
At Redken, the recent release of Redken in the YouCam Makeup app offers consumers the ability to instantly test professional hair colors in seconds. Custom brush and erase features of the YouCam Makeup allow users to quickly draw in details on their hair color, like highlights, ombré, or balayage to garner the full effect of the future finished look. Once a desired new hair color has been found, the app will direct the user to a Redken Salon Finder to book an appointment. “This partnership speaks seamlessly to our vision to break the boundaries of product trials and deliver a truly unique way for people to discover and experiment with beauty and hair color,” said Alice H. Chang, ceo of Perfect Corp.
Darienne Kennedy, vice president of Integrated Marketing Communications at Redken connected the dots between makeup and hair color. “At Redken, we believe hair color is the new makeup, and having a partnership with YouCam Makeup that allows consumers to test a new shade of hair color like a new shade of lipstick is the ultimate in next-generation personal expression.”
The Redken and YouCam Makeup partnership also extends into the in-salon experience. With YouCam Makeup, clients can virtually try on hair color possibilities and then share selfies with the colorist during their next salon visit.
A chatbot has been instrumental in not only launching Flawless by Gabrielle Union, but also helping the company understand how to fine-tune the brand for further success, according to Mahi de Silva, ceo of Botworx.ai, the company that built the AI-powered chatbot.
“Botworx.ai has created a platform that allows us to provide richer, more varied conversations that ensure customers get exactly what they want out of the Flawless experience,” stated Vincent Davis, ceo of Flawless Beauty.
Customers access a highly personalized experience that includes participating in a hair profiler which uses information, such as their hair color and daily hair care maintenance, to help create tailored product recommendations. “We don’t just take a single approach or a one size fits all solution,” explained de Silva who said that customization results in greater engagement.
Additionally, consumers can explore their product selection and purchase Flawless by Gabrielle Union products online. They can also share their Flawless hair product recommendations with friends increasing brand awareness with viral distribution. “One of the things we have found with the Flawless bot is that almost 20 percent of consumers that have come into the bot share it with their friends. That waterfall effect is a nice boost,” de Silva said.
Botworx.ai also integrates its Sentiment Engine into the Flawless bot, a tool that automatically rates the overall tone and feeling of everything from product positive reviews to candid opinions and concerns offering real-time insight into customer feedback about a very specific product or offer and overall brand’s reputation.”
De Silva said AI chatbots are capable of engaging in robust conversations bout complex topics, and brands can create high levels of personalized communications. He said bots can be more cost-efficient avenues to acquire customers — brands often spend as much as $12 to initiate app downloads — a sum even big brands might be pressed to justify. Other benefits to the chat bot technology he singled out include the ability to upgrade in real-time and the fact they can be accessed seamlessly on either mobile devices or desktops.