immersive tech genz ar vr sxsw

According to beauty and tech innovators, one of the most powerful forces driving fashion and beauty’s pursuit of augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence can be captured in just four letters: Gen Z.

A SXSW panel of experts — from Benefit Cosmetics LLC, Snap Inc., Modiface and Pixability — gathered Tuesday to discuss the imperative and tactics for reaching today’s youth consumer using technology. Pixability’s Tammy Johnson kicked off the session, titled “Immersive Tech: Gen Z’s Beauty Counter and Mall,” with some attention-grabbing stats: “At 69 million, 12- and 17-year-olds actually have a buying power of $44 billion,” she said. “They’re spending 55 percent of that buying power on cosmetics and clothing.” In the next two years, this generation will account for more than 40 percent of all consumer spending, making them a segment that brands need to understand and connect with, she added.

“[For] this audience, the people who grew up with a phone in their hand, I think the expectation is for really tech-forward experiences,” said Benefit’s Emily Dybwad. “The advent of Snapchat has changed what their experience with the Internet is, and their expectation when they engage with brands is to be extremely interactive. So if you’re a brand and you don’t have a lot of interactive components, you’re probably not living up to their expectations.”

Gen Z tech ar vr sxsw

Gen Z’s fascination with immersive technology is an opportunity for brands.  Adriana Lee

AR in particular was the main topic of conversation, and for Benefit, the technology allows consumers to try on different brow shapes. As a single brand, the company chose to make its AR experience for the mobile web, instead of an app, which allows more flexibility for retail partners to use the content and availability for consumers to engage with it. “It’s about meeting the customer where they are,” Dybwad said.

Snap offers swipe-up content, filters and lenses, as well as a “lens studio” that allows anyone to create visual overlays for the Snapchat app. According to Snap’s Dan Grossman, “a third of our audience plays with lenses every single day, for an average of three minutes per day,” which is a rather large ratio, considering the app’s 187 million daily active users.

Modiface’s Jennifer Tidy noted that the AR beauty tech provider works with everyone from L’Oréal to Samsung on virtual makeup features, offering what she calls a “try before you buy experience” that works across environments — whether in stores or mobile apps, and even directly installed in smartphones.

The company’s AR tech will come built into Samsung’s latest Galaxy S9 Android smartphone as part of its camera software. “It’s as close as a consumer can get to the brands and products with the least amount of friction, without an app or even going to a web site,” Tidy explained. “For them to put it right into the camera, it’s instantaneous — you already have it, it’s on your phone, there’s no extra bells or whistles required — and it’s a place where multiple brands can be. So a consumer can go and browse through all of these different brands, try different looks on, and you can purchase through Samsung as well now. It just allows so much fun, and from a trustworthy place.”

Think of it as a virtual beauty counter in the hands and pockets of every person who owns Samsung’s new Android smartphone on Day One.

“It’s a new opportunity for brands to go into this central location, and for us to expand where our AR is,” Tidy added.

Virtual reality hasn’t gained as much traction as its sibling technology. “VR has not yet been widely adapted by brands,” Johnson said. “And I say ‘yet,’ because, as we look at the Gen Z audience, over 47 percent of them actually use VR technology. And 12 percent utilize it on a daily basis.”

Ideally, the best uses of VR will be for brand storytelling, as a new frontier for creating experiences. But companies will need to keep their eyes on quality.

“One of the key things we uncovered is that you can’t just throw together a story,” Johnson explained. “The story really needs to be one, very engaging, and two, the content you’re creating truly needs to be high quality. You have to put the effort in to really make it right.

“The Gen Z audience is curating content all the time,” she added. “And they actually do a really good job of it, so they’re expecting a little bit more from the brands.”

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