Pokémon Go was a viral hit, but can augmented reality boom the same in beauty and fashion?
It’s been one year since augmented reality game Pokémon Go popped up in the collective consciousness — an 18-day anniversary event started Thursday in advance of a Pokémon Go Fest that kicks off in Chicago July 22 — but beauty and fashion firms remain on the search to find out how to use the technology in an impactful way.
So far, AR is being used in three distinct ways by beauty and fashion firms. The more common use case right now, available in two formats, is the notion of “try-on” technology, especially in beauty, where consumers can tap into augmented reality programs to see how a shade of makeup might look on them. Opportunities for a customer to virtually try-on exist in both the physical store as well as on e-commerce and mobile destinations, but remain heavily focused on the pre-purchase stage of a customer’s shopping journey.
Data collected by try-on technology ModiFace, which works with about 75 beauty retailers and brands from Sephora to Urban Decay and Estée Lauder, shows that customers seeing a product on their own face through the use of AR on an e-commerce site results in an 84 percent increase in conversion, on average. Time spent interacting with a product is up 117 percent on average, and in store, “magic mirrors” are fueling 31 percent bumps in sales on average.
Michael Broukhim, cofounder and co-chief executive officer of subscription box service FabFitFun, had something else in mind when developing the company’s first mobile product, an augmented reality app that hit the app store last month. The majority of AR functionalities to date are designed to facilitate a transaction, whether it be online or in-store, but FabFitFun wants to home in on the post-purchase experience and move toward an informational use of the technology. Although “how makeup will look” is a “great use case” for AR, education was the goal in creating this app, Broukhim said. For him, “unboxing” became the foundation of the company’s initial AR experience, which thanks to social media has become a phenomenon in and of itself.
“You open the app and it opens straight to a camera…and when you put the box in front of the camera or any of the items in front of the box, the camera autorecognizes it and on all the information about the product pops up on your screen,” he said of the camera-first experience. “If you think of how AR works in an app like Snapchat — it puts animation on top of your face or on the world — and what we’re doing is sort of making products come to life.”
He’s clear that FabFitFun, which in addition to its monthly boxes has an in-house beauty line and a streaming service, does not want to show the member how something might look on them so they can make the decision about whether or not to buy.
“In our specific context, we’re sending a curation where people don’t know about the product and they already have the product in front of them. We have already decided on that product using consumer insights and data and merchandising terms, and we can figure out what great products are for people. They don’t even have to make that decision.…It’s about giving the context of why we made this decision of why we think that product is amazing,” Broukhim explained.
As far as the implementation of AR in-store to create a more high-touch, physical shopping experience, Sephora remains the leader, according to Maureen Mullen, cofounder and chief strategy officer at digital intelligence firm L2 Inc.
Following the addition of eyeshadow try-on this spring, the retailer rolled out a series of updates to its Sephora Virtual Artist iOS and Android apps in June. A new Cheek Try On feature lets users virtually try on more than 1,000 shades of blush, bronzer highlighter and contour shades, and a Color Match for Virtual Try On can estimate shades in uploaded photos from users to match with a lip, eyeshadow or cheek product. The app also contains a larger library of “Looks.”
Similarly, a Blue Mercury flagship that will open next month on Sixth Avenue between 53rd and 54th Streets in New York will, for the first time, use AR for virtual try-on, including functionalities like “Wedding Mode.” According to a spokeswoman for the Macy’s Inc.-owned retailer, the location will serve as a launch pad for digital and retail innovation, including things like artificial intelligence, or AI, and “advanced social media shopping.”
But despite Sephora’s head start and Blue Mercury’s foray into AR technology — as well as beauty’s lead when it comes to the technology in general — Mullen still thinks that the industry is two to three year’s out from adopting AR on a mass scale.
“It’s a technology that’s cool; it’s a technology that obviously some organizations have begun to adopt and experiment with, but it’s still several years off from having a real impact on the business,” she said.
Parham Aarabi, founder and ceo of ModiFace, disagrees. For him, an inflection point occurred two years ago.
“Many brands saw that when they used this technology, sales on their sites or app were increasing. Tests they were doing at the time became more full-blown launches and rollouts. Since then it’s been a snowball effect. We have nearly 75 brands that we’re working with today that have either launched or are trying to launch these applications,” he said.
“It [AR] has already become mainstream; we’re looking at the number of brands and how many people use it,” Aarabi continued. Case in point: more than 170 million lip, lash, shadow and cheek shades were “tried on” since Sephora launched its Sephora Virtual Artist technology in February of last year.
In an effort to enhance its e-commerce experience, Estée Lauder introduced AR capabilities on certain eyeshadow and lipstick product pages on esteelauder.com on May 23. The try-on feature is driven by ModiFace’s Light Field Rendering technology, which is able to take light, texture and shine into account while customer’s are trying on shades with a photo or video.
“If someone is looking at Pure Color Love lipstick they see the different shades and each shade has a Try It On button. As soon as they press that – assuming they are on a computer or device with a camera – they see a live video with that shade being simulated [on their own face],” Aarabi explained. Sephora was the first retailer to launch video-based AR on product pages using ModiFace’s technology, and Lauder is the first brand to do so. (Urban Decay has a similar try on feature, but the images are static.) Aarabi said there are plans for Estée Lauder to implement the feature into the product pages of even more categories.
But even more than enhancing one’s shopping experience at Sephora or driving conversion to one’s e-commerce site, AR comes down to reducing return rates. As reported in WWD earlier this week, retail industry analyst Sucharita Mulpuru has found that 22 percent of apparel sales on average get returned. (This number would be even higher if not for men’s apparel, which sees a markedly lower return rate.) During a stint in the luxury department store world, she said it was common to see up to 80 percent of the items from some brands returned.
“The goal is, ‘How do we cut down on returns if I can kind of see how the product fits?’ Then it’s a matter of, ‘Will I love it on me when I try it on at home?’ said Ken Pilot, founder of Pilot Consulting, adding that free returns have facilitated a customer buying the same item in two or even three sizes. “It’s great for the consumer; it’s not great for the retailers.”
Gap released an app in partnership with Google and Avametric earlier this year that allowed customers, in their own environment, to get a 3-D view in AR of what a product would look like on a figure similar to their own. Pilot acknowledged that while it’s not necessarily “you,” it’s a start.
“I’m thinking who in fashion is leveraging augmented reality, and I’m not seeing it out there,” said Pilot who, like Mullen, believes beauty has an edge over fashion when it comes to AR right now. That said, beauty is still lagging behind the home space, which according to Pilot boasts “some of the best AR happenings.”
Ikea, for instance, allows one to see how a new kitchen, furniture or specific items might look in a particular space. Lowe’s offers a cross between AR and virtual reality experiences, and Mayfair “lets you take the bed they’re selling and see it in your bedroom or against an empty wall.”