Samsung’s virtual reality collaboration with NYX Professional Makeup may be a sign that the retail industry, particularly the beauty sector, is starting to wrap its head around VR and its place in stores.
The “Impossibly NYX Professional Makeup” experience features tutorials with beauty vloggers, who share makeup tips and techniques inside the virtual environment. But these tech-forward makeup lessons are only available at NYX’s real-world locations — which begs the question: Why not have on-site employees do it?
According to Mehdi Mehdi, vice president of digital at NYX Professional Makeup, social media is fundamental to the company’s digitally native brand. “We aim to seamlessly incorporate digital into everything we do, and see virtual reality as the new frontier in the beauty industry,” he said.
With VR, he added, the feeling of proximity lets customers feel closer to their favorite online personalities.
For visually oriented sectors, like beauty and fashion, the virtual world’s look and immersive quality matter, and those hinge on the technical details. The project was developed using light field capture, an advanced technology that takes in much more light information than typical cameras or smartphones. As every aesthetician knows, lighting is a major factor in cosmetics application. The same holds true for VR beauty as well. Light field capture leads to a more realistic and, therefore, more immersive environment.
Add the smaller, more powerful hardware and better software tools emerging today, and tech companies are pushing the boundaries of what VR can do and how it can look.
Credit for this latest frenzy goes to Oculus, the Bay Area-based start-up that Kickstarted the VR trend in 2012 before becoming part of Facebook in 2014. The company makes full VR systems that plug into desktop computers, as well as a wire-free stand-alone prototype and phone-based versions like the Gear VR. Samsung‘s face gear is powered by Oculus and runs exclusively on Galaxy phones.
Now, by partnering with the electronics giant, NYX Professional Makeup can host its virtual makeup sessions without laying cables all over the space — or making shoppers feel like they’re part of “The Matrix,” with cords tethered to the headsets. The fuss-free proposition allows customers to focus on the experience.
The critical question around the nascent tech is how to monetize it. Game developers can charge for downloading immersive applications or subscriptions, but for other forms of commerce, VR hasn’t quite found its retail raison d’etre.
However, experts said that’s poised to change and some believe VR integration in the retail sector will blow up — and soon.
According to a recent study by Avanade, a Microsoft business tech consultancy, and EKN Research, more than 50 percent of retailers plan to use augmented reality, virtual reality and robotics in their stores within the next year or two.
“With today’s customers expecting a differentiated and enriched experience whether they are shopping online or in store, digital dexterity is no longer optional in the retail industry,” said Adam Warby, Avanade’s chief executive officer. “We believe that AR and VR will bring a win-win to retailers and consumers, equipping retail sales teams to bring a whole new level of personalized service and offering customers a consistent experience across all retail touch points.”
Think of it as a VR-infused form of multichannel retail.
So far, brands and retailers have been dabbling with a variety of experiments — from virtual window shopping and 360-degree tours of remote facilities, to attendance at branded virtual events and other experiences. But the Impossibly tutorial takes a different approach. Start with helpful information in an intriguing setting to engage the customer, and then conclude with a product promotion offering special pricing for the items featured. Because the sessions take place in stores, customers can take off the headset, grab that eyeshadow off the shelves and buy it on the spot.
“The retail landscape is rapidly evolving, and we’re evolving with it,” said Rachel Weiss, vice president of digital innovation and entrepreneurship at L’Oreal USA, NYX’s parent company.
L’Oréal’s fascination with VR traverses virtual makeovers to VR training for hair design. Here, Weiss led the charge to partner with Samsung and also weighed in on key aspects of the Impossibly project. “We have been reinventing the future of beauty services for years, and we see this partnership as the natural evolution to that.”