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From Gimmick to Growth, Virtual Try-on Tech Fuels Beauty Sales, Provides Future Solutions

FaceCake is working with its brand partners to implement no-touch sampling post-COVID-19.

LONDON — Beauty tech is growing from infancy to maturity as the coronavirus pushes brands and consumers alike to adopt no-touch shopping habits. Augmented reality, already used by social media apps in the form of filters, is now putting on a more serious face, bringing the beauty shopping experience into homes.

“We’re five years old now and at the time beauty tech was very premature. This year, with the coronavirus, it’s forcing beauty brands to take a more committed step toward additional transformation, because nowadays, they don’t have a choice,” said Louis Chen, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Perfect Corp, an AI and AR beauty tech solutions provider who developed YouCam Makeup.

The company started by creating selfie filters and realized the potential they could bring to the beauty industry. It has since then partnered with L’Oréal and Estée Lauder to develop mobile experiences. Since then, the technology has been incorporated on e-commerce channels to drive sales as well as in stores to create a true omnichannel experience.

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“We have partnerships with Estée Lauder in over 40 countries, with the U.K. being one of the most important markets. Other brands have come to us for our AR skin-care diagnostics, like Boots and La Roche Posay, “ said Chen, who said he has noticed a spike in usage rates of their technology since the beginning of March.

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There was a 32 percent increase in daily, virtual try-ons with Perfect Corp’s YouCam technology; twice the amount of engagement watching YouCam livestream shows, online tutorials using their AR technology, and a 50 percent increase in calls through its beauty adviser consultation service, which mimics an in-store experience of having a sales adviser explain the product while using AR to show customers how the makeup should be applied and what it will look like.

Given the ease of use, color cosmetics have seen the highest adoption rate by consumers, namely lipstick sales. Estée Lauder said that, this month to date, usage of the virtual lip try-on tool on its web site in the U.K. increased by 133 percent, while MAC cosmetics has also seen strong engagement and positive feedback with its virtual try-on tool that has more than 200 lipstick shades and 140 eye shadow colors.

Pinterest is in on the action, too. The social media company unveiled its beauty AR tech in January, Try On powered by Lens, which allows users to shop from a variety of brands such as BareMinerals, Neutrogena and Urban Decay. They can pin and save their looks to boards for inspiration or return to them to make a purchase.

“We started with lipstick because it’s one of the top categories on Pinterest, but we’ll extend to more beauty products and categories in the future. We’re building in ways that are accessible and easy for people to use that fit with how they’re already using Pinterest, in this case searching for beauty products,” said Jeff Harris, the company’s head of visual search, who added that experimental colors have soared, such as blue lip gloss and purple lipstick.

While interest in using AR for color cosmetics is surging, the skin-care category isn’t far behind. “Skin care is emerging and growing really fast because from a mono sales perspective, it’s bigger than color and goes across a wider population. Our partnership with Johnson & Johnson and Neutrogena is a great example in that there are so many skin solutions; we did the math and there are 1.5 million combinations with skin-care products. An AR machine can identify skin concerns, our technology will analyze your skin based off of texture, redness, moisture and oil levels,” said Chen.

Software company FaceCake Marketing Technologies, which specializes in personalized augmented reality platforms, has also seen these two categories grow. The company has created AI software that analyzes the skin and recommends products. Its software also virtually applies the skin care to the face to show users how and where to place the product.

Prior to COVID-19, the company said most of its AR usage was for experimental and fun looks. But the company has seen a pick-up in more universal products.

“As this is becoming the new normal, people have been like, ‘OK, this is what I have to do now and this is how I’m going to shop,’ so it’s a reliance on anything online that’s certainly picked up. We have seen a huge influx in online requests from our brand partners, and it’s been an incredibly busy time.

“It’s interesting to see where people and brands are going, and we are at the intersection of the way shopping is changing because for augmented reality to be a reality, it needs to be the way in which people are getting used to shopping,” said Linda Smith, chief executive officer of FaceCake.

Because of COVID-19, FaceCake’s in-store applications were immediately halted, however, the pandemic has also created opportunities for the company. It has been working on AR mirrors that won’t require any touch and will be activated by voice, gesture and gaze.

FaceCake recognizes that when shops do open up again, consumers will be very conscious of handling and touching products. For a high-touch category such as beauty, they aim to make this transition as seamless as possible.

“We’ve had nontouch screen AR mirrors for some time, but with different interaction applications. We’re hoping to have all of this in one place now. According to our brand partners, customers are not going to want to try on a sample lipstick; instead, they’re going to want to be able to do that virtually even as stores open up again,” Smith said.

She’s also noticed a significant increase in blush, bronzer and highlighter AR application, specifically a peachy rose blush, which Smith correlates to the increase in video calling. Because of this, the company will be launching virtual makeup looks for Zoom.