How Beauty Brands Use Augmented Reality to Enhance the Customer Experience

Woman staring into the distance

By Karen Tang

Augmented reality (AR) is one of many technologies that is expected to have a meaningful impact on the way consumers shop for products.  While AR has yet to go mainstream it is reshaping the beauty industry in three key ways.  It is helping to educate consumers about what products are available, it is personalizing the shopping experience both online and offline, and it is entertaining shoppers with apps that allow customers to see how makeup can transform themselves without even having to step into a store. 

One of the reasons why the technology is becoming more widespread is that it reduces friction in the purchasing process.  Augmented reality apps offer a solution to the common pain point of purchasing products without knowing if they are the right ones until after the purchase has gone through. It is a similar problem that is faced in the home furnishing industry.  No one wants to take a product home, assemble it only to find that it does not fit properly in the customer’s space.  That is why furniture retailers such as Ikea and Wayfair also have AR apps.It is the same reason retailers like Amazon have launched “try before you buy” services.  AR allows customers to better visualize before making a purchase, saving valuable time.

Another factor that is helping the technology to take off is the ability to not only try on products virtually using an app but the ability to make a purchase in an app once a customer has found a product that they like.  

Some of the companies that are helping to take AR mainstream are L’Oreal, Sephora and Ulta Beauty.  See how these companies are investing in AR to make it a key part of the customer experience.   

1.  L’Oreal acquired AR company ModiFace in early 2018. After the purchase ModiFace partnered with Facebook to create AR ads on Facebook for L’Oreal’s brands starting with NYX.  These ads allow customers to try lipstick or eyeshadow shades on virtually, directly from a Facebook ad in the newsfeed. 

L’Oreal has championed AR technology as evidenced by having ModiFace work with Facebook to develop AR experiences on Facebook for many of its brands including Lancôme, Yves Saint Laurent, and Urban Decay.  Lubomira Rochet, L’Oreal’s Chief Digital Officer has said that customers will spend more time in an app that has AR makeup or skin care options and customers that try out the AR functionality purchase a product 10% more often than those that do not try this functionality. Rochet also said that: “Facebook and L’Oréal share the vision that AR is becoming key for product and brand discovery and purchase.”

L’Oreal also created a Facetime-meets-makeup-counter AR customer experience within the NYX app.  Customers are connected with NYX makeup artists by calling a makeup artist via the NYX app.  The makeup artist can speak to the customer and can put various shades of makeup on the customer using the AR functionality that is within the app.  It is essentially a live streamed beauty consultation that provides an aspect of educational one-on-one service with makeup artists, from wherever the customer would like to take the call. The app’s functionality also allows for in app purchases.

2.  Sephora’s Virtual Artist app is a prime example of AR technology in practice and shows other retailers how AR will improve the customer experience going forward.  The app provides functionality such as a “Virtual Tutorial” that gives customers step-by-step instructions using their own face to achieve a makeover look. The app then provides personalized recommendations of products that match the customer’s skin-tone and preferences. 

3. In 2018, Ulta Beauty, a U.S. beauty chain made its first ever acquisitions and both were tech start-ups.  One of these acquisitions was of GlamST. It is the company behind Ulta’s AR try on makeup app.  The second one was of QM Scientific, an artificial intelligence company. The acquisition of QM Scientific will allow Ulta to analyze mass amounts of customer data and provide more personalized product recommendations and marketing campaigns.  The purpose of these acquisitions is to allow Ulta to further develop its AR and AI capabilities.

It is not just these beauty companies that are embracing AR technology.  Parham Aarabi, CEO of ModiFace, a start-up that was involved in the development of AR apps for Sephora and Estée Lauder, has said “75 of the top 100 beauty brands are now using AR globally to change how products are marketed to and tried on by consumers.”


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest retail insights & trends delivered to your inbox