The COVID-19 pandemic certainly created a seismic shift in the way the world shopped. With lockdowns and store closures worldwide, consumers lost the ability to test products ahead of purchase as shopping shifted online – greatly impacting the beauty and personal care industry especially.
But in 2023, the buzz of the beauty store was back and Dr Emma Meredith, director-general of the CTPA, said the product testing this enabled was a key element in the overall joy the beauty category offered consumers.
A ‘mini pamper’ with a ‘take-home treat’
“A big part of the joy of our cosmetics and beauty products is the thrill of trying them before buying them,” Meredith told CosmeticsDesign-Europe. “To me, it feels like a mini pamper. And then you get the bonus of the take-home treat.”
During COVID-19, she said consumers were “robbed of that experience” and so today, with stores back open in full-swing, there was an added edge of appreciation.
But it wasn’t just in-store, real-product testing that was proving popular, she said. During pandemic restrictions, many beauty brands and retailers had invested in digital alternatives for shoppers to test and interact with products, offering more choice today, she said.
“Just as the agile cosmetics industry innovates to provide products that work, meeting the needs of people on a daily basis, the sector also invented creative ways to help consumers interact with their products digitally when stores were closed. As consumers, we now have the choice of testing what products work best for us at the counter, as well as via lots of digital and AI tools.”
The online-offline blur in beauty testing
Smart mirrors and Augmented Reality (AR) powered digital try-ons were just some of the options now blurring with in-store product interactions.
Last year, Samantha Dover, category director for beauty and personal care at Mintel, said whilst beauty tech investments had largely focused on digital and e-commerce – with virtual skin analysis, personalised product recommendations and metaverse offers just some of the examples – consumers were also looking for technology in-store to improve overall shopping experiences.
According to Mintel data, 44% of UK adults who bought beauty/grooming products said more in-store technology would improve their shopping experience.
“Looking ahead, one of the biggest opportunities in beauty technology is better facilitating research behaviours. Beauty consumers are increasingly overwhelmed by choice and are looking for products that work (…) This means there is a real opportunity to bridge the gap between online and offline with in-store technology, and beauty brands and retailers can look to major players in other industries such as Amazon and Nike to understand how technology can create a more seamless purchase journey,” Dover said.
Relationship commerce the future of beauty
Last month, the CEO of Finnish tech firm Revive Sampo Parkkinen said the future of beauty would be in “relationship commerce” – a concept whereby brands and retailers built lasting and meaningful relationships with consumers via a portfolio of digital tools. And this worked across the digital and physical, phygital if blurred, worlds, Parkkinen said.
“The customer experience online and in-store must feel like an extension of the others. Customers don’t shop through one channel. Instead, they may research products, engage with a brand on one channel, and then purchase through another,” he said.
“…With the help of AI and digital solutions, beauty companies can empower consumers to understand their skin better, find what they are looking for, and revolutionise how they shop for beauty products by making them more personal, seamless and engaging.”