This week, I look at how Nars is translating real-life beauty experiences online, check in on BeautyPie and spotlight yet another review platform moving into e-commerce.

Known for its larger-than-life influencer trips, pop-ups and store experiences, Nars Cosmetics is now betting on immersive digital activations.

Timed to the relaunch of one of its hero complexion products, the Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer, Nars has extended its experiential focus to its first virtual store and corresponding digital campaign. The VR store that launched on Friday was made in partnership with VR e-commerce startup Obsess, which has been on a tear in the last year creating online stores for Charlotte Tilbury and Dior.

“In 2020, we observed a considerable shift in how consumers discovered, considered and purchased makeup,” said Barbara Calcagni, Nars Cosmetics president. “We recognized an opportunity to elevate the online shopping experience, and to explore additional avenues to recruit and engage consumers. With stores being closed, consumers who relied on being able to touch, play and try products prior to purchase were seeking a similar experience.”

In Calcagni’s mind, the VR store combines all of Nars’ digital innovations in one place. Last year, the brand launched several AR try-on pilot programs with Instagram, Google and Pinterest. Additionally, the brand made its website more of a draw: It debuted Matchmaker, an AI-powered foundation finder in collaboration with Perfect Corp’s Youcam, started one-on-one virtual consultations with makeup artists by appointment, and entered the livestream ring, enlisting a swath of internal and external talent like celebrity makeup artist Sir John. Thanks to these efforts, Calcagni said the brand saw a 68% increase in NarsCosmetics.com sales for the year.

“Nars’ virtual store centralizes these innovations in one place and helps the consumer feel like they are navigating a real store,” she said.

Upon entering the VR store, which was modeled after an updated store concept that’s exclusive in Asia, Nars’ Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer will greet visitors. Product descriptions, the Matchmaker tool, videos and other “hotspots” will be available for customers to learn about every product available for purchase, said Kristy Peschko, executive director of global omnichannel marketing, CRM and loyalty. The U.S  is the first market to debut the VR store; versions for Japan and the UK will launch later this month.

While key categories like eye, lip and complexion are prominent, four of Nars’ iconic products including its Orgasm Blush and Climax mascara are featured outside of the segments, and will be featured in the center of the store. Peschko said that the VR store will likely rotate quarterly based on key launches and that the brand expects the store to be accessed via customers’ phones. Ninety percent of Nars customers interact with the brand’s site on mobile, she added.

Pre-Covid, physical locations had been Nars’ priority. So much so, that the brand implemented AI and AR experiences on in-store iPads to underscore the importance of store associates in 2019, before debuting that technology online. At the time, Nars had 110 Nars doors that incorporated the technology. They included free-standing Nars boutiques and department store counters. But the world has changed since the pandemic; discovery is now primarily happening online, and replenishment is occurring in stores. Covid-19 store closures along with the downturn in makeup impacted Nars. It saw a 26% decline in sales in its fiscal 2020, according to Shiseido Company earnings.

Because of that, getting the word out about the VR experience using digital channels will be key. Nars conducted a street casting for the photo and video assets found on its website and social platforms, to show the breadth of the updated product on various sexes, ages and skin tones. Beyond its diverse shade range, Nars is hyping its Vitamin C ingredient and SPF to emphasis its skin-care benefits, explained Julia Sloan, Nars svp of global marketing & integrated communications.

“We implemented this robust creator strategy beyond core makeup creators, and focused on skin, health, fitness, men and more mature creators,” she said of the multi-prong partnership and creator campaign.

Case in point: The brand launch event over Zoom last week featured Nike trainer and GQ columnist Joe Holder and dermatologist Dr. Shereene Idriss, with the latter specifically talking through the SPF benefits of the product. And for its mega paid creator campaign on Instagram, Nars enlisted fitness trainer Lindsey Harrod and wellness and fitness coach Sami Clarke.

And while TikTok has arguably almost usurped Instagram in terms of platform relevance, Nars is increasingly focused on Clubhouse. The brand kicked off a three-part weekly series on April 7 to discuss the tinted moisturizer and other beauty topics like diversity and inclusion. The next two discussions will be held on April 14 and 21.

Sloan said that 5-10% of the brand’s media budget has been allotted to testing emerging platforms; it also recently launched on Twitch.

“We’re not necessarily launching a handle or a Nars room yet, because Clubhouse is far more organic than any of the other platforms,” said Sloan. “We don’t want the conversations to be dominated by Nars executives or for it to be commercial. We want it to feel really authentic. And we want to be part of the conversations already happening in a really authentic way.”

But just because Nars is approaching new platforms with a dual skin care-makeup perspective doesn’t mean that it is moving away from color cosmetics. Sloan expects makeup to bounce back in a big way, with Gen Z driving that change.

“We launched our Soft Matte Complete Foundation in the fall, targeted at Gen Z. We weren’t sure how it would do in this environment, but it exceeded our expectations,” she said. “Gen Z still loves makeup, trying and playing, but they want makeup that can do more, which is what we are trying to offer.” –Priya Rao, executive editor

Beauty Pie leans on its friends

After partnering with hormone specialist and nutritionist Kay Ali on its foray into ingestibles, Marcia Kilgore’s Beauty Pie is now collaborating with L.A.-based makeup artist Pati Dubroff on an exclusive makeup offering. On April 7, Beauty Pie and Dubroff debuted an eight-piece collection of products for the brand’s members.

“Over the years I have found that no matter who I am working with, regardless of age, I always reach for the same type of item to give the most subtle yet polished definition,” said Dubroff, who is known for working with Charlize Theron, Natalie Portman and Margot Robbie. “This kit is an expression of those essentials that I cannot live without.”

Kilgore added, “I’ve admired Pati’s work for years. She’s a huge talent, one of the most trusted makeup artists in the industry … I love what she’s created for us, and am very excited to be able to deliver it, with Beauty Pie’s no-middlemen, no retailer-markup promise, to our members and customers, and Pati’s fans.”

Beyond product, U.K.-based Beauty Pie has been in expansion mode. Beauty Pie’s number of members increased 300% in 2020 (memberships are $99 annually, or $30, $20 or $10 monthly). And the company has added 54 new hires since the start of last year, bringing its total headcount to 116.

RealSelf pulls the e-commerce lever

If beauty and wellness companies learned one thing in 2020, it was that creating a digital ecosystem for shoppers to read reviews, test and try products, and, of course, shop had to be prioritized — and quickly. Online marketplace RealSelf, known for its doctor and cosmetic aesthetic recommendations, has heeded that advice, launching a beauty e-commerce arm last month.

“Consumers now have a trusted resource where they can easily research medical aesthetics treatments, connect with expert providers and the community of RealSelf members, and shop a highly curated selection of skin care,” said James Coyle, CEO of RealSelf. “With the launch of RealSelf Shop, skin-care brands have a compelling new distribution channel, reaching millions of beauty consumers. [Plus] our doctor community can gain access to even more consumers who are coming to shop.”

Partner brands at launch include BeautyStat, Obagi and Doctor Rogers Restore. With its dermatologist and plastic surgeon clinical base, the platform has been a draw for medical providers-turned-founders.

RealSelf is the destination for objective information about safe and effective aesthetic treatments. We [also] emphasize real information, real education, real ingredients and real results,” said Dr. Heather D. Rogers, founder and CEO of Doctor Rogers Restore. “I am excited they are expanding into skin care products, and I am looking forward to sharing my expertise with their community.”

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