As beauty becomes more personal, customers want to become their own experts, and advanced technology like artificial intelligence is helping companies provide this en masse.
Blend-it-yourself, or BIY, is the idea of picking individual ingredients and blending them together to create a product that is a perfect reflection of your own needs. Some companies rely on personalized online quizzes to develop formulas using artificial intelligence that are then shipped to you, and some companies allow the individual to take control over the blending process.
LOLI, which launched in March as an e-commerce shop with pop-up blending bars dedicated to natural food-grade ingredients, allows customers to shop online; order all-natural, organic and sustainably harvested products like blue cornflower water, prickly pear seed or wild yam root; and mix them together in the comfort of their home to create either a face or hair mask or use them individually for hair, face and body. Belle Bar which launched in early 2017, incorporates a similar BIY concept for hair and face masks. Then there are companies like Prose, Skin Inc. and Function of Beauty, which provide a micro-personalized experienced, using AI to provide a deeper and more nuanced approach.
Artificial intelligence is a broad concept and incorporates everything from simple chatbots to more advanced technologies like machine learning or edge computing. For a hair-care company like Prose, it provides an online quiz to learn about users’ hair and what customers want their hair to look like, feel like and smell like. An algorithm then takes this information and deduces the right formula for a customer.
In the case of LOLI, the brand will soon incorporate artificial intelligence into its platform to deliver an even deeper level of experience, according to founder Tina Hedges. This will allow the business to bridge the gap between the in-person BIY vertical and algorithm-based beauty. The company is currently in its next stage of growth after securing $1 million in pre-seed funding, and is undergoing a $1.5 million seed round to incorporate a more all-around tech-driven approach to its business, with everything from chatbots to some machine learning, said founder Tina Hedges.
LOLI began with the idea of natural beauty at the forefront, Hedges said. As consumers become more educated about the ingredients in the products, they are demanding more natural or botanically-derived ones. In 2017, products featuring natural claims represented 3.1 percent of the U.S. personal care market, generating $1.3 billion in annual sales last year. That’s up from 2.1 percent of the market in 2013, according to research group Nielson. Additionally, as consumer awareness grows, their expectations rise in regard to their shopping experience, and they are demanding the ability to control and customize the development of products.
“Having your name on a bottle and choosing a color is not personalization,” said Hedges. “It’s cute and nice, but at the end of the day, it’s a stock formula in the bottle. The ability for the customer to have the choice of how they want to blend, what they want to add and when they want to do it is like cooking. And having that flexibility and opportunity is really a unique aspect of personalization.”
Algorithmic-based businesses have become an attractive opportunity for beauty, as they allow customers to provide the most essential information to a machine, which then decides the right formula and bypasses a paradox of choice. Aside from Prose, there’s Function of Beauty in the hair-care space, for example. Function of Beauty’s algorithm offers an infinite number of custom combinations the brand claims.
There’s also Skin Inc., a Singaporean brand founded in 2007, which offers a skin quiz that asks about skin concerns like hyperpigmentation and lifestyle habits, like sleep. In the end, customers can custom-blended three out of nine serums to target their own skin issues.
The reason LOLI is incorporating technology, beyond the ability to provide customers with a good and useful product, is to address scalability while still replicating online the personal experience that customers receive in person.
“I think ultimately one of the bottlenecks is myself, because I am the chief recipe-keeper, so-to-speak, and I want to personally recommend stuff for customers at our blending bars. And that’s where the AI and technology platforms will help us,” Hedges said.