Beauty & Wellness Briefing: Inside Ulta Beauty’s big livestreaming play

For the better part of 2020, beauty brands and retailers have been in a race to digitize their retail experiences. And with e-commerce holiday shopping starting strong, there is no time like the present to facilitate an easier and better way to engage with customers shopping online.

Some companies, like Ulta Beauty, believe the best way to do that is through livestreaming.

Ulta has used Instagram Live throughout the pandemic as a content vehicle to connect customers to associates and product. But just prior to Thanksgiving, it partnered with Perfect Corp. on a new solution dubbed, Live Cast with augmented reality for its first livestream, on its website and mobile app. It featured personal care brand Love Wellness and its founder Lauren Bosworth.

“We leaned in pretty heavily to social as we went through the initial lockdown, bringing content series around DIY beauty to the home, leveraging our professional and design teams for education and entertainment, and leaning into our influencer network Ulta Beauty Collective to talk to their communities. But that opened up even more opportunity for us. Live Cast is a different way in with our guests, and it is much like what events used to be in our stores,” said Christine White, head of social and content marketing at Ulta.

Unlike companies that have leaned on marketplaces such as Amazon, or platforms like Twitch or Instagram to offer a Tmall-like brand experience, Ulta sees the value of offering a tailored digital experience to its brands and customers within its own ecosystem (i.e. its app, website and social channels). For instance, Love Wellness’s livestream was amplified via Ulta on Instagram and IG Live — its Instagram account counts 6.8 million followers.

Perfect Corp. CEO Alice Chang said the digital-first web solution is meant to foster a better direct relationship between brands and consumers, in that invites companies to host interactive broadcasts with virtual try-on on their website or app. Ulta is Perfect Corp.’s first announced partner to debut with this capability, but others are expected to launch with it in 2021.

White said 200-plus customers tuned in for the Love Wellness livecast. Because Love Wellness’s core product offering is in the sexual wellness category, it offered substantial opportunity for engagement, she said

“We were able to talk about a very taboo subject, which is sexual and vaginal health, in a mature environment. It allowed us to have an open and honest dialogue with people who really wanted to learn more about these supplements,” said white.

In 2019, livestreaming commerce sales in China, where the practice is most mature, reached an estimated $61 billion, according to iiMedia. That number is expected to more than double to $129 billion in 2020. And U.S.-based brands have quickly recognized the need to equip themselves with livestreaming options during the pandemic. Estée Lauder Companies has worked with Swedish platform Bambuser for Clinique shopping livestreams featuring “Game of Thrones” actress Emilia Clarke, and L’Oréal Group has partnered with Livescale on shoppable livestreams for its brands including Urban Decay, Lancôme, NYX Cosmetics and It Cosmetics.

For Ulta’s part, shopping directly from its livestreams likely won’t be available to consumers until 2021, and will be evaluated by brand and on a case-by-case basis, said White. She said that Live Cast is part of Ulta’s larger Beauty School initiative that launched quietly in the fall. With Live Cast and Instagram Live, Ulta plans to launch episodic content series (that will also be saveable) to better engage with shoppers. In December, Ulta will focus on the textured hair category with Beauty School, and in January, it will debut a more regular, weekly skin-care series. To date, brands included within the program include MAC, The Ordinary, Credo Beauty, NYX Cosmetics, Tarte Cosmetics, Benefit, KVD Beauty and Love Wellness.

“We first want to get to the exact point of really learning what drives people to our livestreams, what keeps people there and how to get people coming back before launching shoppable, which is a deeper integration,” says White.

But that’s not to say that Ulta will be slow to move, as White said that Live Cast could be key for new product spotlights and sampling.

“As you think about content integration into commerce, we already know the power of ratings and reviews, product trial and using our phones to purchase,” she said. “You might not always be in a physical footprint, but the ability to see something demoed and talked about like you would in a store is important. From the [customer] experience, this is what she wants, and she has told us that.”

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