The virtual try-on game continues to heat up in beauty.

Shiseido Group’s Nars Cosmetics is the latest to jump into the fray through a new partnership with Perfect Corp.  Since February, Nars has been slowly rolling out its artificial intelligence and augmented reality experience with iPads at select beauty counters in the U.S. and France. They were first meant to serve as education tools for its sales associates. By the end of March, all 110 Nars doors, including free-standing Nars boutiques and department store counters, will incorporate the technology. At the same time, it will hit stores and travel retail locations (duty-free shops in airports, airlines, cruises and border shops) in Asia, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“While it’s been on our radar for some time at Nars, we felt the technology had just now reached the point of maturity, meaning we can offer the consumer virtual shade matching that suits their skin tone precisely, with realistic textures and finishes that mirror the real-life application by a makeup artist,” said Barbara Calcagni, Nars Cosmetics president.

Through the Perfect Corp. collaboration, Nars’ entire merchandising assortment of 700 products can be virtually tried on. Alice Chang, Perfect Corp. founder and CEO, said the number and range of products included in this virtual try-on tool was largely unprecedented. For instance, when Perfect Corp. worked with direct-to-consumer hair brand Madison Reed in October 2018, that virtual try-on rollout included only 40 hair color shades. Meanwhile, Perfect Corp competitor ModiFace, which was acquired by L’Oréal in March 2018, rolled out its AI and AR experience to 132 Garnier hair color shades in November 2018.

“Bringing the range of vibrant colors, textures and finishes in the Nars collection to life with augmented reality allows customers to browse more products and shades than ever before, creating a truly exploratory beauty shopping experience,” she said.

Perfect Corp boasts more than 700 million downloads across its suite of YouCam apps, but for now, the Nars tool is not available through an app or on NarsCosmetics.com. The idea, said Calcagni, is to elevate the customer relationship with Nars stores.

Nars has been trending upward as of late: In Shiseido Group’s 2018 fiscal results in February, the beauty brand was called out for its “robust growth” in all of the above U.S. and international markets, and saw sales grow by more than 27 percent last year. The latest virtual try-on rollout falls under the parent company’s plan to actively invest in its makeup category, as well as digital marketing in the U.S.

Nars believes that the experience needs to implemented with Nars sales associates versus being an exercise customers do alone, said Calcagni. Sephora has also addressed this recently, as it brought its Virtual Artist franchise app experience, which is the retailer’s augmented reality application, to 350 stores in 2018; now Sephora shoppers can now try on Sephora Collection products with in-store Virtual Artists.

This Nars virtual try-on will not only be used in boutiques and at counters, but it will also be used at consumer-facing events slated to support upcoming product launches in 2019.

Of course, bringing this digital component to Nars stores also supports the company’s desire for customer data, which is a “key objective” for this launch, said Calcagni. Nars has not been actively marketing the tool in any of its digital or social channels as of yet, but as the beauty brand captures data via the virtual try-on, it will eventually be used for the brand’s digital marketing efforts.

Participating customers will be able keep track of their try-ons by emailing or texting themselves their photo results and subsequent product details. They can also share photos on social media through a social plugin or QR code. Nars will then be able to retarget said customers through its email newsletters and on social and digital.

Nars would not disclose initial reads on the tool in the U.S. and France, but Calcagni expects the experience to do especially well in China, as many of Nars customers in the country are already giving access to their information at retail outlets. In Hong Kong, Calcagni reported that 85 percent of Nars shoppers are registered customers, “outpacing other markets significantly.”

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