As technology like artificial intelligence and augmented reality become mainstream, beauty companies are increasingly transforming into tech companies in order to stay ahead of the competition and improve the customer experience.
For L’Oréal Group, adjusting to the modern industry landscape meant establishing a dedicated technology incubator in 2012. The incubator (which has labs in the U.S., France and Japan) is situated within L’Oréal’s larger research and innovation division and has been tasked with developing new tech-enabled consumer products. MakeupGenius, the incubator’s first product launched in 2014, is an app that lets users virtually try on makeup with AR. More recently, it launched UV Sense, the first battery-free electronic wearable to measure individual UV exposure.
According to Guive Balooch, L’Oréal global vp and head of the tech incubator, its driving mission is to figure out how technology can be used to tap into emerging customer and industry trends, like product customization. Balooch spoke with Glossy about other trends in the space as well as challenges the industry faces with trying to create products fast, the role consumer data can play in product development and how the customization trend will permanently transform the beauty landscape.
What are the biggest trends influencing the incubator right now?
First, we are seeing an enormous shift around how consumers expect to have products that really work for them. This is an important place for technology because it’s not just about personalization in a vague term. It’s about the fact that every person in the world should have access to the product that is right for them. That is a trend that is only going to become stronger because now the accessibility of technology has allowed people to know what the right services are for them. The second trend where I think technology is bringing enormous value is education and course correction.
One example is [ultravoilet sunlight]; you have all types of people around the world, and they don’t know how much UV [light] they are getting. They don’t know the benefits of using sunscreen for their own personal exposure. For that reason, our UV Sense was about how we could give people more personalized information so people could have a better or healthier lifestyle around their beauty routine — like using sunscreen at the right time and in the right amount for them or their families. Through technology, I think people can have an organic relationship between their products and how to actually apply them to get the results they want every day. For me, it’s not about technology trends but about consumer trends that technology is becoming more and more influential on and can bring added value to.
What challenges come with these technology advancements?
There are a couple of big challenges. The first is that beauty consumers are constantly changing direction and have a very fast-paced relationship with their products, which means that technology innovations have to very quickly adapt and innovate. And timing is very challenging: Today, people want something, but in a few months they want different experiences, and we have to develop these quickly. So speed is something very important and also very challenging in our industry.
The second thing is about ensuring the technology isn’t available just for the sake of using it. How do we ensure that our experiences are not gimmicky? That’s a challenge because it takes a lot of testing, learning and understanding the [trends] to be able to choose the right project. Lastly, there are just so many choices today of products; technology can add value, but it can become a challenge to understand exactly where you want to embed it and how you want to use it in the right way. But those are good challenges, I think. They are all things we need to solve anyway.
When you think about the opportunities like tech-enabled devices and personalization, what role does customer data play?
We have a very strategic consumer-insights team that is focusing more on thinking about design and creating communities around their relationships between real-time information of consumer feedback and trends, and how we can develop fast ways to make products around that. It’s going to become very important, [and] will also provide the ability for our marketing-insights team to get information faster, and then develop products through our R&D and marketing teams faster. So yes, [data] is going to serve a more important role in the beauty industry in general in the future.
With all of that in consideration, what does the future of beauty look like to you?
When I started this incubator six years ago — I had already been at the company for four years, so it’s been 10 years now — we had a lot of discussions about the beauty-for-all mission of the company. And it was all about how we need to find a way for everybody, no matter where they are, to be able to have the product that is right for them. And I very strongly believe that in the next five to 10 years that it is our responsibility, [and that] we should be able to make it happen through technology. It will be this relationship where everybody can make tailor-made products for themselves, and they can get the product that is right.
The second is that technology, like augmented reality, will allow everyone to try on products digitally and [in physical locations] before they buy them and in a seamless way. And then there’s the performance of products, where they will be superior because people will understand their needs more, because of technology. I see a lot more automation, a lot more personalization, and a lot more ability to try on things and to have all of those platforms within your smartphone and delivered to you within hours, so you could have all of that convenience no matter where you are.
Ultimately, I think beauty-for-all will really transform into beauty-for-you, where everyone has a personalized experience.