YSL Beauty to introduce in-store tech to help customers find their perfect fragrance

L’Oréal Group’s tech incubator has partnered up with neuroscience company Emotiv to help customers find the best fragrance based on their own desires.

L’Oréal partnered with Emotiv to launch a new headset device that helps consumers make accurate and personalized choices around their preferred scent. The Emotive headset will first be available in YSL flagship stores across multiple undisclosed countries, starting at the end of 2022 and expanding throughout 2023.

The company’s tech incubator has released devices across makeup, skin care and hair care, but fragrance is particularly challenging, according to Guive Balooch, head of the L’Oréal Tech Incubator. When someone is shopping for a fragrance, their olfactive sense can quickly become exhausted, preventing them from truly smelling a scent. It’s one reason why perfume counters sometimes offer a dish of coffee beans to smell, as a kind of olfactive cleanser like a sorbet between food courses.

“This is technology meeting humanity,” Balooch said. “It’s a difficult process to find the right fragrance, and we hope to help [customers do so] with this tech.”

When visiting a YSL store, customers will receive a fragrance consultation by donning a multi-sensor EEG-based headset that measures neuron responses and corresponds them to fragrance preferences. EEG, which stands for electroencephalography, non-invasively measures electrical activity in the form of brain waves on the scalp. The headset uses machine learning algorithms that interpret EEG. While wearing the headset, customers smell fragrances from proprietary scent families, while the headset accurately senses and monitors their behavior, preferences, stress and attention level in a real-world context. EEG technology has become more consumer-facing in recent years; it’s been applied to meditation, sleep and gaming.

To accomplish this fragrance experience, L’Oréal and Emotiv developed 14 distinct fragrance groups, called accords, such as “woodsy” and “floral.” These accords correspond to YSL Beauty’s fragrance portfolio of approximately 45 perfumes. Customers answer an eight-question quiz that asks qualitative questions about what textures, materials and types of fragrances they like. Following this, the questionnaire will suggest 4-6 accords, and a customer will don the headset to smell them. The EEG headset shows an emotional neuro map to the consumer via a digital pad. It highlights decreases and increases in brainwave activity and the way they correspond with emotions like happiness and calmness. Customers are then shown up to four recommended fragrances based on their emotional neuro map, helping eliminate a paradox of choice.

Fragrance was a new challenge for L’Oréal’s tech incubator. To provide recommendations, it had to translate an emotional and qualitative experience into a quantitative algorithm. Balooch said the incubator worked with Emotiv on the technology for 15 months. Among the challenges was the fact that the fragrance accords were not an initial part of the design. Initially, the gadget’s fragrance recommendations were not meeting the mark among test groups, so the team consulted with in-house perfumers and fragrance creators, leading to the conclusion that accords are important in improving the algorithm’s recommendations.

This in-store experience also allows YSL Beauty to provide a level of personalization without altering its fragrance assortment. According to L’Oréal surveys, more than 77% of consumers want their fragrance to bring them emotional benefits. Through a blind test, L’Oréal also found that people connect various emotions, including happiness and relaxation, to their scent preference. And more than half of consumers ages 12-34 said they choose a fragrance based on their mood. A sub-category of perfume, referred to as functional fragrances, first emerged around 2019, purporting to offer scents as mood-boosters and stress-relievers.

“There are thousands of fragrance options, and we know it can be challenging for consumers to navigate the vast number of scents and choose what’s right for them,” said Stephan Bezy, international gm at YSL Beauty. “Through this immersive system, we were able to get 95% of people the right fragrance, personalized to their needs and desires, which is enormously higher than without this technology. It’s a huge first step in this category. Once we know which scents make people feel happy, energized or other emotions, we can customize fragrances even more. The potential is boundless.”

This is the second L’Oréal tech incubator device YSL Beauty has adopted. The first, called Perso, is a customizable lipstick dispenser for at-home use. Notably, the Emotiv headset is meant to remain in stores and is not available for purchase. It also does not require customers to adopt a new daily habit, unlike typical beauty tech devices.

“There’s a huge amount of potential for innovation regarding fragrance, especially with the wellness trend. Fragrances are an emotional process. It’s about confidence and how we feel. It’s not just about how we look,” Balooch said. “We are in a sea of choices and options in the world, and we need to know which ones are the right ones for us. The only way to do that is through technology that really works.”

Get news and analysis about fashion, beauty and culture delivered to your inbox every morning.