NEW YORK – Emerging technologies such as AI and virtual try-ons have enhanced the consumer experience in the post-COVID landscape, said Ophelia Ceradini, vice president of digital technology and innovation at The Estée Lauder Companies.
Ceradini, whose comments were made during a panel at National Retail Foundation’s (NRF) Big Show on Tuesday, pointed to the quickly changing relationship between brands and consumers. Despite returning to stores, consumers do not want a separate online and offline identity, per the exec. Instead, the beauty consumer’s online identity should follow her when she reaches the store and vice versa.
“It’s all about using the data you have...making her feel like one person,” said Ceradini.
Ceradini was joined by Nicolette Bosco, vice president, divisional business manager for beauty at Macy’s and Kelly Kovack, the founder and CEO of BeautyMatter. Kovack served as the moderator of the Tuesday panel, titled Beauty’s blush with technology. The trio discussed how technology is changing the industry, including the impact of AI and the difficulty of keeping up with trends.
AI is for everyone
Despite increases in both online and brick-and-mortar sales, the rate of merchandise return has remained steady or dropped, indicating a more satisfied consumer. Technology is one potential reason behind the shift. Software enabling virtual try-ons leaves consumers guessing less about what they want. This means that the consumer is usually more informed and has a better idea about what they are purchasing.
However, technology carries its own assortment of issues that marketers must deal with. For example, the human population is incredibly diverse, and catering to all body types and ethnicities has proven elusive. Making sure all customers are seen is incredibly important, especially for beauty brands, per the panelists. For example, Estée Lauder has made an effort to cater to every type of eye shape with its virtual try-on technology.
There’s a virtuous circle for brands when they can use technology to provide value for consumers, who are more comfortable sharing data with the company if they are able to get something out of it, according to Ceradini. Such data can help marketers further optimize their messaging and activations.
A more individualized experience has also been beneficial on the retail side, according to Bosco. For example, Macy’s has introduced an auto-replenishment system which allows consumers to set how often they want a product sent to them.
“Once you've found something that you absolutely love, you can go on and set it and almost forget it,” said Bosco.
Power to the beauty experts
Both on the retail and brand side, there has been an effort to empower beauty advisors, according to panelists. By granting consumer-facing employees the ability to keep up with trends, they are able to help consumers find what they are looking for even if the brand itself has not had time to pivot toward what the latest TikTok trend is.
That doesn’t mean the brand itself shouldn’t be on top of trends, according to Ceradini. It’s important that brands try to predict what they can and pivot their advertising when necessary. On the retail side, it’s important to make the most of the inventory in stock, according to Bosco.
However, allowing floor beauty advisors to be on devices and to look up the latest trends gives them the power to meet the consumer where they are. From there, the imperative becomes letting consumers know where the latest trendy product can be found.
“But then really pivoting the market to tell consumers, ‘Hey, we have it here,’” said Bosco.