AUSTIN, TEXAS — In its debut appearance at the South By Southwest conference this week, cosmetics and beauty brand Lush transformed two recycled shipping containers into a tech-powered replica of its Tokyo concept shop. The mobile-heavy activation on the trade show floor housed conveyor belts transporting 54 bath products, which were specially created for the 30th anniversary of the beauty company's first bath bomb.
With a quick scan of a QR code, guests could download the Lush Labs mobile app and use the visual search feature to access rich information on the unwrapped bath products' "digital packaging," from ingredients, name and price to videos of what they look like when dropped in a tub of water.
Social community and UGC
While the app doesn't currently feature mobile ordering capabilities or customer reviews — it's still in R&D — Lush's head of technology research and development Adam Goswell said the community features will soon be added.
"We really want to integrate reviews on our platform along with social content," Goswell told Mobile Marketer in a phone interview. "There's an amazing amount of social content they bring in that's probably better than our own. The customers share how they use it, details about products and personal comments."
Incorporating social and user-generated content into the mobile app will give shoppers more realistic insights into the hundreds of products than traditional reviews and star ratings can, Goswell said. For now, the visual search prototype only recognizes Lush's fleet of bath bombs, as each one requires thousands of photos, 3D imaging and machine learning before hitting users' hands. But Goswell predicts the app will be able to recognize all the company's products by the end of 2019.
"When we put Lush Labs into our main shopping app, you would expect it to recognize anything you can physically see in the shop," he said.
Fusing tech and sustainability
The Lush Labs app and mobile-driven SXSW activation represent a broader shift toward incorporating technology and waste-reduction initiatives into the company's strategy. For instance, by allowing users to view a video of what a bath bomb looks like when dropped in a tub, Lush says it can save water by removing the need for in-store demonstrations.
An Asia flagship location is set to launch mid-May in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo and will house packaging-free products, additional tech-powered experiments and interactive experiences, per Goswell. Special lighting and projections, in-store video navigation and interactive windows in the shop will demonstrate Lush's fresh focus on global customers and retail marketing innovation through technology.
"Because of the international nature of the customers you get in that area of Japan, we need to look at creative ways of not having everything written and translated," Goswell said. "There's all sorts of crazy things we're going to do with lighting that lets us change the shop overnight into different lighting configurations."
Meanwhile in Milan, Berlin and Manchester, U.K., Lush has deployed "naked" concept shops that sell packaging-free goods as part of a deeper push into sustainability the brand began 10 years ago.
"If you remove the packaging, obviously the customer doesn't get all the information that would have come on a traditional label," Goswell said. "We needed to work out a way to deliver that information in a nice way that doesn't require packaging. We'd rather use things like scannable QR codes, bar codes and other somewhat traditional stuff, but we just didn't feel comfortable printing more things or attaching labels to the products."
Bath time gets connected
As Lush dives deeper into creating more immersive and tech-powered experiences, the cosmetics and beauty brand is getting into physical hardware with the development of a connected speaker that customers can use in the bath or shower, according to Goswell. The prototype, already on its third version, has been displayed at several industry shows and is set to hit store shelves and online around the holidays.
"We want to give customers the full Lush experience in a device that would give them a mood-changing experience in the bathroom or shower or bedroom, with colors and accent moods that we'd program," Goswell said. "Think special light shows designed to complement a product you've already got."