NEW YORK – Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual try-ons are enhancing the consumer experience in the post-COVID world, according to Ophelia Ceradini, vice president of digital technology and innovation at The Estée Lauder Companies.
Ceradini made the comments during a panel discussion at the National Retail Foundation (NRF) show on Tuesday, noting that the relationship between brands and consumers is changing rapidly. According to the executive, while consumers are returning to stores, they don’t want a separate online and offline identity. Instead, the beauty consumer’s online identity should follow her when she arrives in the store, and vice versa.
“It’s all about using the data that you have … to make her feel like a human being,” Ceradini said.
Ceradini is joined by Nicolette Bosco, Macy’s vice president and business manager for the beauty division, and Kelly Kovack, founder and CEO of BeautyMatter. Kovac served as moderator for a panel discussion on Tuesday titled “Beauty Blushes With Technology.” The trio discussed how technology is changing industries, including the impact of artificial intelligence and the difficulty of keeping up.
AI is for everyone
While both online and brick-and-mortar sales increased, merchandise return rates remained stable or declined, indicating more satisfied consumers. Technology is one underlying reason behind this shift. Software that enables virtual try-ons can take the guesswork out of consumers about what they want. This means consumers are generally more informed and have a better understanding of what they are buying.
However, technology has its own various issues that marketers must deal with. For example, the population is incredibly diverse, and catering to all body types and races has proven elusive. Ensuring that all customers can see is very important, especially for beauty brands, panelists said. Estée Lauder, for example, strives to cater to every eye shape through its virtual try-on technology.
When brands can use technology to provide value to consumers, a virtuous cycle begins, Ceradini said, and consumers are more willing to share data with companies if they can benefit from it. Such data can help marketers further optimize their messaging and activations.
Bosco said a more personalized experience would also have benefits on the retail side. Macy’s, for example, has launched an auto-replenishment system that allows consumers to set how often they want products shipped to them.
“Once you find something you absolutely love, you can go ahead and set it and pretty much forget about it,” says Bosco.
The Power of Beauty Experts
According to panelists, there has been an ongoing effort to empower beauty advisors, both in retail and in brands. By empowering consumer-facing employees to keep up with trends, they’re able to help consumers find what they’re looking for, even when brands themselves don’t have time to pivot to the latest TikTok trend.
That doesn’t mean brands themselves shouldn’t be at the forefront, Ceradini says. It is important that brands try to anticipate what they can do and adjust their advertising if necessary. On the retail side, it’s important to keep most of the inventory on hand, Bosco said.
However, allowing floor grooming consultants to use the device and view the latest trends enables them to meet consumers locally. From there, it’s imperative that consumers know where to find the latest fashion products.
“But then it really turns to the market to tell consumers, ‘Hey, we have it here,'” Bosco said.