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What Can Cosmetic Brands Learn From The Digital-Savvy Kardashians?

12/07/2017 14:30 BST | Updated 12/07/2017 14:30 BST

If you haven't been keeping up with the Kardashians/living under a rock, here's a business update from their head office: the youngest sister, Kylie Jenner, is setting the cosmetic industry alight.

In a 'try before you buy' cosmetic world how has the teen done it? And how can other brands replicate her online success?

Retail has long thrived on the desire of consumers to experience a product using all five of their senses before making a purchase. However, this no longer seems to be the case, with internet sales in Great Britain growing by more than 21 percent annually.

Consumers are clearly comfortable ordering food, drink, clothes and household goods online based entirely on a couple of images and some promotional copy, only physically experiencing the products for the first time when they arrive at their home. And some consumers end up buying online after comparing prices, in some cases even while they're in a store.

Can the same be said of buying cosmetics online, however, where the 'try before you buy' philosophy is probably most applicable, and which could prove expensive if the product doesn't suit your face and can't be returned?

With the Kardashian name behind you, the answer is definitely yes, as Kim's little sister has demonstrated. While Kylie Jenner has opened up some physical pop-up stores, her cosmetics brand is primarily sold online. A huge social hit, it regularly sells out of glosses within seconds of their hitting the virtual shelves.

And it appears that cosmetics don't necessarily need the backing of a global celebrity brand to be successful online.

Shifting landscape

From subscription beauty boxes, and items exclusively picked and mixed for customers, to online "Get the Look" tutorials, the cosmetics landscape is shifting to engage with a new generation of digital-first consumers whose purchasing behaviour is fuelled by friends' Instagram photos of the latest looks, beauty influencer YouTube tutorials, and tip-swapping across Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Only last year Estee Lauder suggested that a boom in selfies had to lead to a sales boost.

L'Oreal's announcement that it had partnered with startup platform Founders Factory to create its own accelerator platform says a great deal about the need for the beauty industry to adopt new technologies and embrace digital transformation. While helping five beauty-based businesses, the cosmetics giant is also learning more about the new consumer landscape, and how technology can move the industry toward greater personalisation and e-commerce.

There's an app for that

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are predicted to become a dominant force in retail customer experience in 2017, so it's little surprise that beauty brands are looking for ways of using these technologies to their advantage.

Indeed, VR already plays a big role in the fashion industry, with customers using virtual magic mirrors to see how they'd look in their chosen outfits, and VR headsets being used to connect attendees of fashion shows across the world with virtual runways.

And with the ubiquity of smartphones, and because of the advantages that digital can bring to the customer experience, more and more beauty brands now have an app or two in their arsenal.

A virtual artist app, created by LVMH's Sephora, for example, employs facial recognition which enables users to try on different shades of lipstick before purchasing them directly through their phone. Attracting over nine million downloads globally, L'Oreal's Makeup Genius app combines the company's deep knowledge of its customers and the science of colours with facial monitoring technology to give a realistic view of how its products will look on the user. Sally Hansen's ManiMatch uses a mobile device's camera to scan a user's hand. Detecting their skin tone, it then offers tailored recommendations for complementary polish colours with in-app purchasing, of course, just a tap or swipe away.

Shaping the future

The industry is in rude health and is well placed for considerable growth, particularly as a result of the benefits that digital brings to the customer experience. And today's digital-first consumers are becoming ever greater economic contributors - Capgemini/IMRG revealed that mobile e-commerce sales in December 2016 were up 47 per cent on the previous year.

It's never been more important for the world's best-selling beauty brands to look at the success of Kylie Jenner to truly understand how digital technology and a mobile-driven strategy can shape their future for the better.