22/09/2016 10:28 BST | Updated 22/09/2017 06:12 BST

Beauty Bots: From Service to Storytelling

Remember the term 'beauty secrets'? They usually involved a celebrity revealing details of their routines and favourite products in an exclusive interview. Today, nothing in the world of beauty is a secret; beauty companies of all shapes and sizes across the globe are investing in a range of accessibility-centred features to provide on-the-spot beauty demos, trials and insights for everyone.

First came L'Oreal Makeup Genius, a virtual mirror app where users can 'try on' products, and shortly after that a bunch of facemapping branded beauty apps, designed to allow users to 'try on makeup' virtually, followed.

Self-service, it was said by L'Oreal at the time, would be the door that technology would unlock. With that in mind, the industry is shifting into technology de rigueur: chatbots.

Bots such as Modiface allow users to ask for product recommendations based on their desired look, virtually try the product on and then buy it, all without leaving the bot. Many of these bots have great download figures, and marketers believe this to be a wonderfully frictionless invention.

But do they really add any value to the business or the consumer?

The problem with service bots in beauty and fashion

The problem is that for technology services to actually be used by real people, they need to solve a genuine consumer problem. For all the phenomenal download figures the apps and bots initially get, the actual usage figures are abysmal.

It might be a novelty to try on purple lipstick in a chat feature, but the technology is too premature to truly replicate the experience of trying it on in store, and the level of advice the bots are able to give is incredibly basic and formulaic. The YouTube world already has 'beauty advice and product recommendations' covered, and most consumers prefer waiting to experience the look and feel of a product, in-store.

Consumers don't need the service. Consumers aren't buying from the service. Chatbots in beauty are, in effect, pretty useless.

The move from service to storytelling

This week, Burberry launched its 'see-now buy-now' chat bot. Fashion enthusiasts can use the bot to discover the inspiration behind Burberry's latest collection, which reveals initial sketches and inspiration from Virginia Woolf's 'Orlando.' They're then invited to 'enter the maze', and navigate through a series of GIFs that reveal more about the collection and specific pieces within it.

Finally, at the end of the experience, they have the opportunity to buy the product, making them feel valued.

It's a fairly simple idea from Burberry, but something that's game changing for the use of chatbots. Instead of service, it's storytelling. It's immersing consumers further into the brand's world and giving them access to a hidden, behind the scenes, layer.

As a beauty junkie, I don't really care to have Kat Von D's turquoise lipstick virtually overlaid onto my lips. But I'd love to see the inspiration behind it. I'd love to ask why she called it 'plan 9', and to delve into the inspiration behind the collection more. The art. The formula behind the technology. It's a rich world to be explored.

By tapping into passions, rather than needs, beauty brands can harness the appetite of their audience, engage them more and ultimately, sell more.

What's next?

"I need to focus more on the things that a customer sees and feels and touches and smells," Burberry CEO Christopher Bailey explains. "It's trying to make what we do--which is about combining technology with beautiful craftsmanship--relevant for life."

Relevancy and beautiful craft are the two principles that drive Burberry's success in digital. If the beauty industry can deliver against these, beautiful things can happen. We need to think less about subscriptions and services. And more about what attracts people to the beauty industry in the first place: the magic.