Pull up a stool in front of the “Magic Mirror” in the Charlotte Tilbury store at Avenues Mall, Kuwait, touch your reflection, and within seconds you’ll find it transformed.
A hidden camera, created by beauty technology firm Holition, captures your facial features, then gives them a makeover with Charlotte Tilbury eye colour, lip colour and contouring, turning you into a Golden Goddess, Uptown Girl, Rock Chick or one of the British cosmetic brand’s other signature looks, by day or evening light. “It’s a motivational tool and it’s a very quick ‘before and after’,” Jennifer Tidy, vice president of partnerships at beauty technology firm Modiface, says of the in-store virtual makeover mirror.
The technology of Toronto's Modiface powers the AR experiences of more than 80 beauty brands. It can run in mobile apps, on e-commerce sites, on social media platforms such as Facebook and in stores.
“It helps the consumer know that, ‘if I buy this and I use it in this certain way that I too could look like this’.
“It really helps to drive conversions and widespread engagement and awareness and education,” says Ms Tidy. The mirror – which will also be available in the new Charlotte Tilbury store in Dubai Mall when it opens this year – gives shoppers an easy way to try out a range of different products without the hassle of a real-life makeover or making small talk with a store assistant.
As consumers increasingly shop online and on mobile devices, beauty companies are using digital technology like this virtual makeover mirror to enhance their customer experience both in-store and online.
They are also using them to tap into the potential of a beauty and cosmetics market that’s worth $2.6 billion in the UAE alone, according to Euromonitor International.
Launched in 2006, Modiface may have been a pioneer, but now it's battling rivals such as Image Metrics, PhotoMetria and others, including Holition. The space has heated up since Apple acquired augmented reality facial-tracking startup FaceShift in November 2015.
For the companies, the face race is well worth running – the global cosmetics market hit around $500 billion in 2016, Euromonitor said.
“The beauty categories are an interesting place to ‘go digital’ since the products are driven by texture, colour, fragrance and a variety of other sensorial attributes,” says Sarah Jindal, senior innovation and insights analyst, beauty and personal care at the market research firm Mintel.
“This makes them challenging when moving to a virtual world as consumers still want to touch and try. As a result, we’ve seen the advent of some very interesting apps and devices that help to marry the virtual with the real.”
Modiface, which develops fully-responsive anti-ageing, skincare, cosmetics and hair simulation technology, created the “Tap and Try” for French beauty brand Sephora a couple of years ago, the first in-store virtual makeover mirror.
Sephora now operates some 2,300 stores in 33 countries worldwide, with more than 430 stores across the Americas. For all the companies using it, the new tech also offers a raft of sales and marketing opportunities.
“The in-store mirror has actually been a huge area of interest lately, driving more traffic back to brick and mortar stores,” says Ms Tidy.
In stores, ModiFace’s virtual make-up mirror is increasing sales by 31 per cent, because customers are more confident they’ll love what they’re buying, according to the techcrunch website. That’s why brands are paying $200,000 to $500,000 a year to integrate Modiface’s augmented reality tech into their own apps, techcrunch says.
Modiface recently launched an in-store virtual try-on mirror for MAC cosmetics. It uses facial and 3D video make-up rendering technology to show highly realistic make-up looks in any lighting condition.
Technology can not only offer ways to expose the consumer to more products, giving them a reason to experiment – it can also make the buying process much easier.
"Consumers will remain loyal to brick-and-mortar retail, so will therefore demand an enhanced in-store experience that embraces beauty technology," says Jessica Smith, a visual trends researcher specialising in beauty and wellness at the London trends agency The Future Laboratory. "Consumers will increasingly want their retail experience to mimic their online shopping behaviour, so allowing your consumers autonomy to choose their own products with or without interference from shop staff will definitely be beneficial.
“By making the in-store experience more like the online one and creating a more streamlined and efficient service in-store, virtual shopping baskets and quick payment processes, beauty stores can enrich the overall shopping experience.”
She gives as an example the Sephora Flash beauty store in Paris, the first connected beauty store, where users can buy a core range of products that are physically stocked, but also access a catalogue of 14,000 other products via touchscreens.
The store also offers other connected features, including a “selfie bar” and “Color IQ”, a device that scans the customer’s skin to assign a colour ID to create the perfect foundation, concealer and lip shade match.
Augmented reality makeovers are also driving Web and mobile sales, with applications that allow consumers to try out different hairstyles and make-up looks.
These include Sephora’s Modiface-created Virtual Artist app, which allows consumers to try different beauty products, full looks or even take virtual tutorials with products digitally overlaid on a selfie, and the “Try it on” function on Estée Lauder’s website, which allows customers to trial products on a selfie.
Modiface is also behind new 3D makeover app L’Oréal Professionnel’s Style My Hair, which detects and colours each strand of hair in live video, and is available in a version tailored to the UAE market.
The technology also delivers useful data on shoppers’ habits, tracking the performance of specific products and popularity of make-up trends by location. Enabling users to email makeover photos to themselves facilitates a newsletter sign-up, creating another marketing opportunity.
Social media is also key to marketing beauty products, says Ms Tidy.
“It’s almost a standard in every single application that we’ve rolled out, allowing the consumer the option to share if they want to or at least have an email function so you can email yourself your image with the product list, so you can remember for later, or even the ability to print out the product list if you’re in store so you can shop right then and there.
“It’s a nice way to wrap up the experience, not just ‘I’ve seen the products’ and walk away. You can now have this as a keepsake you can show off to your friends and you can remind yourself of the products you used to achieve this look, so you can go buy them.”
This shareable content gives brands valuable organic exposure and customer-endorsement: “Social media is vital,” says Ms Smith.
“Members of Generation D [the digital era generation] get most of their product inspiration from visual content on social media platforms which in turn helps drive sales,” she says. “Key to capitalising on social media is engaging with customers in the right place."