During the pandemic, many customers began buying beauty products online instead of visiting their local beauty counter — often for the first time. Shoppers who had previously purchased online occasionally started buying more of their favorite products online, and also discovered new products. However, customers want more than a transactional experience when they purchase beauty products. While customers value the convenience of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) model, many desire an experience comparable to the personal attention provided in their local shops — including personalized recommendations, free makeovers, and application lessons.
As physical stores continue to reopen, beauty brands can build on the momentum and the new customers they gained during the pandemic. Over the years, retail brands have perfected the art of creating a relationship with customers in person. And now, by using technology, they can also create an online experience similar to the in-person experience, in which they form a personal relationship with customers that builds loyalty to the brand.
Here are four ways to improve the online customer experience.
1. Use data to understand your audience.
As an in-store beauty sales associate, you can immediately know a lot about a customer walking up to the counter just from a quick glance: age group, hair color, and complexion, for example. You also have an insight into how a customer currently uses cosmetics — whether they have a natural look or are sporting the latest makeup trends. But you know very little about a customer who visits your website for the first time. With no information about the visitor, it’s very challenging, if not impossible, to create a truly personal experience.
By using interactive content embedded in their website to capture data, DTC beauty brands can easily capture data to create a complete picture of their website visitors. Luxie, a beauty brand that offers cruelty-free makeup brushes, began collecting data about online sales and discovered that 10% of their market identified as male, which was much higher than expected. By using this information to market directly to male-identifying shoppers, Luxie increased its customer base to 25% who identified as male.
2. Use SMS for conversational messaging.
Through personal conversations during an in-store interaction, a sales representative learns about the customer’s needs. The customer begins to develop trust in the salesperson, which carries over to the brand as a whole. Brands must recreate these personal conversations through their online customer experience.
SMS helps many beauty brands bridge the gap through personalized conversations. However, when using SMS for mass promotions or sales, you will likely experience more unsubscribes — which may damage brand equity. By using artificial intelligence, brands can hold personal conversations over SMS with every customer based on their specific needs, such as providing education before purchasing or individualized recommendations based on their profile. You should strive for each interaction to show the customer that you understand their challenges and are treating them as a unique individual.
“Research has shown that people are okay communicating with 8 to 10 brands through SMS, if companies really understand them,” says Mehdi Samadi, CEO of Intellipse. “AI and data are going to play a big role in understanding the visitors so that when we send them a message, it’s not just ‘Here’s a 10% discount, come back, visit our website.’ Instead, we need to say, ‘Hey, John!’ and then introduce ourselves, express that we know their problem, their need, and try to build a level of relationship with them.”
3. Offer online style consultations.
Brands offering interactive experiences report higher average sales than those that only provide the traditional transactional experience. Samadi points to cosmetics brands building relationships with online visitors by offering complimentary style consultations on their websites.
In this scenario, after a customer clicks on the consultation section of the website, they are engaged with quiz-like interactive content. The brand builds out the customer profile and determines which products are the best fit for them. You can then send the results over SMS and capture the mobile lead in the process. Interactive content eliminates the need to offer discounts in exchange for contact information and ultimately reduces customer acquisition costs (CAC).
You can also create an interactive experience similar to the in-store experience by inviting customers to post a selfie, which makes it even easier to offer recommendations. Trained stylists analyze the information the customer provides and then reach out over SMS with personal recommendations and tips.
4. Create a seamless experience between store and in-person.
When a returning customer walks up to a beauty counter, often they’ve already built a relationship with a representative through previous interactions. Customers feel appreciated and valued when an associate asks how the lip liner they purchased on their last visit worked out for their cousin’s wedding or if their dry skin is improving. Often, associates store information from each visit in a database, which allows the representative to quickly access the customer’s purchase history and notes.
With customers increasingly using both in-store and digital channels to shop, the relationship can become disjointed, where in-store associates don’t know about online purchases and digital channels are unaware of interactions at the beauty counter. Amanda Pond, fractional Chief Marketing Officer of Zents, a Denver-based luxury beauty business, says brands must provide a more authentic and personalized approach, especially using social channels and livestreams. By focusing on an omnichannel approach, brands can bridge the gap between offline and online experiences.
Industry experts predict the future of beauty shopping is apt to be a blend of in-person and digital experiences. Brands focusing on creating online experiences that provide many of the same attributes people find when visiting a store will likely acquire and retain customers who moved to digital during the pandemic. By building the technology, tools, and processes today, brands can use the deep insights and consistency of artificial intelligence to create an even more personal experience with customers through digital channels.