Testers are over, but can the ‘touch-and-try’ cosmetics business rely on virtual testing post-pandemic?

By Amanda Lim

- Last updated on GMT

Has COVID-19 marked the end of testers? ©GettyImages
Has COVID-19 marked the end of testers? ©GettyImages

Related tags COVID-19 beauty retail

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has marked the end of in-store cosmetic testers, but one firm doubts the abilities of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and similar technology to completely replace them.

Despite the impact of the health crisis on the brick-and-mortar retail sector, the beauty industry still needs a physical presence, said Steve Dodd, senior vice president of retail solutions at Meiyume, a Hong Kong-based beauty packaging supplier.

“You have to remember that beauty is still very much a touch-and-try business… People react differently based on their skin type and tone, they want to feel the texture of the product, how it feels on their skin. It takes a while to get the look right, it requires experimentation. You can’t do that online, even with the best virtual try-on software,”​ he told CosmeticsDesign-Asia.

Dodd highlighted that unlike fashion, beauty brands could not rely on pushing logos in the face of consumers.

“With fashion, consumers tend to follow brands, and want the look, so they know the products and what they look like, and everyone can see the logo or the design is distinctive for each brand. But you can’t do that for beauty, there is no logo on your face to show the brand.”

Dodd acknowledges that because of the circumstances, consumers buying behaviour have changed and shifted online.

However, he believes consumers will most likely go online to re-purchase beauty products.

“Once people know the product they are used to, that works for them, they will re-order online. So, here is where fashion and beauty converge, that initial try-on will be part of the physical retail experience, and will always be critical for consumers.”

With safety and hygiene becoming the priority in light of the pandemic, Dodd agrees that conventional testers are fast becoming a relic of the past.

“There has always been a lot of negativity around testers, how clean and safe they were, I think the pandemic was the last straw. However, there is still a need for testing, so the challenge now is to create new ways to test, ways that are safer and more hygienic, but still would allow the consumer to try the product before they purchase.”

While AR and VR tools have been available for a few years now, brands have utilised them as marketing tools, not as a ‘serious’ alternative to replace physical testers, said Dodd.

As such, more research and development work would have to go into them moving forward.

“I think we are going to see some really rapid advances in this area going forward, integrated with more devices that can sense and measure the skin and give much more accurate views for consumers. Yes, these will replace physical testers at some point, and probably faster than if the pandemic had not happened.”

Most recently, Meiyume rolled out touchless testers, a motion-activated dispenser that can distribute any type of fragrance or liquid skincare product.

The firm said this solution would allow consumers to get the full sensorial retail experience in a safe and hygienic way.

New retail solutions

As COVID-19 continues to evolve, Meiyume is eyeing opportunities to help its clients adapt to the ‘new normal’ of beauty retail.

“Pretty much everything we are offering to support our clients we have had in our portfolio for the past few years. There was never any real drive for brands and retailers to adopt the new technologies or retail models using these technologies,” ​said Dodd.

“There always has to be a catalyst to drive change, and unfortunately it was a global pandemic. Now the race is on for everyone to adapt to the new normal the consumers are demanding.”

The firm also developed in-store displays that provided an automated density guide to help maintain social-distancing guidelines, as well as customer tracking dashboards to better understand consumer behaviour.

Dodd said that the firm would continue to develop solutions around the in-store experience. In particular, it sees a lot of potential around digital interaction.

“That’s an interesting one, everyone is very happy to use their own device, so connecting products in-store to consumers on their own device we think is a big win. As a packaging business, it’s really easy to embed that into the products at source, and we have some of our Luxury Brand clients planning this as we speak.”

Like many businesses, Meiyume has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, with many brands pulling back their product launches.

However, the firm remains confident about its future moving forward, given the strength of the beauty industry.

“Beauty will continue to grow. As an industry, its double the size of the fashion business, and is still primarily focused on female consumers. Naturally, it will continue to grow, what will be exciting will be how it grows, how brands and retailers adapt to the new demands driven by the pandemic and how technology support that. Certainly, we are very positive about the future,”​ said Dodd.

He added that the market was expected to be down overall for the year but predicts it will finish with a strong last quarter.

“We are seeing a significant uplift in lots of areas of the business, obviously PPE products are in high demand right now, not just for manufacture, but the packaging as well, so that’s a positive, Touchless dispensers and general in-store technology continues to be a growth area.”

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