Experience-first beauty: A.S. Watson bolsters engagement with AI-powered skin advisor tool

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

The AI Skin Advisor tool requires consumers to take a selfie and respond to a questionnaire about skin type and concerns [Getty Images]
The AI Skin Advisor tool requires consumers to take a selfie and respond to a questionnaire about skin type and concerns [Getty Images]

Related tags A.S. Watson beauty tech beauty 4.0 AI Artificial intelligence digital beauty retail ecommerce Skin health Skin care

Retail major A.S. Watson has grown digital beauty engagement across Superdrug and ICI PARIS XL with an AI-powered skin advisor tool co-developed with Finnish beauty tech firm Revieve – an innovation it plans to rollout across Asia next year.

The online ‘skin advisor’ tool used Revieve’s proprietary computer vision technology and mobile skin diagnostics to analyse 120+ skin metrics from a user’s face that were then analysed by several algorithms to offer “personalised, in-depth skin analysis and product recommendations”. ​Beauty consumers simply took a selfie and answered specific questions about their skin type and personal skin concerns to receive advice – improving the customer experience and helping shoppers find the right products, according to Dan Jarvis, chief digital officer for Europe at A.S. Watson Group. The retail major was using the technology as part of its O+O [Offline plus Online] strategy.

“We’re thrilled to launch the AI Skin Advisor to analyse customers’ skin and suggest products that best match their needs. Leveraging O+O AI solution, we can make the new digital experience personalised, pleasant and effortless to our customers,"​ said Jarvis.

'Relationship-driven commerce' brings consumers to the centre

Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Sampo Parkkinen, CEO and founder of Revieve, said A.S. Watson was a long-standing and important retail partner with an inspiring O+O strategy that put consumers first.

“Something A.S. Watson has done a very, very smart job of is recognising that the consumer should be at the centre and the channels are there to serve the consumer,”​ Parkkinen said.

“…A.S. Watson as a company is a very traditional company but they’ve had this mission for years to put smiles on customers’ faces (…) Historically, retailers have been focused on the immediate conversion, transaction, to get people to buy products. But from the very early days, A.S. Watson has been a different type of partner. Of course, in the end, they want consumers to buy from them, but the way they look at getting there is very much aligned in how we look at this whole skin and wellness space. It’s about the experience you give to the consumer – not selling to the consumer but helping the consumer buy, and there’s a big difference there,” ​he said.

As a retailer, A.S. Watson clearly recognised the value of a relationship-driven commerce versus the transactional method of commerce, he said.

And this experience-first*​ approach, Parkkinen said, was increasingly important for beauty.

Experience-First Beauty

*Experience-First ​is one of CosmeticsDesign-Europe’s top five EMEA beauty trends to watch in 2022​. Every beauty consumer today is looking for more enriching experiences when shopping and engaging with brands and retailers, both in-store and online. For more in-depth insight on this trend, you can watch our Top 15 Global Beauty Trends to Watch in 2022​ video, compiled by our global editors.

Digital tools no longer a ‘nice to have’ retail add-on

According to a case study conducted by Revieve, the skin advisor technology on A.S. Watson’s Superdrug website, for example, had contributed to an increase in order value of more than 20% since its rollout. For ICI PARIS XL, users were also spending twice the amount of time on-site when engaging with the tool.

A.S. Watson plans to roll out the skin advisor tool across Asia in 2022 [Image: A.S. Watson]
A.S. Watson plans to roll out the skin advisor tool across Asia in 2022 [Image: A.S. Watson]

“The most important takeaway, and not just for A.S. Watson but any retailer considering these digital experiences, is they are really helpful to the consumer, in order for the consumer to discover products that fit their personal skin or beauty needs,”​ Parkkinen said.

“…This is not something that is just a ‘nice to have’ thing that you can put on a website or mobile app. It’s becoming, from the consumer side, something they expect. They feel they get value out of it and ultimately that results in them returning to those experiences.”

However, making a tool like this work for consumers and for brands required close and ongoing collaboration to truly understand the needs of retail-specific consumers, Parkkinen said. “The way we’ve achieved these results with A.S. Watson is we’ve actually worked in partnership together. We’ve looked at the data, also on our side, to understand the A.S. Watson consumer.”

“…You have to understand as a retailer and brand that experience needs to really reflect your audience. It’s not just enough to outsource some customised technology to be built. You have to iterate it over time.”

In-depth on the AI-powered skin advisor tool

So, how exactly did the skin advisor tool work? And what benefits did it bring for beauty retailers and brands?

The tool has been designed to help consumers find the right products for them [Image: A.S. Watson]
The tool has been designed to help consumers find the right products for them [Image: A.S. Watson]

“For a retailer, what it adds is this type of digital capability to your customer experience. It enables you to engage and provide a better shopping experience, which results in tangible business metrics – higher conversions and transaction size, particularly online,”​ Parkkinen said.

It also helped retailers move away from being a “point of purchase”​ to a platform that built relationships with consumers and added value for them, he said.

Beyond this, for retailers and brands, the first-party data obtained from a digital tool like this was “really powerful”​ and could be used to inspire innovation and improve services, he said.

But when integrating a tool like this into a brand or retail strategy, he said it was crucial businesses understood the diversity and complexity of shopper journeys today, across different channels online and offline.

“If you want to build the perfect customer or brand experience for your audience, it does have to be across different channels, and that’s where retailers have an advantage. But the brands also have an advantage, often because of necessity, the resources a brand has means they have to focus, and what that focus brings is speed.”

Beauty ‘at the forefront’ of multi-channel retail

“Beauty as a category is pretty much at the forefront of building this omnichannel world​,” Parkkinen said, and tools like this were really part of shaping the future. The success in beauty was largely because it was such a aesthetics-led and personal category, but also because of the consumer expectations in the category, he said.

“I would say the absolute biggest challenge is keeping up with consumer expectations for these brands and retailers,”​ he said. “There are a lot of topics that come up from consumers. Today, we talk about diversity a lot; sustainability is another very important topic; we talk about digitalisation a lot. One of the things that is the biggest challenge for beauty brands and retailers is really understanding the consumer well enough to stay on top of all these different trends, because otherwise we see companies getting very lost.”

This also presented plenty of opportunities, he said, if beauty brands and retailers stayed focused on “authenticity”.

“I think being authentic and true to yourself as a brand or retailer is probably the best thing you can do because that’s going to get your fans or loyal customers to be even more loyal and buy more and even customers that don’t shop there can accept and respect that,” ​Parkkinen said.

Interested in the future of beauty tech and its role in business strategy and growth? Follow our CosmeticsDesign-Europe Beauty 4.0 podcast on Apple​ or Spotify​.

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