‘Beauty’ and ‘makeup’ are two of Google’s most popular search terms. Put it down to social media, the rise of bloggers and vloggers, the cult of celebrity or whatever else you like – it can’t be denied that the business of beauty is booming online.

In anticipation of the upcoming Decoded Beauty Summit, guest blogger Grace Howard with Decoded Fashion considers how the likes of face mapping, augmented reality and shoppable samples are beautifying e-commerce to compensate for the absence of the in-store ‘touch and feel’ experience.

Augmented reality comes of age

Augmented reality seems to finally be coming of age. As far as augmented reality in the beauty business is concerned, ModiFace is leading the market. The company is best known for its roster of beautifying apps, which use face mapping technology to place beauty products onto the skin, thus giving users the opportunity to try out different brands and shades of cosmetics on themselves before buying them. At the time of going to press, ModiFace offers 98 apps through the App Store, including those created for brands like NYX and Stila. Its latest launch, Skin AI, captures live video of users and automatically adjusts various skin features – including wrinkles, discolouration, unevenness and blemishes – and is dubbed as “the world’s first smart beauty filter utilising artificial intelligence.” Developed by dermatologists and Modiface scientists, Skin AI can be used by brands to measure the impact of products on skin pre-launch, as well as by consumers to see the potential effects of a skincare product on their own skin before making a purchase.

It’s unlikely that ModiFace will have its work cut out in convincing beauty brands and retailers to adopt Skin AI, given the tech company’s history of working with brands like L’Oreal, Rimmel, Smashbox, Estee Lauder, Clinique and Sephora. In May 2016, a ModiFace Facebook Messenger chatbot was announced, leaving makeup aficionados able to try and buy beauty products on, all within the Messenger platform. As technology continues to improve and beauty brands become more open to change, it is exciting to consider where ModiFace could go next.

Map My Beauty, ‘the world’s first selfie-powered beauty coach’ is also using augmented reality to attract attention from digitally savvy consumers and brands. As well as offering its own app, the Brooklyn-based startup partnered with Sephora last year to create its Pocket Contour app. Pocket Contour analyses users’ face shapes and then offers step-by-step guidance on contour application that’s best suited to their features. Annabella Daily, founder of Map My Beauty, explained to WWD how her company fills a gap in the market: “Millions of women look to YouTube to beauty instructions … yet none of them are personalized for a consumer’s specific face. Also, while there are color try-on tools, they just show the color pasted on your face without any specialized directions.”

Reconsidering shoppable samples

As more people opt to buy online, retailers are having to reconsider their approach to sample distribution.

But besides augmented reality and face mapping, there are different areas that beauty businesses can tap into to ensure success online. Beauty companies have long relied on samples to entice potential customers but now, as more people opt to buy online for reasons both of finance and convenience, retailers are having to reconsider their approach to sample distribution. Sampling is even more of a pressing issue for online-only beauty retailers because, despite the fact that we all live our lives online, beauty is still very much a business build on personalised, tangible products that are best tested out before being purchased. Monthly subscription boxes filled with samples, such as those offered by Birchbox and Glossybox, have proved to be such a hit with beauty buffs that an increasing number of brands are also jumping on the bandwagon. But what is the alternative for consumers who want to be able to pick their samples according to their needs, instead of banking on a random selection of them to be delivered to their door?

Beauty e-tailer FeelUnique has recently begun to address samples in an innovative way with the launch of its Pick ‘n’ Mix destination. Customers can select up to five sample-sized products per month, from brands like Murad, Benefit and Caudalie, and pay only for the £3.95 shipping cost. Upon receipt of their samples, customers then receive an email with their shipping costs reimbursed, in the form of a gift voucher, redeemable against any full-sized products. So not only are customers given an incentive to try five new products every month, they’re also given an incentive to make a purchase every month after receiving their gift voucher.

For more on how technology is changing the face of the beauty business, learn from industry experts at the Decoded Beauty Summit in Park Avenue, New York on November 2nd. Further information and tickets here.

Grace Howard is a staff writer at Decoded Fashion.

Leading up to Decoded Beauty Summit on Nov. 2 in New YorkMintel has partnered with Decoded Fashion, the top global event series connecting decision-makers in fashion, beauty and retail with emerging and established technology companies, to share the latest trends and innovation shaking up the industry in the Guest Series, Decoded Beauty.