Digital is key to beauty industry

Mobile technology has the beauty industry eating from the palm of your hand, writes Suzanne Duckett

Beauty and digital technology are made for each other. In 2014 we are a “get the look” and selfie-obsessed nation, and nothing drives price and product comparison or has greater social influence than online. Together beauty and digital are the ultimate power couple.

Before the dawn of digital, the beauty shopping was bricks not clicks. But in the 21st century, HTML, Java and algorithms used to process data, and create web pages and apps, not to mention peer reviews, create the ability to browse, investigate, test – albeit virtually – and seek others’ opinions before we do eventually purchase.

The growing online army of beauty-obsessed bloggers and vloggers, video bloggers who film themselves testing and reviewing products, and some switched-on brands at the ready to help us make up our minds with their daily, if not hourly, comment, content and tutorials across Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Vine and Instagram, are changing the way we behave on a far-reaching scale, according to Jo Morrell, managing director of women’s media at Future PLC, print and digital specialists.

Enter the mobile device – smartphone, tablet and hybrid phablet – and we have a serious industry turn-on for beauty lovers. With more consumers using their mobile devices to browse and buy on the go in our non-stop, got-to-shop world, the beauty industry is trying to get to grips with the trend. Latest research from the New York-based L2 think-tank shows that nearly 75 per cent of beauty sites are now mobile optimised, up from 50 per cent in 2012.

Mobile technology is vital to the success of an omni-channel strategy, which we are seeing more beauty retailers adopting and benefiting from,” says James Thomlinson, partner and managing director of Bell Pottinger Wired, the digital division of one of the UK’s leading public relations agencies. “It is no longer shop against web; savvy retailers are exploiting technological advances to provide customers with a seamless shopping experience across all platforms and channels.”

MOBILE BEAUTY RESEARCH

A Google-Millward Brown digital beauty study mirrors the trend showing that 34 per cent of consumers are using smartphones to research their beauty booty, trumped with 43 per cent using their tablets throughout the day mostly to compare prices and discover new brands. Feel Unique, Europe’s leading online beauty retailer, has seen its traffic from mobile devices rise from 32 per cent in March 2013 to more than 50 per cent in 2014.

“This new generation of social shoppers is seeking more than just the traditional in-store retail experience because they can now shop anytime, anywhere at the touch of a button,” says Siobhan McDermott, general manager of Feel Unique.

“Our research also showed that women are outstripping men when it comes to mobile shopping, with 20 per cent more women than men use mobile devices to compare their purchases. It’s interesting that it’s women who are helping to pioneer this mobile movement, shaping the way they interact with retailers while they go about their business.”

BROWSE AND BUY PATTERNS

In addition, Feel Unique tracked browse and buy patterns, and found customers perusing in the morning and purchasing in the evening – a trend that is being dubbed the AM to PM moments: AM for analysis moments and PM for purchase moments; or ROPO for research online, purchase offline.

Not all beauty brands and retailers have mobile-optimised websites, but the ones that do are seeing immediate return on investment. Figures for the new Philip Kingsley mobile-optimised website launched earlier this year showed more than a 50 per cent increase in sales from all mobile devices.

According to Wahanda, the online beauty and spa booking service, 25 per cent of appointments are made through their mobile site or app. This figure has increased 10 per cent in six months and Wahanda forecast it will rise to 40 per cent by the end of the year.

And it’s not just new brands that are fully mobile-optimised. All Estée Lauder’s brands that have e-commerce sites are also mobile-optimised and have live chat. “All brands online provide what we call a high-touch experience to replicate the in-store consumer experience,” says Charlotte Burrows, director of online for Estée Lauder UK and Ireland.

“Apps present an opportunity to give customers an interactive window to brands. For example, there is My Aveda Style, which allows users to upload a hair style, contact their stylist and find a salon, and the new Bobbi Brown app, which offers how-to guides and step-by-step advice.”

All this is very exciting and, while being beautifully, upwardly mobile, is in a dynamic growth phase; the landscape continues to evolve creating an ever-rising opportunity for consumers and brands to capitalise on mobile technology.

According to Jason Russell of JRT Ecommerce, there are nearly 40 million mobile internet users in the UK, rising to an expected 47.1 million by next year. And most importantly, trends indicate that purchasing products via mobile will also increase sharply, rising from 25.6 million users to a forecast 35.8 million by 2015.