Could this be the future of beauty retail?

With COVID-19 continuing to demonstrate a significant influence on the beauty industry, it comes as no surprise that the retail space is looking for new ways to stay afloat.

These alternative methods come at a time when mask-wearing consumers spend less money on aesthetic purchases such as makeup, and more on skincare. Yet as a highly personal category, hygiene plays a key role in selling both makeup and skincare. And because of the pandemic, safety measures have disrupted in-person consultations and product testing. As a result, there has been a direct drop in the purchase of colour cosmetics and some skincare.

However, many businesses are learning to overcome these hurdles – which also begs the question – could overcoming these challenges result in a shift of beauty retail?

For instance, according to an article by Forbes, L'Oréal-owned high-end skincare and beauty labels, Lancôme, is one of the brands attempting to reinvent the future of beauty. It has just debuted its very first virtual pop-up store in Singapore, in the form of an immersive retail experience that will run from August 28 to September 20. Consumers will be able to easily access the store via a URL sent from the brand.

Lancôme Singapore brand general manager, Sher Le Chua, revealed that Singapore was chosen as the first market for the launch as it pioneered the concept of the flagship. And while the virtual store remains a local initiative with no current plans of expansion, if deemed successful, Lancôme may adopt the flagship across different markets.

Combining both the online and offline shopping experience, the physical store has been replicated through pulsating hotspots and live chat bots to guide consumers across five different zones: Discover, Explore, Inspire, Live and Shop. These zones have been created to help encourage shoppers to explore their strengths, as part of Lancôme’s #LiveYourStrength campaign, in line with promoting its 11-year-old Lancôme Advanced Genifique serum.

The Discover zone invites consumers to take a ‘Lancôme Strength-Finder Personality Test’, which was designed by a psychologist to help understand the personality across various strength types. The ‘Explore’ zone allows shoppers to upload a selfie and receive a skin diagnosis conducted via virtual consultation through a live chat bot feature, while ‘Inspire’ sees 100 different women sharing their life experiences through an inspiring narrative.

Meanwhile,‘Live’ consists of a live-streaming session where influencers and celebrities discuss lifestyles and personal journeys, alongside inner strength and empowerment advice. Finally, the experience ends with ‘Shop’, which is when the entire range of products and customisation will become available for purchase.

This year, the beauty world has also seen virtual Sephora and Dior days, as well as L’Oréal Australia trialling virtual shopping before the pandemic even gained traction. British-based Boots drugstore has also introduced a flexible cosmetics return policy to help overcome current COVID barriers, while Li & Fung-owned Meiyume has launched a selection of touchless packaging and applicators for beauty testing that restrains from product contamination.

And while virtual stores may set limitations on certain shopping experiences, personalised services are still being offered through the help of virtual consultations. For example, virtual shopping app Hero has reaped in a huge number of retailers utilising its platform. During its initial launch with Esteè-owned Deciem group, over 20,000 chats were started by shoppers, which resulted in over 1,500 shopping at-home orders.

So could alternative digital experiences such as these become the new norm for retail in a post-COVID world? It is believed that going forward, augmented reality and artificial intelligence will become more mainstream as these digital solutions are more fine-tuned to aid in the discovery of the shopper’s journey. Consumers are also expected to become more accustomed to the virtual experience, so much so that they may soon become confident enough to choose this experience over the physical one.