What do chatbots mean for the beauty industry?

Published: Apr 29, 2019

Chatbots have a wide variety of uses, and despite an initially rocky introduction to the public eye, they have become an integral part of customer service as we know it. When the word “chatbot” is tossed around, most people probably think of the little window that pops up when they visit a retail site. It is usually a cutely named bot, with some kind of introductory question along the lines of, “Is there anything I can help you with today?” Sometimes, if the bot is designed well, it can actually help with customer queries and solve the issue right then and there. Other times, it may ask too many qualifying questions, or defer to a human representative without sending that representative a transcript of the conversation, meaning the customer has to start all over again. There are good bots and bad bots, but with the technology growing at a breakneck clip, we can only expect to see things improve in the future. Part of this innovation pattern has come to the beauty industry, as chatbots are revolutionizing the industry. How, and why, is this happening? Let’s dive in.

Try before you buy

One of the biggest issues with online retail for beauty products is that customers want to try before they buy, which is impossible unless they are physically in a store. They can’t know for sure if a concealer will match their skin, or if a mascara will compliment their eyes if they aren’t able to sample a bit of it and examine the results in a mirror. Thanks to advancements in virtual reality technology, this is no longer as big of an obstacle for online beauty outlets. Sephora and Estee Lauder have both introduced bots that allow users to upload photos of themselves, and then receive a version of the photo with the requested makeup applied. The bot is then able to answer a complex series of personalized questions from the user and make recommendations based on what kind of look they are seeking. This leads to a more positive experience for the consumer, and an increased willingness to interact with chatbots in the future. This is a win both for the consumer and the company, as both are increasing efficiency and saving themselves time.

A slow start

The initial role of chatbots in the beauty industry was fairly simple; they operated like any chatbot on any retail site, giving the solution to basic queries and helping customers with issues like subscription updates and payment details. The initial road to the widespread acceptance of chatbots in the beauty industry wasn’t completely smooth. As recently as 2017, Everlane announced that it would be shutting down the Facebook Messenger bot that it had been using to handle customer interactions on the platform. The biggest obstacle seemed to be that chatbots simply weren’t yet equipped to be able to handle the more complex conversations that customers needed to have; the prior default method of online customer service, email, would remain as the most popular option. The general consensus at the time was that brands were expecting too much from bots too early on in their development process, and that more time was needed for the bots to grow and learn before they could start tackling in-depth issues.

Bots as influencers

Despite the slow acquisition process, more and more beauty companies are now employing chatbots to handle customer-facing interactions. Bloom Avenue recently released the Olivia bot, specifically geared towards answering questions related to skincare and giving personalized recommendations. The bot takes user inputs and runs them through a database, and is then able to draw conclusions and decide which product would be the perfect fit for that specific customer’s needs.

However, not all beauty bots have been developed to answer these kinds of questions, or help customers in the same kind of way that an employee in a brick and mortar location would. Some bots have been built specifically to promote products, such as CoverGirl’s KalaniBot, which utilizes the popular messaging app Kik and is mostly targeted to teenagers and young adults. While KalaniBot is not able to provide insight on which product would look best with what kind of skin type, it does describe products it is currently “using” and what the features of those products are, therefore giving young consumers an idea of what is available on the market.

What about the rest of retail?

While chatbot technology is still relatively young, its myriad uses have made it a useful tool for the retail industry as a whole, with the beauty industry being no exception. With the way most bots are structured, they are actually becoming more intelligent as they interact with users. They are able to take conversational scripts from previous interactions and build upon them, learning new information and using it to inform the way they approach future queries. To this end, the ceiling to the possibilities for chatbots in the retail industry really does not exist, and as more companies continue to report their success stories, it can be expected that others will follow in their footsteps. This comes at the same time as a sort of renaissance in the bot industry, as DIY has become the name of the game – Amazon has even recently introduced a resource site for beginner bot developers to figure out the initial steps to creating their own bot. Essentially, it has never been easier to build a chatbot from the ground up, and even boutique retailers can implement chatbots on their website for little to no overhead cost. The future is bright, and if the results from the beauty industry act as any kind of metric, chatbots are here to stay.

This article was written by: John Van Duyn, conversational chatbot enthusiast