Technology Is a Response to Pandemic Challenges; More Than Half of Consumers Are Familiar With Digital Beauty, and 25% More Plan To Try It, Says L.E.K. Consulting

BOSTON (May 18, 2021) — Beauty and personal care consumers — and the pandemic-challenged industry itself — are turning to digital tools to help overcome their biggest hurdles.

According to a survey of over 1,000 U.S. consumers by global management consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting, consumers said digital tools and services, like online personalized recommendations and “digital try-on” supported by augmented reality (AR), address all their challenges — including trying on products, knowing how skin and hair will react, and finding products at reasonable prices.

Beauty and personal care consumers of all ages say they are comfortable with digital technologies and are actively using them. More than half of those surveyed say they’re familiar with digital beauty solutions, and 25% of those who don’t currently use digital solutions say they intend to do so.

Digital solutions — an accelerant for the future ­— have been well received by consumers

“Beauty and personal care has always been somewhat recession-proof, but in the pandemic, that hasn’t been the case,” said Maria Steingoltz, Managing Director at L.E.K. and coauthor of the new survey report, “The Beauty Consumer Life Cycle Gets a High-Tech Makeover.” “People avoided offices and gatherings, wore masks and couldn’t get to retail stores. All of that cut sharply into sales. But when people did buy, they turned to online channels. As a result, they became more comfortable with online buying, and that opened up new opportunities for the industry.”

Consumers surveyed rated digital solutions as highly effective at meeting all 15 of their challenges, including the biggest ones: “knowing how my hair or skin will react,” “finding reasonably priced products,” “knowing the long-term effects of a product” and “finding products that match my physical features.”

Technologies meet consumers’ needs throughout the selling life cycle

According to the report, beauty and personal care brands and retailers can use technology to address those challenges — and enhance the customer experience and boost sales — at every stage of the selling life cycle:

  • Discovery. Social media platforms provide new channels for selling and engagement. Many brands use influencers, and some go further. Curology matches patients with clinicians who prescribe custom skincare treatments. Boots and Ultra are using Revieve’s Digital Beauty Advisor to make personalized recommendations based on artificial intelligence (AI) analysis of trouble spots like dark circles.
  • Trial. Advances in AR have made virtual try-on mainstream. Consumers upload photos or use live webcams to see how products will look on them — without in-store sanitation concerns. Perfect Corp. and L’Oréal-owned Modiface are using these technologies to create a digital “in-store” experience.
  • Purchase. Digital is an increasingly big part of omnichannel selling. Mobile, in-store and curbside pickup are now mainstream. At Estée Lauder counters, store consultants can use the brand’s iMatch Skincare Finder to locate hidden skin damage and find ways to address it. Brands such as Untamed Humans and Yves Saint Laurent are using technology to create customized products.
  • Application. How-to content is gaining traction. Fenty Beauty, Rhianna’s cosmetics brand, set up a TikTok page featuring influencers in product demos. Some go further. P&G Ventures’ Opte device uses a digital camera to find skin discolorations, then applies a serum to cover and fade them. And some offerings bypass makeup. The Perfect365 app lets users retouch their photos as an alternative to makeup. And Zoom users can use Snap Camera’s beauty filters to improve their on-screen appearance with no makeup at all.
  • Engagement. Texts and chats don’t reveal the consumer’s emotions. But brands and retailers are using tools like IBM Watson’s Tone Analyzer, which uses AI to detect how people are feeling so the seller can personalize the customer service experience. AI can also generate “big data.” Avon used its AI-driven Genius Algorithm to analyze customer feedback and create its True 5-in-1 Lash Genius mascara.
  • Replenishment. Technology is at the heart of ecommerce autoship and auto-replenishment solutions that keep customers current and retailers stocked. Loyalty programs make increasing use of “gamification” — roulette wheels, scratch-offs, online treasure hunts, and other novelties that engage customers and get them to sample more products.

“Digital solutions will create opportunities for investors, as well,” said Dominic Perrett, L.E.K. Managing Director and report coauthor. “Despite the beauty industry’s tradition of personal touchpoints, consumers are really looking for digital solutions. Success in adopting digital strategies has the potential to shift the industry’s competitive dynamics.”

According to L.E.K., beauty and personal care companies planning digital strategies should focus on company-owned solutions that protect brand value and combine multiple solutions — for example, using big data to create a better customer experience. Smaller brands should consider engaging a full-service vendor that can quickly build out a full-service offering.

“The future of the industry is clearly in digital technologies,” said Lauren DeVestern, report coauthor and L.E.K. Managing Director. “The question is not whether to participate, but where to prioritize investments for the right approach along the customer life cycle. Companies should look at the areas that are both most critical to their value proposition and where they struggle most, and should prioritize them for digital transformation. Understanding consumers’ needs in depth will help reveal those priorities and set the organization on the way to a winning strategy.”

About L.E.K. Consulting
L.E.K. Consulting is a global management consulting firm that uses deep industry expertise and rigorous analysis to help business leaders achieve practical results with real impact. We are uncompromising in our approach to helping clients consistently make better decisions, deliver improved business performance and create greater shareholder returns. The firm advises and supports global companies that are leaders in their industries — including the largest private- and public-sector organizations, private equity firms, and emerging entrepreneurial businesses. Founded in 1983, L.E.K. employs more than 1,600 professionals across the Americas, Asia-Pacific and Europe. For more information, go to