Cindy Shen, vice president of global digital at Benefit Cosmetics, had long been disheartened by virtual eyebrow try-on tools that produced lackluster results.
For years, augmented reality, which superimposes images over real-world objects through device cameras, left faces looking unrealistic and cartoony.
“With lipstick or foundation try-ons, you’re just manipulating color tint,” Shen says. “But when you tried to tackle brows, it would almost look like you were slapping a sticker over your face. It didn’t look like hair.”
Brows are central to the Benefit brand, so artificial-looking hair was a problem. According to Rena Gillen, director of global public relations and communications at the cosmetics company, Benefit is the No. 1 brow brand in the world, based on estimated total retail sales in global prestige brow products during 2017. Without confirming internal projections, Gillen says industry sources expect Benefit to hit $600 million in sales of brow products and related services this year. So the company has a serious focus in this category, Shen says, and digital makeover features can take sales to the next level.
“It’s proven to be an especially important e-commerce tool since it allows customers to try on the products and removes that big hurdle to online shopping,” she says. “It reduces that hesitation about potential buyer’s remorse when you don’t know if a product is right for you.”
In a joint study conducted by cosmetics market research company Poshly Inc. and digital makeup app Perfect365 in 2016, 78% of millennial women said they would be more inclined to purchase makeup online if they could virtually see what a product looks like on their face before buying it. Beauty brands, including Sephora Inc., have found success by implementing virtual makeover skills.
Facial mapping advancements
A few years ago, Benefit tried out a virtual brow try-on tool, but Shen says simulators were “frustratingly primitive” back then and left eyebrows looking flat.
“Version 1 didn’t do what we wanted it to do. We rolled it out, but there wasn’t a heavy push,” she says. “We had to wait for facial mapping technology to make some advancements and catch up to our vision.”
In 2017, Benefit paired up with Modiface, a technology vendor that creates augmented reality technology for beauty brands. The two teams spent a year developing next-generation technology that’s exclusive to Benefit to detect and replicate each user’s unique hair. Shen says they went through a “ton” of iterations as they made sure the tool hit certain performance benchmarks.
“To date, eyebrow hair has been one of the toughest facial components to render in AR,” says Parham Aarabi, CEO of Modiface. “[This tool] makes it more believable because, for the first time ever, we will be utilizing the consumer’s own real hair.”
Modiface found a way to clone eyebrow hair into the ideal shape, style and shade that best suits an individual user. This helps to avoid shoppers getting frustrated when they’re unable to replicate a particular look at home, Shen says.
“We wanted to showcase the brow in an achievable way,” she adds. “We’ve made sure that it only allows brows to be manipulated to a degree that is realistically attainable for each user’s actual face.”
Benefit Brow Try-On launched on Jan. 15 and is live on all brand sites in more than 40 markets. The landing page encourages shoppers to get inspired: “No need for makeup remover, tweezers or panic! Virtually ‘try on’ looks, play with styles and test out shades and shapes to see the transformative power of your brows… instantly!”
Augmented reality allows users to experiment with their eyebrows via a live 3D option, by taking or uploading a selfie, or by selecting a stock image of a model across a variety of ethnicities and hair colors.
Users can test various looks by choosing from more than a dozen different brow styles and customizing them by adjusting the shade, arch, thickness, definition and placement. Once a shopper is happy with the results, she can navigate to the “Get this brow” tab, where she can book a service like a brow wax and add suggested products—replete with recommendations down to the color of a pencil—to her bag so she can execute the digital makeover at home. Users also can share their brow transformations via social media.
Benefit’s app is available only in the United Kingdom, and Shen says there aren’t currently plans to develop one for the United States, so the virtual brow feature is primarily web-browser based.
According to Shen, Benefit’s tool is the world’s first browser-based, live-video beauty application, which lets a user try on brows in real-time 3D using the device’s camera. While that functionality exists in apps, web-based users typically are limited to using an uploaded or stock model photo.
Worth the investment
“Well over” 1 million unique visitors have interacted with Benefit’s new tool, and users try on an average of 6.6 different brow looks, according to Shen. Visitors’ time on the site has swelled by 90%. But most importantly, when a user tries on a specific product from one of the brows product detail pages, conversion soars by 80% compared with the overall site’s average rate.
“I had to have a data analytics person double check those numbers because you never see that kind of lift,” Shen says. “The brow try-on is really helping business in a dramatic way. We’re thrilled.”
While Shen declines to disclose how much Benefit invested in the technology and rollout of the brow try-on tool, she says it was less than $1 million but a “significant” amount. The brand plans to continually invest in the feature with new iterations set for the next year.
In 2017, Benefit saw 37% e-commerce growth year over year through the first nine months and closed out the year with an Internet Retailer-estimated $26.1 million in online revenue. The brand’s global web sales continue to see double-digit, year-to-date growth this year, with digital growing three-times faster than stores, according to Gillen.
“We’re doing really, really well,” Shen says. “We’re growing across all regions and markets.”
Given the success that Benefit is seeing with the virtual brow tool’s impact on site engagement and sales, Shen says the experience is being syndicated on other retail sites, which will increase brand awareness and traffic. Benefit Brow Try-On is now live on Beautylish and Sephora France with others down the pike. There will be a gradual rollout, and expansion depends on retail partners’ resources, she adds.
Benefit’s parent company, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is No. 131 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 500.
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