Surely an industry like beauty – rooted in sensory experiences where personal touch and physical treatments are king – can’t work in a virtual world where you can’t feel, smell or touch what’s in front of you? Although it may sound far-fetched, that’s exactly what’s happening. Brands are quickly having to adapt and learn how to establish themselves in the digital realm. Innovation leaders like YSL, Lottie London, Carlotte Tilbury, Estée Lauder and Tonny Hilfiger are already there.
As the Metaverse explodes in popularity, brands are waking up to the huge possibilities inherent in this virtual space. According to a recent McKinsey report, 2022 alone saw over $120 billion of investment in this brand new medium, with 79% of active metaverse consumers having made a platform in the virtual environment.
If we look at the statistics another way, the market capitalization of companies currently active in the Web 2.0 (current) Metaverse is $14.8 TRILLION US dollars. A survey of internet users showed that 12% were “very interested” in the Metaverse as of March 2022. Scepticism of the Metaverse as a concept will no doubt become as quaint as suspicion of the internet was back in the early 90s.
Imagination is the only limiter in the Metaverse. Eyeshadow which changes according to the time of day, the emotion the user is expressing, or the person they are talking to? That’s possible in the Metaverse. Lashes and brows which can be shortened or lengthened at will? Why not? In this way, virtual environments can become a laboratory for testing new ideas and looks
In this article we’ll look at the three complementary but very different ways in which beauty brands can have a piece of the phenomenal potential of this new virtual world.
Strategy 1: Revitalise Ecommerce
Virtual reality and Augmented reality (VR and AR) are already paving the way for virtual clothing and cosmetics try-ons. Clever apps such as Rimmel’s Get the Look, L’Oreal’s Virtual Try On and Chanel’s Lipscanner allow consumers to experience beauty products and looks in a virtual setting, without having to travel to a crowded store and get hot and bothered in a badly ventilated changing room.
These apps often work by taking a still or video image of the user’s face and then matching its movements to a library of images of models wearing the lipstick in question, rather than simply re-coloring the user’s own lips. This subtly reinforces the look-enhancing qualities of the make-up product, erasing any bitten lips or blemishes.
The result is to reassure the buyer that the product will suit them, and that they won’t be taking a significant risk by buying online. After all, you can’t as readily return used cosmetics products as easily as you can clothing you’ve tried on.
In the Metaverse, it becomes possible to take things a step further, combining virtual cosmetic looks with an avatar which may, or may not, resemble the user. Virtual shoppers can try on clothing, new hairstyles, and cosmetics to create an entire look, and all rendered in three dimensions.
Ultimately, with VR, a shopper will be able to look down at their new nails, then into a virtual mirror at their new hair and make-up. A few clicks later, a sale is made.
Companies are even beginning to create virtual models, as featured in the diverse Clinique More Like Us campaign, and selling NFTs (non-fungible tokens) which convey the opportunity to adorn your avatar in exclusive new looks. The possibilities are limited only by the imaginations of their users, and the ability of beauty brands to explain some bold and outlandish new concepts.
Strategy 2: Build Real Estate
It sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but the Metaverse already has virtual towns with homes, recreation centers, and stores. In March 2022, Decentraland, a virtual world with environments built and owned by its users and secured using blockchain technology, held a Metaverse Fashion Week. During the event, guests could be served virtual drinks by octopus waiters during catwalk shows featuring 50 different brands including Dolce and Gabbana, Hugo Boss and Roberto Cavalli, as well as newer fashion disruptors. Estée Lauder secured an exclusive presence as the beauty brand at this historic event.
In a world with such entertainments and diversions, it’s unsurprising that users should begin to expect to visit virtual stores where they can try a hitherto impossible range of real-world and purely imaginary products. With virtual stores, brands can:
- Let users try out new experimental products for free.
- Sell real-world products (traditional ecommerce).
- Sell VR-only products for users to adorn their avatars.
- Sell NFT products which are limited editions.
- Partner with other brands to create whole looks.
- Establish a virtual presence, through VR advertising.
Again, the potential is huge for brands to position themselves as Beauty 4.0 innovators. Some of the early experiments are so outlandish they sound almost parodic, including Byredo’s collaboration with RTFKT to create a Web3 fragrance collection. Quite how fragrance might exist in this virtual world is hard to imagine. However, if we’re learning anything from these tech innovators, it’s never to underestimate them!
Virtual real estate, of course, has the major advantage of being accessible to visitors from anywhere on the planet. There’s no requirement to have 1000 stores in every major city in the world. An ecommerce platform can welcome customers globally, so long as the brand has the wherewithal to fulfil global orders. Similarly, a multiverse store can serve anyone, anywhere, especially if the bulk of its products are compact, easily manufactured and shipped, or even fully virtual.
Strategy 3: Create and Sell Virtual Products
This brings us to the last of the three large areas of potential for beauty brands in Web 3.0’s virtual world. It has already begun with fashion brands, and the cosmetics industry isn’t far behind. This is the notion of selling virtual only or virtual first products, so that users can dress and style their 3D avatars. Beauty mogul Charlotte Tilbury recently became an avatar for Clinique, becoming a sort of guardian angel to guide consumers through their style choices.
As the Business of Business reports, “digital stylists are now available to help clients (as avatars) decide what to wear when they’re out and about in the metaverse.” Just as real-world influencers, celebrities and models want to be seen wearing the latest looks and styles, and varying them constantly, there’s a growing demand among the Metaverse’s early adopters for bespoke looks.
Morgan Stanley recently valued the market for luxury virtual products and services at hitting $50 billion USD by 2030. Blockchain technology makes it possible to limit and protect ownership of NFT products, which creates scarcity, driving prices up. This tendency is most visible in clothing at present, with limited edition footwear becoming available from designers like Jimmy Choo and brands like Puma and Campus.
That crypto exchange Binance is sponsoring the Jimmy Choo virtual collection demonstrates how early adopters see such virtual products as collectible investments. And best of all, virtual sneakers never get dirty!
Beauty brands are beginning to innovate with metaverse-based products too, with VR companies like Perfect Corp and PulpoAR creating technologies for brands including Estée Lauder, Decorté and MAC to display their wares in the metaverse. This is not simply about letting users virtually try-on products; it could potentially include creating virtual-only products.
Users whose avatars feel underdressed in Decentraland can already go shopping for haloes, wings, and other character accoutrements. There’s no reason to suppose that facial or hand cosmetics should prove any different.
Beauty Brands can Track Product Use and Adoption in the Metaverse
Finding out what a consumer does with your product after they buy it can be a costly process in the real world, requiring large-scale customer surveying, focus groups, or the use of data analytics to trawl through user reviews.
In the metaverse, everything is data. These virtual worlds are constructed of nothing but ones and zeroes after all. This means that, in theory at least, it ought to be possible to accurately measure how often a virtual look is worn by metaverse avatars. This gives brands the potential to obtain a highly accurate picture of how popular certain products are, which helps inform R&D and product design departments.
Brands can even make a game of preference collection. NARS Color Quest, on the Roblox platform, allowed gamers to collect real-world shades hidden in a lush tropical island setting. They could then build a virtual makeup palette, customize their avatars, take virtual selfies, and share these online. This was a clever way to leverage millennial and Gen-Z consumers’ fascination with games – a beauty version of Pokemon Go.
Combining The Real and Virtual Worlds in Beauty Retail
Bridging between the metaverse and real-world retail will help these virtual products from becoming too niche. When Tommy Hilfiger premiered its spring collection at the Decentraland fashion week event, they sold NFTs which could then be redeemed for real-world products. In this way, even casual metaverse visitors can be persuaded to explore the ecommerce potential of this new virtual world.
Beauty tech is evolving to meet these new opportunities head-on, with the term Beauty 4.0 being used to describe such innovations as virtual mirrors, readable face masks and digital packaging. VR and the metaverse it grants entry to is just one of the advanced tech tools that is helping beauty brands reach an ever-greater pool of consumers.
There are challenges, however, such as the potential environmental cost of NFTs backed by blockchain technology. Vast computing power is currently required to generate the ledger entries that record and secure these transactions.
However, just as crypto mining operations are finding ways to become more eco-conscious, this should not be an insoluble problem. If it means building less brick-and-mortar stores, then there could even be the potential to offset some of this environmental cost with savings elsewhere in the supply line.
Right now, it’s a hugely exciting time to innovate in this rapidly growing sector and beauty brands are ideally placed to become innovation leaders.