Artificial Intelligence

Meet the beauty start-ups shaking up the cosmetics industry

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The beauty industry is constantly changing. Trends come and go, taking with them different colours and styles. One minute, everyone has heavily contoured cheek-bones; the next, customers prefer nude lips and natural curls. Ingredients, manufacturing and distribution processes change at a similar rate.

Olivia Panzic knows first-hand that it can take some surprising directions.

Making beauty accessible

This year, the Auckland-based businesswoman launched Shook, a website that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help people find the perfect make-up. It’s a whole new take on the online beauty retail experience, asking customers some simple questions before recommending the products to suit their skin, style and budget. It’s clean, easy and so far has had glowing reviews from experts and new customers alike.

Panzic, whose background is in marketing, has always had a keen interest in beauty and considers herself an expert. She says the idea came because so many of her friends were asking her for make-up advice.

“I often have friends come to me and ask for recommendations about products – which one is right for their skin tone, that kind of thing,” she tells news.com.au. “It amazed me that information like that wasn’t available online; that’s why they were coming to me. I wanted to replicate the experience people were having in store online, as if a sales assistant was helping them.”

The idea was to create a digital tool that makes beauty accessible for everyone. For example, not everyone knows what their skin type is, but customers can type words like “tight” or “flaky” into the search bar and the artificial intelligence will recommend products for dry skin. Shook only recommends products that Panzic has pre-approved, allowing her to ensure a consistent level of quality for all customers.

Combining beauty with technology

Panzic initially tried to create the platform herself, but after a few failed attempts, she decided to get expert help to bring the idea to life. That’s when she met Jonnie Cain, Shook’s co-founder, who had expertise in natural language processing. He suggested using Watson, an artificial intelligence platform created by technology company IBM. It’s an out-of-the box idea that has led to some equally surprising outcomes.

“There is so much jargon associated with cosmetics, it can be really confusing. This was a good opportunity to use artificial intelligence to connect people with the products,” Cain explains.

“For me, the target customer was someone who was new to make-up, but we were testing it with experts. We sat down with a woman who tried it out and it showed her a product she already used every day. It also recommended one she’d been thinking about for a while. That was a real lightbulb moment – showing that [the platform] was applicable beyond new customers. It’s about building trust.”

Changing the beauty experience

Subhaga Amarasekara is another online beauty entrepreneur shaking up the industry. Together with her husband, she founded Flayr, an online marketplace that connects customers with make-up artists and hair stylists all around Australia. She tells news.com.au the idea was to make it “as easy as booking a hotel”.

The Sydney-based start-up began in 2016 and has grown to support 1600 registered suppliers around the country. The platform facilitates more than 10,000 bookings every year and Amarasekara says it adds up to “about a million dollars of appointments every month”.

Initially, they expected to be providing services mainly for things like weddings as well as engagement and maternity photoshoots. However, the broad range of bookings show a large market demand – catering for everyone from a 70-year-old woman going on a date to women wanting to look their best for job interviews.

“As a consumer, you want to see who is doing the work and whether they’re capable of achieving the look you’re after. People are time-poor and they don’t have time to call different salons themselves,” she says.

“Reviews are really important. If you’re after a chatty stylist who can make you feel comfortable, we can facilitate that; whereas some people just want someone efficient to do their hair and make-up in an hour.

“People think it’s a difficult process, but it can actually be quite seamless to find someone within your price point who you’ll get on well with and be happy to have in your home.”

Beauty as we know it is changing

Big changes are coming to the beauty industry as technology puts customers firmly in charge. Tailoring experiences is helping people get to the products and services they need faster than ever before.

The days of trial-and-error are going out of fashion faster than contoured cheekbones.

Originally published by News Corp on news.com.au. Story by Kirrily Schwarz

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