Jennifer Dunnam, Huge’s experience design group director, delves into how Covid-19 has presented the beauty industry with unique challenges and opportunities – and why a spike in online demand means brands need a broader toolkit
The beauty sector’s experiments with creative technology over recent years have been bearing fruit under lockdown as brands turn to AR and enhanced e-commerce experiences. It’s an area that agency Huge has quite a bit of experience in, collaborating with skincare brand SK-II for several years on their online and instore UX, finding innovative ways to use data and AI to make shopping for the brand a more personal experience.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Huge’s Jennifer Dunnam to talk about how Covid-19 and lockdown has impacted the broader beauty industry, how it’s forced brands to ramp up their digital transformation and think about how the industry will change longer term.
LBB> How do you think lockdown has had an impact on the beauty industry?
Jennifer> We’ve been seeing an uptick in wellness items related to personal health. For instance, face masks for skincare, hair treatments, bath and spa products, and any other at-home wellness treatments. People are shifting their focus to self care as a form of indulgence and exploration now.
LBB> What sort of conversations have you been having with beauty clients around the Covid situation?
Jennifer> Much of the discussion with one of our beauty clients has been around advancing existing e-commerce and digital programs to be more immersive and experiential. Features such as “AR product try-ons” have been around for quite some time, but as the world has shifted to exclusively shopping online, we’re seeing a spike in usage and a need for expanding the toolkit of interactivity. To that end, having a clearly defined DTC (direct-to-consumer) strategy is more important than ever. Reliance on physical retail and department store partners is likely to diminish. By strengthening these new (or existing) channels, brands have the opportunity to connect with customers through valuable services built on shared values.
LBB> I wonder what the experience of lockdown will have on the minds of designers in a more abstract way – what thoughts do you have?
Jennifer> Many different types of creativity will stimulate from lockdown. For the design team at Huge, we are working to stay true to our design principles and doubling down on our foundations to remain principled in execution. There will definitely be a bigger need for increased quality of communication, as we’ll be forced to decipher information without the normal cues of being in a room with one another. Increased mindfulness and articulate communication will be key and paramount to being successful during this time. This will allow us to better connect as a global community, adapting to and working with tools in new ways, collaborating with clients in ways we never imagined, and working across time zones and cultures more efficiently. This new way of working can also help designers with how they think about “life” and tackle problems differently, opening up doors to reshape the world through a new lens.
LBB> I know beauty brands have been experimenting with things like AR and VR, but I wonder if, given the inevitable impact social distancing will have on retail spaces, beauty brands will need to embrace technologies to find new ways to reach people in the longer term too?
Jennifer> Even with a vaccine, catwalk shows and traditional retail spaces will still start to experiment with new ways to do things digitally – but they won’t go away. Regardless, the use of physical marketing will change and we’ll need to double down on broadening our toolbox for new ways of storytelling in areas where we traditionally relied on physical marketing. For instance, how can we rethink the e-commerce experience in VR? How can we open up a more inclusive runway? How can we change the way we shop? The opportunities are endless.
LBB> The beauty sector has some very specific challenges when it comes to e-commerce. For example, people like to know how a product will look on their own skin before purchasing, especially if it’s expensive. How can brands in the sector think creatively about these challenges while meeting the need for better e-commerce, brought about by the pandemic?
Jennifer> Brands have already begun using AR trials with skin matching to help consumers choose their colour shades (this is particularly helpful when a customer is looking to switch brands). This means that packaging will represent brands even more, and brands will spend more time thinking about the out-of-box experience. Typical DTC experiences we are used to in stores will not be the way to sell products anymore. The use of at-home sampling will probably increase in a larger capacity. Any opportunity to test products like you would in a store will become important and carry so much weight with your brand story moving forward.
LBB> For you, what have been the most interesting stories to emerge within your own specialty during this time?
Jennifer> The role of influencers, TikTok and online communities is already so powerful but will likely increase in substance and impact. Trends and tastes are a reflection of our culture and community and, with a global pandemic that forces us all to retreat to a digital life, new communities and cultures will emerge. One area that I’d love to see evolve is the way we represent product reviews and recommendations. The usual five-star rating system has become insufficient for communicating the nuances of feedback that consumers desire as well as the level of sophistication that personalisation engines can now offer. Brands will require more UX and UI designers to help with digital voice representation and intimate storytelling of products. How do we represent the voice of all consumers that is more easily digestible for someone looking to make a purchase online?