L’Oréal is the largest cosmetics company in the world. The French personal care company owns brands like Maybelline, Keihls, Lancôme and Clairsonic to name a few and earned 26 billion Euros in revenue in 2017.
L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator was initiated in 2012 with the goal of better integrating technology into L’Oréal’s business and making products and experiences more customized to each customer. Today it functions much like a startup with the goal of creating the most innovative products in the beauty market. “’Everything starts with this pillar in my mind of where beauty and technology meet,’” says Guive Balooch, it’s global VP.
So far the branch has churned out a mix of wearables, objects and apps that aims to optimize consumers’ cosmetic, skincare or haircare regimens by creating custom products and giving users more information about their needs.
Here’s some examples of the types of products coming out of this incubator:K
Kérastase Hair Coach Powered by Withings
Under their haircare brand Kérastase and in partnership with smart tech company Withings, L’Oréal has created what they call the world’s first smartbrush. The machine is essentially a brush with tiny sensors in the bristles that are able to analyze your hair and give information about the type and health of the user’s hair via its connected app. The technology is incredible, “the brush contains a conductivity sensor that knows whether hair is wet or dry; an accelerometer and gyroscope to measure the speed and force of brush strokes; a microphone that captures auditory data” and uses an algorithm to analyze all of this data and spot breakage. Wi-Fi connectivity allows the brush, which looks like just a normal hairbrush, to report all of these statistics in a readable way to their app so that users can understand more about the health of their hair and better care for it.
Lancôme Le Teint Particulier
This is a point-of-sale device created by the cosmetics brand that has a color matching algorithm which compares a customer’s skin to 22,000 on file in order to find the most accurate shade. A custom foundation is then blended in store for them ensuring a perfect match for every customer.
UV Sense is a project for La Roshe-Posay, a dermatological skincare brand, which was a development to what was previously known My UV Patch. My UV Patch originally started as a “wearable adhesive containing photosensitive dyes that change color when exposed to UV rays”; it lasts up to 5 days through water, sweat, heat, wrinkling, really whatever life might put it through. The result of this product was a dramatic decrease in the sunburn experienced by users (60% of users reported less sunburn) and an increase in use of sunscreen. However, L’Oréal knew they could do better. With UV sense they moved the wearable from the skin to the nail. On one of the user’s fingernails is a small dot that reports information about UV exposure throughout the day. The dot is a lot smaller than the original patch, and to be honest, when I saw the photo of one, I though it was just a speck of nail polish. But even that is intentional. Yes, the product is mean to have a dramatic effect on skin health and sun safety by “course correct[ing] the way [consumers] behave and live in the sun,” but it is also a response to the popularity of nail art.
These are clearly some great ideas which are definitely contributing to the competitive advantage which allows them to call themselves the largest cosmetics company in the world. But where do they get these ideas from? Besides just internal idea generation from their Technology Incubator, L’Oréal also runs a “Brandstorm” competition each year where they challenge students from around the world to brainstorm ideas relating to a certain business initiative and integrates technology into the idea. I was lucky enough to participate in this competition through a course I took while abroad in Paris. Our challenge related to the Professionals haircare lines (haircare products used and sold in professional salons), and challenged us to find a way to use technology to enhance the in-salon experience. We were told that no idea was too far fetched, even if it seemed impossible or too expensive, and that if we won, L’Oréal would find a way to bring the idea to life. After learning about their Technology Incubator I can see how they have the means to make ideas like those imagined in the Brandstorm competition become a reality. While my group didn’t advance very far, it was a great bit of insight to L’Oréal and how the value they place on both technology and innovation and young innovators.
The Tech Incubator furthers L’Oréal’s mission of “Beauty for All”, allowing everybody to be educated about their personal needs and have the right product for their skin, hair and lifestyle. The company says the Incubator is in line with the “company’s initiatives around technology, diversity, sustainability and more as it moves towards modernization”. Besides just using technology to aid in picking shades that go with customers’ skin tones, this technology has the more serious potential of having a larger effect on making broader diagnoses about skin and having a larger effect overall on health which I believe is in line with the intersection that beauty and health have been making in recent years.
“If you just go back to values, every man and woman should be able to get the perfect product for them. I believe that tech is where do do that. If you look at deep learning and machine learning and design, and hot it’s starting to change the consumers’’ life in such a positive way, I want to be able to use the product of the future to do that”Guive Balooch
Plus, it’s smart business. This tech directly contributes to the conversations we’ve been having in class (along with the entire business world) about how to keep retail alive in an increasingly digital based market. Companies need to use technology to aid in store experiences and L’Oréal is doing just that. They are creating technology that satisfies a need of education and personalization which can be integrated to consumers lives both in and out of store.