The brand leading the next generation of tech x beauty experiences just debuted its Color&Co virtual consultation platform, enabling on-demand personalized hair color advice as well as custom formula blends shipped to home to level up the box customer experience

The beauty industry today continues to merge with technology, as more cosmetics and personal care retailers turn to tools like augmented and virtual reality to deliver customers enhanced product discovery, remote trial, personalized consultations and tutorials, and much more. One relatively unexplored category within beauty, however, remains hair, something mega brand L'Oreal is working to change.

The company has been leading the edge of tech x beauty, from wearable skin devices that analyze customers' sweat and recommend personalized products for their biology, to machine-learning algorithms that can customize exact foundation shades. Its latest venture is poised to disrupt the yet untapped possibilities within at-home hair coloring, helping upgrade the DIY customer experience through personalized virtual consultations and custom formula blends with its Color&Co platform.

To learn more about the founding of the program that connects customers with certified hair colorists instantly and for free via their smartphone or computer, PSFK spoke to Olivier Blayac, general manager of Color&Co. He touched on the desire to not replace the salon experience, but rather upgrade that of the box customer, as well as offer trusted guidance along the way and with the added convenience of at-home delivery.

PSFK: What motivated the conception of the L'Oreal Color&Co program?

Olivier Blayac: The project Color&Co started two and a half years ago. I partnered with Guive Balooch, who is the head of the L'Oreal Tech Incubator, which had worked in the past on personalization projects like Le Teint Particulier. They also developed a UV sensor for La Roche Posay that detects exactly the exposure that your skin has and recommends the best products to protect it.

We noticed that an opportunity where personalization was most relevant was hair color, more than anything else. We understood that 70% of people who buy a hair color in a store are disappointed with the result. They never get something that is accurate. The option that people are left with is to go to a salon, but this is time-consuming and expensive.

We've created a platform where we pair consumers and colorists. The main feature is a video consultation system that is device agnostic. It works on iPhones and Android, on computers, on tablets and so on, where we propose consumers to go for a free video consultation with an expert colorist.

The colorist is able to see the person and understand her hair history (coloring, density, grayness, etc) to determine what would be the ideal color and result. After this diagnostic, the colorist will create a personalized formula and ship it to the customer's doorstep.

Can you explain the analysis component more?

The analysis is the core of everything. For example, if a woman has highlighted hair and if she wants to cover highlights and go from a brown blond to a bright copper, then the colorist will understand that she needs to do two applications. One, the first one would be to fill up the highlighted parts. Two, the application would be from root to tip with the new cover shade that she wants.

If she went to the store, she might only buy one product. She wants a copper, so she'll buy a copper. She'll apply on it, but the highlights will react differently than the non-highlighted parts, so she'll be disappointed. With this consultation, the colorists will be able to preempt that by asking key diagnostic questions.

In the system that we've built, as the consumer talks to them, the colorist is inputting the profile information. It's totally seamless. This  information will be kept so we know exactly what the record of of the customer is, to further elaborate the formula down the line.

What about the application part of the process? How does Color&Co provide guidance there?

To ease the process, we provide customers a personalized how-to video on their account. They can open the video and see a person applying the product exactly where they should, as they should. We've tried to make it impossible to go wrong for any customer because that's the main fear for hair color. Each customer will receive a very different and personalized video tutorial.

That fear and hesitation is a common pain point with hair coloring—how are you helping build trust with your consumers, giving them the confidence that this will work?

That's the key question. With makeup, if you're not happy with your lipstick or your foundation,, you try it, you wipe it and that's it. With hair color, if the product that you use is not great, you have to live with the result for a long time.

The first way is simply through our brand—L'Oreal is a longstanding, well known and trusted name. The second way is we are only using licensed colorists who have a job in a salon. The fact that customers know they can talk to an expert builds confidence.

When a person goes to a salon, she knows that the person has a cosmetology license, that he's a trained expert. It's the same with us. Then if you go on the site, you'll see that we've worked on the UI to be as easy as possible. With our program, customers can talk directly to someone who's there to help. That's how we lift some uncertainties.

While we push the live consultations, we also know that not every customer will feel comfortable. So we also have a quiz, built by colorists.

How do you engage consumers with Color&Co?

We are only D2C right now. The advertising that we are doing is mostly on social platforms. We know that Facebook is a very good one because of the age target that we have—Facebook is not as young as others. We know that the point of entry in hair color very often is when people get their first gray. That's for women of 30 and plus.

We also are targeting men. The need to look younger is there for men, too. D2C is very strong for men. They are reluctant to show that they are buying a product or go to a barber to get something applied on their hair, and D2C is discreet.

We're not trying to downgrade salon customers, but upgrade box customers, who often don't get exactly the shade that they would want. Our product is slightly more expensive but very affordable and can help them accomplish that.

What are some of the challenges you faced during your research and development process for Color&Co?

The video consultation was a bit of a challenge. First, it couldn't be a simple FaceTime. FaceTime only works between iPhones. We had to find something that would be device agnostic. We wanted customers to be able to connect from their computer, or their phone or their tablets. It had to encompass a system that allows the colorist to capture the relevant information as he speaks, which was not simple.

Then our colorists, for example, are paid based on commission. It's like an Uber system. They come on when they want. The first who clicks to accept a consultation, gets it. If the customer orders, they get commission. There's also an onboarding process they have to go through. We need, first, to make sure that they have the right skills, so there is a technical test. They have to give us their cosmetology license. Then they go through an interview.

Then we train them—they've never heard of our formula. We train them on our product, our formula, and how to run a video consultation. Putting this system into place was complex. It was fun as well, a discovery process. We're pioneering the personalization field.

Finally, Color&Co just launched, but can you share any innovation or iterations on it for the future?

We have both long and short-term goals. When we performed initial tests to gauge consumer interest, based just on the idea and so on, at least 20% of women said they would go for it. That's the end goal. The hair color market, especially in the U.S., is huge. The day we get there, we are very happy.

In the meantime, we want to get awareness in the core consumer base this year. We rely much on word of mouth. We hope to recruit women who will be influential on others to try it out. We have direct competition. We know more or less the type of turnover that our competitors have and the time it took for them to get there. We will try to go twice as fast. We launched yesterday, so we'll see. That's also fun.


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Lead image: stock photos from ID stock photography/Shutterstock