Are digital try-ons the new makeup counter? Ulta’s CEO thinks so

Women have long lavished going to a beauty counter and trying on the latest shade of lipstick. Even in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the popular Amazon show set in the 1950s, all of the young department store clerks want to work in the makeup department.

So what if we could turn our couch into a beauty counter, matching each shade to our complexion to find the perfect fit? That’s the kind of technology that the beauty industry is pioneering today, and Ulta Beauty is already buying into the trend.

At a fireside chat during the first-ever Hispanic Leadership Summit at the United Nations headquarters on Dec. 10, Ulta CEO Mary Dillon explained how her company is launching into digital innovation with its first two acquisitions, QM Scientific and GlamST. The tech startups use augmented reality and artificial intelligence to personalize a client’s shopping experience in the digital sphere.

The fireside discussion was moderated by Agustina Sartori Odizzio, CEO and founder of GlamST and director of AR innovation at Ulta. On GlamST’s website, a video shows a woman trying on different colored lipsticks, personalizing her look in a tablet camera. That kind of technology could mean basically having an Ulta Beauty store in your home, providing convenient and easy sampling access for online shoppers.

Dillon said she wants to do virtual try-on better and quicker than anyone else, and indeed, her first acquisitions speak to the opportunity she sees in beauty-inspired technology.

At a conference that touched on branding and how it relates to the Latino community, Dillon’s company was held up as a shining example of how to reach out to diverse business partners — and a diverse clientele. Dillon was at the Hispanic Leadership Summit not only because she recently acquired a Latin American company (most of GlamST is based out of Uruguay), but also because her beauty brand is known for inclusivity.

The summit played one of Ulta’s recent advertising campaigns, which features a diverse group of men and women wearing products. Dillon said Ulta’s leadership has been working to define what role they can play in helping everyone find their inner beauty, a sentiment the campaign evokes.

In 2017, the global cosmetic products market was valued at $532 billion and growing. In an industry that caters to people across the cultural spectrum and requires customer engagement, Dillon has bet on the power of technology and diversity for a sustainable business model. And her decisions as CEO are so far paying off — during the third quarter of 2018, Ulta Beauty announced net sales were up by more than 16% from the same time last year.

So are digital try-ons the future of beauty? Maybe, or maybe we’ll still long for those physical cosmetic counters. Either way, diverse branding is definitely part of the future, and Ulta Beauty is primed to be part of that movement in a big way. Based on its representation at the summit, it already is.