Will Customisation be King for the Beauty Industry?

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What is the solution to the huge amount of product choice on beauty retailers’ shelves?

Customisation may go some way to putting the power back into consumers’ hands and lets them make the right product choices.

Alex Epstein is Founder and Chief Concoction Office of Concoctions, a brand new range of ShampYou® haircare products which make their debut in Selfridges this month. Imogen caught up with him this week to find out why he has taken the customisation route and why he believes it is the way forward for the beauty industry.

Do you think consumers want customisation?

As a consumer it has always bothered me that there’s literally too much choice in the market today. Consumers are bombarded with thousands of competing brands, messages and promises from an ever-growing number of producers. This has made things very confusing.It occurred to me that too many brands apply a 'one size fits all' approach, or alternatively have too many different brand extensions. I believe this over-choice has led consumers to seek simplicity and created a desire for products that are ‘made for me’ rather than ‘made for everyone.’

There have been other drivers of customisation. As consumers we have become very adept at customising products in our everyday lives. Just a few years ago you’d walk into a cafe and simply order a coffee. In today’s caffeine frenzied world, we now walk into a Starbucks and order a Tall, Skinny, Decaff, Triple Caramel Macchiato with Soy Milk and an extra espresso shot.

Consumers are now very ready and receptive to other customisation opportunities.

Technology is a real enabler of mass-customisation. Think about Nike ID where you can customise a trainer on demand or car brands such as Mini where literally millions of colour and option combinations are at your fingertips.When it comes to beauty, people have always mixed and matched different brands. And I’m sure many consumers have thought to themselves: ‘When will there be a brand that caters to my specific needs, wants and desires?’

Why will customisation become an important trend for the beauty industry?

Customisation is going to be a huge opportunity for beauty and cosmetics brands. The technology platforms are now there to help people customise their products (i.e. internet platforms). Plus with new technologies such as 3D printing, it might not be long till people can create their own products on-demand in the comfort of their own homes.

Customisation has the potential to be very disruptive - completely changing the way consumers acquire and consume their products.

What are consumers looking for when seeking out tailor-made products?

Our in-house research tells us that people have very high expectations of products which fit their needs and personal preferences more closely. When it came to our own Haircare developments, we realised quickly that consumers were being forced to choose between different benefits.

For example they might want a product that is for ‘fine blonde hair’ - but in reality only find either ranges for blonde OR fine hair on the shelf. People told us they wanted to combine different benefits into a single product. We also learned that tailor-made products feel very personal, and that the actual experience of purchasing (i.e. choosing, customising, blending) is just as important as the ritual of using the product itself.

Aside from the customisation, consumers are still looking at the same factors i.e. trust, reassurance, quality, reputation and the approval of other consumers. They also want real simplicity. Which is why we really edited down our own range into a simple modular system that is easy to understand (yet allows hundreds of different blend combinations to be created.

Finally, what I have learned very quickly is that the emotional is just as important as the rational. So even with a very professional tailored/customised product offering, you need to provide the consumer with a story, vision or mission that they really buy into. The science has to be there of course - but you still have to tap into the dreams, aspirations and desires that consumers have around their own self-image and personal beauty.

More than anything - consumers see customised products as a way to avoid being treated as a number, and instead form a relationship with a brand that really treats them as an individual, taking on board their own real problems and providing a real personal-oriented prescriptive solution.

Does tailor-made, bespoke, customisation mean a high{er} price point?

There is a perception that given the personal nature of the customisation process, that this should carry a price premium. As with the fashion world, bespoke or couture ranges are always the most expensive. They tend to be created in small batches and made from highly prized and coveted materials.

Concoction has taken a ‘masstige’ approach, creating a customisation system that allows a very personal experience without a significantly higher price point (compared with other professional brands). However we do have a ‘Couture’ range in development that will take the idea of bespoke to a higher level, and will use ultra-luxurious actives, inclusions and fragrances that you’d associate with the world of fashion.

Price is an important yardstick for consumer experience. A higher price point helps to reinforce exclusivity and the perception of luxuriousness. There is room for both types of personalisation - the ‘mass-customisation’ approach, and the small batch ultra-couture type approach.

How have you applied the trend to the Concoctions range?

When we set out on the path to develop the brand (over two years ago now) we didn’t feel that we were responding to a trend. We saw ourselves as innovators, attempting to bring the consumer a new and more intimate beauty experience that would be functionally better (i.e. a prescriptive approach in terms of perfectly meeting customer needs) but also delivering a fun, immersive, theatrical and high-touch experience.

Along the way, we did what we felt was right, and tweaked it with insight from consumers.One of the over-arching messages was this need for simplicity (from both the consumer point of view, and also from the point of view of retailers). The ‘Mixology Technology’ that we created combines a system of professional ‘base blends’ with a number of nutritive shots that are added, which contain actives and other desirable ingredients.

Instead of offering hundreds of different confusing SKUs, we have a very small number of SKUs (base blends and shots) that allows literally hundreds of different blend combinations to be achieved. So the consumer really does feel that they are getting something that is very personal to them (this includes the consumer choosing a fragrance that they like). We’ve started with our Mixology shampoos (or ShampYous as we like to call them).

Does the mixology approach apply only to shampoo?

Shampoo was an ideal starting point. However we are exploring other Mixology innovations that will extend the experience to other categories. Technically it’s more difficult with conditioners or styling products as these are often creams, emulsions and puttys/pastes which have complex production methods. Our Mixologists will find a way to achieve it!

Do you intend to extend the concept into other haircare lines?

Absolutely - technology is advancing across the industry. There are all sorts of novel ingredients and actives at our fingertips. We must stay true to our ‘Concoction’ mantra. I can’t give away too much at this stage - but we certainly have a pipeline of future developments that will excite and wow our consumers.