Founded more than a century ago in France, L’Oréal is the largest cosmetics company in the world. In 2018 alone, it generated approximately €26.93 billion (£23.9bn) in revenue, reported assets worth €38.45 billion (£34.1bn), and had a workforce of around 86,000 people.
Needless to say, the company is far more than just a pretty face.
In fact, a good portion of L’Oréal’s more recent success can be attributed not directly to their beauty products, but to the big data technology behind them.
Since 2012, L’Oréal has operated a ‘technology incubator’, a start-up style operation that works on the research and development side of the company’s products. Headed up by global vice president, Guive Balooch, the incubator has already come up with new technology encompassing wearables, apps, and more conventional objects.
“Everything starts with this pillar in my mind of where beauty and technology meet,” Balooch said.
One of the most famous inventions to come out of the lab is the Kérastase Hair Coach Powered by Withings – sometimes referred to as the world’s first smart brush.
According to the New York Times, “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 Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity to upload all that information to an app, which uses an algorithm to analyze the statistics and detect breakage.”
Essentially, the brush utilises artificial intelligence to personalise its services to the user – a huge selling point for people who may have struggled to find good hair care products in the past.
“It was very important for us to make a high-end device that, taking all the technology and sophisticated aspects away, is the best brush you’ll ever see,” said Cédric Hutchings, chief executive of Withings.
But this isn’t the only AI product to come out of the lab.
Back in 2014, Balooch and his team debuted Makeup Genius, an app that harnesses augmented reality technology in a way that allows customers to ‘try on’ makeup via a phone screen before they purchase it.
Following on from that, the lab created a program that utilised machine learning techniques in order to colour-match skin tones with the correct foundation across L’Oréal’s range.
Le Teint Particulier, as it is called, is not actually the first program of its kind – but Balooch claims it is the most accurate.
“You could have a beautiful display, but if you don’t go home with a product that really is to your skin tone, you’re never going to reorder,” he said. “We have people cry when they try it. Because it’s meeting a consumer need.”
Moving beyond cosmetics, the lab is also responsible for a potentially life-saving invention: technology to detect harmful UV rays.
Named The UV Sense, this wearable piece of tech is designed to keep people safe in the sun. “You never charge it, and there’s no battery inside,” the lab explains. “It sticks right to your body and runs for up to four weeks, powered by the same entity it’s sensing: sunlight.”
Oh, and they’re also developing the same technology in temporary tattoo form!
Outside of R&D
But aside from boosting L’Oréal’s business in the product development stage, AI and big data have contributed to success on the marketing and customer relations side of the spectrum, too.
Back in 2017, the company launched an automated messenger bot designed to help customers on their social media platforms.
Lubomira Rochet, the company’s chief digital officer, said of the bot, “I believe AI is as big a revolution as the internet itself. It’s going to power more of our interactions with our consumers, be it through advertising, CRM or even ad serving. All those compartments of marketing will be transformed by AI. It’s a great way to get more personalised than we’ve ever been.”
A similar bot has been used internally, too, in order to aid with the recruitment process for the company.
“For about 15,000 openings a year, L’Oréal must process nearly a million applications and now uses AI in a variety of ways to free up their human employee’s time,” explains Forbes. “So, Mya is a chatbot that saves significant time in the early stages of the recruiting process by handling questions from candidates and can check off important details such as availability and visa status.”
L’Oréal also uses Seedlink, a more advanced AI software that is able to assess candidates’ answers to open-ended questions.
“In one instance,” Forbes says, “the company’s recruiters believe they saved 200 hours of time to hire 80 interns out of a pool of 12,000 candidates.”
Powering the future
Even without these tools and developments, L’Oréal would no doubt continue to be giants of the cosmetics world. However, there’s no guaranteeing that they would stay ahead of their competitors.
Big data and AI technology hasn’t just allowed L’Oréal to carry on their century-long stint of success, it’s allowed them to evolve – to generate products and connect with their market in a way that was not possible before.