Technology looks good in Walmart’s beauty dept.

6/29/2009

ROGERS, Ark. —Two Walmart stores in northwest Arkansas are experimenting with new technology that adds fun and excitement to the beauty department, along with the potential to increase sales.

Walmart stores in Rogers and Springdale now feature a technology called the “Virtual Mirror,” an IBM kiosk that runs an application from EZface that allows customers to try on cosmetics virtually. The three kiosks are integrated into the shelves where L’Oréal, Revlon and CoverGirl brands are located. Customers look into the digital mirror, which sits flush with the shelf, and press a button to take a photo of themselves using a digital camera built into the display. They then scan in the bar code of the beauty product they are interested in, and the technology applies it virtually to their eyes, cheeks, lips or faces.

The system measures skin tone, facial features and product color to produce a realistic simulation of a makeover, and has the capability to suggest complementary products and specific shades for different skin tones. Customers can digitally share a photo of their virtual makeovers with friends to get their opinions, or they can simply make the purchase.

For Walmart, the technology also addresses a key competitive disadvantage relative to retailers who employ beauty advisers, such as department stores or Sephora, where customers can experiment with different looks. Walmart customers have no way of experimenting with products in-store, short of opening packages, which causes shrink. As a result, sales tend to be limited to replacement purchases or inexpensive items where the cost of making the wrong choice is low.

The ability to experiment with different colors or shades is a powerful consumer empowerment capability because the use of technology can diminish the apprehension that exists about making the wrong selection. The kiosks also have the potential to aggregate usage information that can be analyzed for merchandise assortment purposes, and can be used to display promotional messages.

EZface unveiled the technology earlier this year at the National Retail Federation’s annual convention held in New York.

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