Innovation at Ulta Beauty since its GlamST’s acquisition
Authors: Agustina Sartori, Founder & CEO at GlamST, acquired by Ulta Beauty in 2018. Currently Director AR Innovation @ Ulta Beauty
Prior to being acquired by Ulta Beauty, my startup GlamST was based in Uruguay and San Francisco. We worked with world-class brands and I liked working with Ulta Beauty as a partner — there was something special about the leadership team. We both cared about the same things, our values and vision aligned, and in front of us stood a huge learning opportunity.
The opportunity to be part of a retail and beauty leader such as Ulta Beauty would allow us to generate technology and impact on a massive scale. Ulta Beauty believed in our diverse, international, highly-skilled team — and most importantly, saw that what we could create together would propel the industry to the next level. We are now shaping the future together — and that’s exciting!
Ulta Beauty double-downed in Uruguay, growing the team by three times its size to build a hub for innovation in a country with infrastructure, education, and stability to do so. As an American-only company at the time, this was a big move and one that in hindsight, reinforces just how strategic and visionary the company is.
Through GlamST’s capabilities, Ulta Beauty’s augmented reality (AR)-based mobile app enables guests to virtually try-on thousands of products in a real life way, without having to step in-store. Guests can experience how texture, color, and finish would look like in real life without applying a single, physical product. From there, guests can purchase products or add to their favorites.
We also provide AR/AI based technology to find the right shade of foundation and understand your skin goals, concerns, conditions through AI, providing personalized recommendations.
When it comes to beauty products, enthusiasts love to test cosmetics, creams, and fragrances before buying. Ulta Beauty is committed to offering guests unique ways to be beautiful in environments that provides the thrill of exploration and the delight of discovery. Ulta Beauty trusted our team to take this to the next level making Augmented Reality a new way to experiment, try, have fun, and feel beautiful.
The technology behind the app combines complex rendering techniques for real-time makeup application , computer vision, and machine learning with the human touch to make the experience as realistic as possible.
All products in GLAMLab are physically swatched and translated into a digital representation consisting of color, texture, and finish to provide the most realistic AR experience possible. Machine learning algorithms for facial detection run in the background in real-time and combine with a custom-built computer graphics engine for makeup application to provide a smooth and accurate live try-on experience.
Leveraging the power of GCP compute engines, most of our personalization experiences run AI and ML models as a service.
All of our experiences from Virtual Try-on to Shade finder to Skin Analysis merge technology expertise with subject matter experts, a unique combination that allows us to understand a beauty challenge with the right tools to address.
Some guests are trading in regular Ulta Beauty visits for the safe, socially-distant experience of beauty AR via GLAMLab. We have seen numbers sky-rocket since the coronavirus pandemic forced many to stay inside, reinforcing how it is a fantastic shopping tool.
GLAMLab usage has increased by five times in the pandemic, and we have seen 19 million shades tried on in the post-COVID environment.
We believe our guests will continue to choose tech when purchasing products in the future even as we assimilate back to life outside the home and return to in-store shopping.
The concept of try-before-you-buy will always be appealing — for both brands and consumers — as it fuels greater confidence in purchase decision, customer satisfaction, and decreases return rates. And today, technology plays a crucial role in this.
Many things have changed in the past months, and it’s a critical time with Digital Innovation at the center. Our mission as innovators is to help connect, engage, , enable fun, happiness and discovery — and we intend to be remain in the front of what’s next.