ULTA’s Digital Innovation journey

Our DNA: Corporate leaders, forward-looking acquisitions, technologists & researchers, entrepreneurs, and beauty expertise.

Authors: Michelle Pacynski — VP Digital Innovation at Ulta Beauty, Agustina Sartori — Founder & CEO GlamST (acquired by Ulta Beauty), currently Director AR Innovation at Ulta Beauty.

The Ulta Beauty Digital Innovation team was formed two years ago and has evolved in terms of size and how we are infused across the company to bring to life digital experiences for and with our guests.

We approach technology with a guest-centric lens; never deploying tech for tech’s sake but always creating improved, relevant, and differentiated experiences.

Ulta Beauty created the Digital Innovation team in early 2018, with its first technology acquisitions, GlamST and QM Scientific. This move says a lot about how the company has been approaching the future of retail and beauty.

The acquisition of GlamST supported the company’s vision related to augmented reality and computer vision while accelerating its digital innovation capabilities. We recognized the value of AI, specifically as it relates to image processing and mining data visually to create truly differentiated guest experiences via technology. The acquisition of QM Scientific helped drive the development of a powerful engine for surfacing relevant product recommendations using data from product information, reviews, guest purchases, browsing habits, and guest feedback. Both companies were vendors at Ulta Beauty for several years before the acquisitions and coming together in this way brought to life even greater opportunities.

The Digital Innovation team continues to mature, and operates as one single team versus separate teams focused on specific technologies. In 2019, we set roadmaps by innovation team, versus for 2020 which is founded on a unique innovation roadmap to bring together our technological capabilities and rich, vast, and highly accessible dataset.

It’s not about the technological capabilities solely. We are a people business and those behind the development of these capabilities accelerate development with their vision and unique skill sets.

Ulta’s AR Innovation office located in Uruguay (GlamST)

The ability to try on products has been critical to Ulta Beauty’s mission since it was established in 1990. The company revolutionized the way consumers shop for beauty by bringing products out from behind cases to try on with testers. AI & AR is now taking this to the next level.

Trying products freely through samples is not currently an option , given health and safety concerns tied to the pandemic. GLAMLab is a great way to continue to try on products, whether at home or in-store. It’s truly a convenient, safe alternative to product testers — and a means to continue discovering and learning about products.

GLAMLab usage has increased by seven times in the pandemic, and we have seen +50 million shades tried post-COVID.

Ulta Beauty’s augmented reality (AR)-based mobile app enables guests to virtually try-on thousands of beauty products. Guests can experience the texture, color, and finish as they would in real life without applying a single, physical product. After trying on products virtually, guests can purchase products or add to their favorites.

Virtual Try-on | Shade Finder | Skin Analysis available in Ulta Beauty’s mobile app

We also provide AR/AI based technology to find your right shade of foundation and understand your skin goals, concerns, conditions through AI, to provide personalized recommendations.

Ulta Beauty has a unique team comprised of Machine Learning and Computer Vision experts, Data Scientists, Computer Graphics engineers and specialized developers. Combined with Beauty expertise, this business unit runs digital for the company and is a true differentiator in retail.

Having this team allows us to develop technology with a business mindset, relevant to what matters to our guest today and for the future.

As Ulta Beauty, we are investing in technology to build an innovation ecosystem, with the goal of curating components that are complementary and create future digital guest experiences.

We don’t pretend to know it all. Still, we aim to build core capabilities and partner with highly-innovative companies that can collaborate and execute. This technological mindset allows us to interact with companies seamlessly as an internal partner that makes it easy for them to work with us.

Our Digital Innovation team brings enterprise visions to life with unique technology and beauty at the center of all we do. We believe this is unique within our industry and reinforces exactly what makes us Ulta Beauty.

This Medium page was created by the Digital Innovation Team with the intent of sharing new developments, the technology behind our tools, expertise, stories, and spread knowledge & collaborate with the rest of the Beauty Tech, Innovation, ML, AR, and AI communities. Stay tuned!

Where Beauty meets Technology