Opinion: Emergence of a low-touch economy during the pandemic

Anil Chilla

From the incorporation of AI and AR to enhance consumer experience ib a COVID-19 ridden world to increasingly intuitive e-commerce interfaces, L’Oréal India’s Chief Digital Officer, Anil Chilla elaborates the role of digital in a low-touch economy.

Since time immemorial, shopping has been a multi-dimensional sensorial experience. We love to experience brands and products physically, take in the sights, sounds, textures, and most importantly test before we make a purchase decision. With the pandemic-related lockdowns keeping us at home for well over a year, we have had to reinvent shopping in a predominantly digital world. This meant companies in tactile categories were expected to innovate digitally and continue to drive consumer engagement but within the context of a hitherto nascent (at best!) low-touch economy.

The companies that could pivot early enough to tap into this new consumer need have discovered not just consumer delight, but newer opportunities for engaging consumers and driving revenue.

Some of the noteworthy changes that have been accelerated by the pandemic and will drive the digital agenda for organizations’ in the new normal are:

Augmented Reality (AR) based Virtual Try-On for Make-up

Make-up purchases are linked to a fundamental need to feel and look good and are extremely intimate in nature due to usage. For instance: Finding the right shade in a lipstick requires multiple try-on. Traditionally, offline stores have served as the point where consumers can spend time exploring and trying an array of products before buying.

Enter augmented reality, L’Oréal uses ModiFace, which offers consumers the same experience from the safety and comfort of their homes, with the added bonus of time indulgence.  Virtual Try-On technology uses an advanced face tracker algorithm that detects where lips, eyes, cheek, hair are and applies virtual make-up, giving users a ‘touch, feel and try’ personalized experience as well as a true-to-life view of the products. During the pandemic, we have seen a significant increase in usage of this digital service.

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Social Commerce

The power of social media truly came to the fore during this pandemic. It has helped people stay connected and engaged with each other despite being miles apart. It has even helped brands educate and engage consumers, basis their needs and requirements. But beyond engagement, many smaller businesses turned to social media to drive commerce – ergo social commerce. Being completely shut due to the pandemic, businesses like salons, needed alternate ways to reach consumers, in their homes, delivering their favourite products and brands via social commerce platforms. 

For example, we have trained over 19K salons on activating social commerce and selling our retail products.  The salons have then added contactless delivery of hair care products where consumers can safely get their favourite shampoos and conditioners delivered at their doorstep, in a timely manner.

Digital Training

For businesses, like our professional division, that have a significant training and education requirement, pivoting quickly to virtual classrooms and sessions has been a paradigm shift that is here to stay. Online training platforms, live-streaming tools, virtual tutorials, have been the backbone to keep training and education going, not just for businesses but the education system as well. We trained over 500,000 hairdressers and beauticians since the lockdown in L’Oréal itself and are definitely going to continue leveraging that opportunity to further reach and engagement with our salon partners.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown have sparked broad changes to how consumers discover and shop, permanently. To connect with them and engage them, businesses will need to digitize and reach them through a low-touch economy that keeps them protected but offers the best of brands and services too.

The piece has been authored by Anil Chilla, Chief Digital Officer, L’Oréal India