- Make-up, much like fashion, is a form of self-expression that can convey different meanings depending on the subject and witness. Within the metaverse, users can employ VR makeup or filters in order to challenge Western beauty ideals or gender conventions they may not feel comfortable trying IRL.
- While beauty has had a slower integration into the metaverse than clothing and accessories, brands are discovering that there are many applications for cosmetics and makeup in a simulated digital environment.
- Beauty and cosmetic brands can aggregate data from sales within their VR storefronts in order to capture new customers as well as strengthen relationships with existing ones.
The term “metaverse” has become a buzzword in recent years, yet few people fully grasp its meaning. According to an article in European Gaming, there were an estimated 2.62 million searches for ‘meta’ this past October, causing the author to speculate that many people were intrigued albeit confused by the term. First coined in the 1992 science fiction novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, the phrase combines virtual reality and augmented reality. As our technology advances exponentially, it has propelled us towards fourth-wave computing, “following mainframe computing, personal computing, and mobile computing,” into an era where people will spend more of their time living and interacting in a digital environment via avatars (The New York Times). Although the metaverse is in its rudimentary phase, corporations are already investing millions of dollars into this space to capture wallet share from consumers. While clothing and accessories have become commonplace fixtures, with everyone from Balenciaga to Puma releasing skins meant to be collected and worn by players within games like Fortnite and Animal Crossing—beauty has had a slower integration. Yet, with the number of female gamers on the rise (45% of gamers in the United States, according to Statistica), it's unsurprising that beauty is starting to make some headway here.
The desire to express oneself via signifiers like wardrobe and beauty is a human compulsion since we all strive to differentiate ourselves from the herd. As people spend more time in the virtual world, it’s understandable why consumers are interested in customizable avatars that resemble their IRL counterparts. Purchasing clothing and accessories developed by luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton gives customers the ability to own and wear clothing they may not afford in their daily lives or mirror outfits they already own outside the virtual world. Similarly, beauty can help enhance a customer’s image or allow forms of expression they may not feel comfortable revealing in their daily life, such as gender or cultural identity. For this reason, entrepreneurs such as Shelley Hon argue that “[the] metaverse may impact perceptions of beauty in the future” due to recent drivers within the industry, such as the current push towards “diversity, inclusivity, and gender equality from brands.” (Tatler) Western Eurocentric beauty ideals, as well as gender norms, can be subverted in VR where users feel comfortable amplifying their features and openly being themselves in a way they may not want to do on the outside. Connecting with customers in the metaverse may help brands acquire new customers and strengthen relationships with existing ones.
Beauty brands striving for success in the metaverse must be “tailored in their marketing, flexible with expectations, and willing to take a grassroots approach,” since it’s “less enmeshed with current gamer habits.” (Vogue Business) While some users have begun to use beauty in small ways such as through the use of an AR filter, consumers seek out authentic experiences and value from their purchases within the metaverse. Marketing analysts have found that beauty brands will not sell without providing something in return for their users. Creating NFTS or partnering with games or consoles, such as Nars’s recent integration within Nintendo’s Animal Crossing may not necessarily drive up sales, but “...what’s more important to us is the positioning of the brand and the sentiment around these activations,” says Dina Ferro, Vice President of global digital strategy at Nars, in an interview for Vogue Business. Building virtual stores within the metaverse where customers can socialize and shop is another way beauty is driving sales. In addition, creating keys that can only be accessed by exploring the store for an in-store game experience is another way to ensure user participation.
Charlotte Tilbury was one of the first brands to launch a VR store back in 2020 and has found resounding success as a result. The store’s newest feature is called “Shop with Friends. The feature was launched after the brand received feedback from customers who were going on Zoom with friends while shopping in the VR store. Now customers can add up to four friends into a video chat, as they browse the store, much in the same way many customers socialize with friends when they shop in person. Furthermore, “...it is not just [about facilitating shopping] with friends, but also with sales associates or influencers who can lead you through the store,” says Neha Singh, founder and CEO of tech startup Obsess, which provides software for CT and other beauty brands in an interview for Glossy. The ability for consumers to interact with products virtually as they engage with influencers can provide them with a level of closeness they could never experience with a public figure before. In this way, the metaverse and beauty can forge new social interactions beyond what anyone originally envisioned.
Sales in the metaverse may be the next ‘lipstick index’. This indicator was a way for experts to follow how women were spending money during hard times according to NPR, as lipstick sales often boomed during events such as the Great Recession, but saw a dramatic dive in sales as people stayed home or wore masks. The metaverse may be the next destination for charting the sales of cosmetics and makeup since users will continue to participate in shopping or sponsored events despite staying home. Brands can mine games and virtual events where users interact with virtual makeup in order to aggregate data about their customers. The metaverse can become the new social center, much in the same way malls were part of everyday life in the U.S. during the 1980s. Here people can try out beauty looks, hang out with friends, or discover new cosmetics.
At first thought, beauty in the metaverse may not sound like a natural fit, yet it is a necessary component in achieving self-expression and a burgeoning market for brands. As consumers across the age spectrum grow more accustomed to spending time in virtual reality, they will become increasingly inclined to alter their appearance or express themselves in much the same way people already do in their everyday lives. The metaverse can allow people to communicate parts of themselves with beauty they may not feel able to exhibit elsewhere. Here, users can try out new styles of makeup tailored to their specific skin tone, get feedback from friends during virtual shopping trips, and purchase products for their offline lives via social shopping applications. Conversely, brands can forge relationships with users and receive vital product feedback based on purchases made within the metaverse. As users congregate in these virtual spaces, it’s not so far-fetched to think that the next great beauty innovation or trend could be hatched in a VR storefront.
Cover image courtesy of @aboutfacebeauty