The beauty industry is buzzing with wild predictions and far-fetched theories about its collective future, much of it focused on technology. And not without reason. As delegates to the 2018 International SalonSpa Business Network (ISBN) Conference held in Scottsdale earlier this year discovered, some radical new trends created by technological innovations are on the horizon. But that doesn’t mean consumers are ready to embrace them, argued a panel of top experts brought together to discuss Future Trends at the conference.
"When was the last time you logged into Amazon, and it said 'Welcome back, Valorie!" Taylor Romero, co-founder of tech company Spruce Labs, asked Valorie Tate, ISBN’s executive director and moderator of the discussion. "And you were, like, 'Oh how sweet, it remembered me?' We all recognize automation. But it’s easy to forget that people can do the same jobs that machines do and have a million times more impact."
Automated responses are increasingly providing the first touch point for guests with a salon or spa, but they risk having built-in attrition. To succeed, the tech must be streamlined and discreet while also being personalized and frictionless – the seminar’s key word. The aim for salons and spas is to embrace technology as a means of achieving a ‘frictionless’ experience for guests, while recognizing it might sometimes do the reverse.
"Guests have zero patience with it, you’ve got an entry point that is seconds," warned Romero, who also co-owns Spruce Barbers in Denver, Colorado, with his wife Becca Miller. "Tech isn’t there to replace the 'touchy-feelies.' It’s there to optimize our experience so we can spend more time together. But you must keep clients on the happy path. As soon as they are off that happy path, get them to a human right away."
Maureen Mullen, co-founder and chief strategy office at L2 Inc, a research company that focuses on retail giants such as Amazon and Google, agreed. She joined Romero and David Thurston, co-founder and owner of Butterfly Lofts Salon Spa, on the panel.
Highlighting the increasingly sophisticated functionality of chat bots, she advised that such programs will soon be able to push consumers further along the sales process before any human involvement is necessary.
"Right now a lot of the chat bot execution isn’t quite there, but we are starting to see pretty strong moves in that direction," she explained. "It’s something businesses need to be familiar with."
Another area she flagged up is geo-location and beacons, which are ramping up the touch points between client and business. Facebook announced last year that it would show ads to users based on stores they had visited using geo-location, however Romero described beacons as dead on arrival.
"If you are going to use proximity detectors you have to get creative,’ he continued. ‘If you have an app, use that app. If you don’t, there are different ways to start gaining intelligence on your guests and their proximity, including your salon wi-fi. The trick is not getting tech that is merely useful but getting tech that guests will engage with."
The panel also considered tech and the day-to-day running of the salon, with systems now in place that allow the stylist to engage directly with the guest, booking appointments and taking payment.
"Stylist independence has made front desk at lot easier for us," said David Thurston. "In my salon, the majority of stylists book their own appointments, and that takes away some of the friction that exists between front desk and stylists. It will be interesting to see where social media goes with this service element."
Technology will increasingly drive the connectivity between salon and guest. Chat bots that take bookings and systems that use voice commands are coming, and soon. But just because the technology is there, or almost, doesn’t mean clients are ready to embrace it. The key to responding to future trends, advised all the panelists, is to start familiarizing with them now rather panic to adopt them all immediately.