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In-store beauty sampling reinvented: How coronavirus is changing the game

Katie Nichol

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In-store beauty sampling reinvented: How coronavirus is changing the game

© Byzance

From Hermès’ H24 contactless fragrance sampler to Dior’s touchless skincare, we look at how luxury beauty brands and retailers are adapting product testing to the pandemic, and the suppliers and olfactory marketing specialists that are providing them with new solutions.

“Adapting to the new normal” is an oft-repeated phrase, but with the health pandemic entering its second year, not one that can be ignored, especially at retail. Despite the boom in e-commerce, it is unlikely that online sales will replace physical stores in beauty, particularly when it comes to fragrance. What new initiatives are enabling product sampling in the current context?

A pioneer in innovative fragrance sampling, GK Concept’s Paperscent connected sampler that dispenses branded and scented perfume strips was perhaps ahead of the game. One of the first brands to adopt this solution was Juliette Has a Gun, in 2018. But back then, well before the health crisis was on the radar, it was more about the digital novelty of the device than health and safety concerns.

“The current pandemic has enabled us to bring existing technologies back to the spotlight,” affirms Julie Gesnouin, co-founder of luxury customer experience agency Byzance, which is behind Hermès’ H24 contactless fragrance sampler that uses dry air diffusion. Originally designed with a capacitive trigger that activates LED lights and the fragrance dispenser when the side of the device is touched, the H24 sampler was adapted to the current context by adding an infrared sensor. “While infrared is not new, it wasn’t necessarily brought to the fore, as consumers like to touch things as part of the in-store experience,” Gesnouin explains. For J’adore Dior, the company designed a suspended dome fitted with a motion sensor; when a person stands under the dome, the scent diffusion is triggered.

Beyond infrared, smartphones and motion-detector cameras, face, voice and sound recognition can all be paired with fragrance sampling, says Gesnouin. Going forward, Byzance is soon to launch another contactless solution that would enable a drop of fragrance to be dispensed onto the skin.

UK-based scent marketing specialist The Aroma Company has seen an uptick in its business with fragrance companies since the onset of the pandemic. “It’s been frustrating to get the industry to shake up how it offers fragrance on the high street at retail, beyond the traditional bottle and blotter option,” explains Head of New Business Development Sasha Lord. The company, which is developing bespoke diffusion tools allowing consumers to interact on social media using their smartphone to experience the scent via the display, has seen new demand for its Aromabreeze dry air diffusion technology triggered using a motion sensor. “Pre-covid, the most popular version of this was the push-button option,” says Lord. L’Oréal brands Valentino, Armani and Lancôme have all adopted this technology in their merchandising displays.

Other contactless options from The Aroma Company include Infusion, where brands can build scented boards into displays for localized diffusion, and Touch to Smell, an encapsulated technology that Lord describes as the “modern-day scratch-and-sniff”. This solution works with a gravity feed to dispense pre-scented blotters that can be rubbed on the skin.

French supplier Dapy is currently producing its new, patented contactless diffuser for a major US chain store, with its device set to roll out to more than 100 points of sale. The supplier notes that luxury brands are also showing keen interest in its Standard Automatic Tester for fragrances, which works via an infrared sensor. A switch-controlled casted metal arm makes the tester adjustable to bottles between 85mm and 130mm high. The optional back panel display is available with and without illumination, and the sampler can be customized with logos and colors.

Last year, beauty retail solutions provider Meiyume announced the prototype of a touchless, motion-activated sampling solution designed for both fragrance and skincare. Powered by batteries or AC power, the tester can be used with existing, ‘off-the-shelf products’ and either placed on store countertops or retro-fitted on existing displays. The company is able to offer bespoke designs for brands; Dior opted for the sampling solution – in acrylic and ABS - for its Dior Prestige and Capture Total skincare lines.

Sampling Innovations Europe, meanwhile, is marketing Ticket Scent, from Brazilian company Adhespack. The system dispenses individual scented samples that can be opened and resealed several times. Each sample reel is scented with a single perfume, and the design can be personalized; a QR code can also be added for promotion or other communications, the company says.

For Rochas’ new fragrance Girl, Arcade Beauty developed a POS fragrance sampling solution that uses its ScentSeal technology. The cardboard box adorned with Rochas Girl branding holds 100 printed ScentSeal cards. The distributor is initially set to roll out to department stores in Spain.

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