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Coty’s journey to developing voice technology

Speaking at the Decoded Future event in London this week, head of eCommerce at Coty, Christina Rapsomanikis, described the beauty company’s journey to building a voice app for Amazon Alexa.

Rapsomanikis explained that technology innovation was new to the company, which manufactures and owns brands including Max Factor, CoverGirl and Wella. “It’s only in the last 18 months we’ve really started to explore it, and we’ve done that to make sure beauty is celebrated and liberated.”

She said Coty had “dabbled quite a bit” with artificial intelligence (AI) – such as a fragrance finder for Boots which learns what resonates with customers after asking a couple of questions – but it was voice technology Rapsomanikis was keen to develop after being approached by Amazon asking them to become the first beauty company to launch an Alexa skill.

“We knew 50% of all searche will be voice by 2020,” she said. “While 77% of consumers will engage with a brand if they provide a more personalised message.”

Rapsomanikis described how two years ago no one thought consumers would buy beauty online. “But of course they do now, we’ve seen double digit growth, but we still weren’t sure if voice recognition was the right thing to do.”

An authentic experience

She explained how the eCommerce team needed to make sure voice delivery was authentic because research discovered that customers didn’t appreciate a brand being “shoved down their throat”.

Due to the nature of the beauty business, Rapsomanikis and her team decided to delay the launch of the skill until Amazon’s Echo Show device – with an integrated screen – was available. The skill, called ‘Let’s Get Ready’, launched in February 2018 after a “hell of a lot of teething” and many late-night calls with developers in New York.

Consumers can ask Alexa to open ‘Let’s Get Ready’ and using the combination of voice and a small screen would be able to understand make-up trends and add products to their Amazon basket. 

“The sweet spot was five questions about their hair or skin type, while consumers could also say they were looking for trends because they had an event to go to.”

And the statistics spoke for themselves: 95% of users were pleased with the result, and 80% of those who interacted with the skill were new customers to Coty’s brands. Meanwhile, the skill resulted in 7.5x higher click through rate than an average Amazon media campaign.

“But the most important bit is taking on our learnings,” explained Rapsomanikis. “The digital and eCommerce sphere allows us to have a dialogue with the end user, this is organic interaction so we need to listen hard.”

She added: “We also need to ensure these things live in your business, because we can launch all this cool, shiny technology innovation and it is working for the beauty industry, but it has to live – otherwise it becomes a great press story, but dies a death.”

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