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Target turns to AR, chat services to boost beauty sales

The new tools follow some major trends in retail: An emphasis on improved customer experiences and the growth of mobile-based commerce.

Video: Businesses still to warm to VR and AR

Target on Wednesday announced it's introducing augmented reality tools and new digital chat services to give a boost to its beauty business.

The new tools follow some major trends in retail: An emphasis on improved customer experiences and the growth of mobile-based commerce.

On the AR front, the retailer announced Target Beauty Studio -- an AR experience developed in partnership with Perfect Corp's YouCam Makeup tool. Target Beauty Studio, now available in 10 select stories via a digital screen in the beauty department, will let customers "try on" hundreds of makeup items, including lipsticks, false eyelashes, blush, and more. Target will roll out the feature to other stores later this year. It will also be available on Target.com, on desktop, and mobile.

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The beauty industry has been a natural market for AR technologies, given the potential for enhancing customer interactions. Last year, the shopping network QVC also turned to the YouCam Makeup tool to let customers "test" beauty products before making a purchase. Meanwhile, retailer Sephora worked with ModiFace to launch a similar AR experience in 2016 called Virtual Artist. Since its launch, customers have tried on 200 million shades via Virtual Artist and have visited it more than 8.5 million times, according to Sephora.

Target on Wednesday also announced that it's bringing its Beauty Concierge service to customers on mobile and desktop platforms. Currently, Beauty Concierge representatives offer advice to customers in stores.

With the new service, when a customer is browsing the Target.com cosmetics or skin care pages, a chat icon will pop up when a Beauty Concierge representative is available, and they will provide answers in real time. Customers will also be able to text "BeautyChat" to "Target" (827492) to receive prompt responses from a Concierge.

Read also: AR and VR: The future of work and play? | Research: 67 percent considering adoption of augmented reality in the enterprise | Executive's guide to the business value of VR and AR (free ebook) | Ten industries using augmented reality and virtual reality | Five tips for creating virtual reality product demos | Five ways augmented reality will transform your business

While commerce has already moved online, it's about to become largely mobile: Adobe recently identified retail trends gleaned from companies that use its analytics products, showing that smartphones are poised to overtake desktops as the main way consumers visit retailers digitally.

Target continues to make investments that combine digital tools with the strengths of its brick-and-mortar presence. Last year, for instance, Target acquired Shipt for $550 million to bolster its digital fulfillment efforts and bring same-day delivery to stores.

After publishing its Q4 2017 financial results in March, CEO Brian Cornell said, "Our team is laser focused on creating the kinds of experiences that are worth the trip or an extra click... In beauty this means making sure our guests see themselves in the product and the marketing, asking for what we can do to encourage them to explore even more."

Other stores are also finding ways to combine digital commerce with in-store sales, finally bouncing back after taking a brutal hit from the rise of Amazon and e-commerce. Macy's, for instance, just published strong first quarter earnings, boosted by double digit growth in its digital business.

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