Walmart Tests ‘Virtual Mirror’ for Cosmetics

Girlfriend, if you could see what you looked like in that eye shadow, you’d leave it on the shelf. Or, better yet, you’d pick out a much more appropriate shade and buy it immediately.
A company called EZface is trying to avoid the former scenario and stoke the latter with a piece of futuristic in-store technology that allows women to try on cosmetics without opening the packages.
The fledgling firm, based in Israel and the U.S., has been testing its “virtual mirror” kiosks in Walmart stores in various markets around the country. A number of Walgreens drug stores in the Chicago metropolitan area recently installed the kiosks and plan to keep them through the holidays. Next up: Kmart and Sears stores in Chicago.
The EZface technology gives shoppers the option to snap their photo, capturing information on their skin tone, hair and eye color. Users can then play with makeup to see what will work for them. Depending on the store, the kiosks will recommend major national brands such as L’Oreal, Maybelline New York, Cover Girl and Revlon.
Rami Orpaz, CEO of EZface, likens the technology to a dressing room for your face. “If you can’t try it on, how do you know it fits you?” he said. “For retailers, if they want customers to buy, they have to let them test the product.”
Real-world testing, where consumers dig into makeup packages to try before they buy, amounts to big losses for retailers, Orpaz said, accounting for as much as 10 percent of the billions of dollars spent annually on products like lip gloss and mascara. (Color cosmetics accounted for $2.52 billion in 2009 sales, according to an August report from Mintel.)
The kiosks, which Orpaz said give a “photorealistic simulation” of what products will look like on each customer, are in test mode in a number of markets outside the U.S., including the U.K., France and Germany.
The idea for EZface came when entrepreneur Ruth Gal was trying to buy makeup online and couldn’t figure out what would suit her. She and Opraz founded EZface in 2000, and it now offers virtual makeovers via in-store kiosks, a Web site and mobile application.
It’s too early to tell how many retailers may incorporate the virtual mirrors into their stores permanently, Orpaz said, but testing will continue at drug stores, mass market and other channels. “The retail industry is quite conservative, and they’ve been selling products without this tool for years,” he said, adding that retailers can improve the bottom line by installing virtual mirrors.