L’oréal Debuts a Personalized Direct-to-Consumer Hair Color Brand

Straight out of the company's tech incubator

To start, Color&Co is rolling out in the U.S. only. Color&Co
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

For a brand with more than 100 years of experience in the beauty industry, it’s not necessarily easy to figure out which categories need disrupting—and how to do it.

That’s where Color&Co, L’oréal’s newest brand out of its tech incubator, comes in. The direct-to-consumer company aims to give people their own personalized hair color. Consumers can take part in a video consultation with an actual hair colorist (about 300 around the country as of now) to determine what their hair needs to achieve the perfect shade. They can also take a quiz which uses an algorithm to determine what shade and products are needed.

“We’re not trying to downgrade people who go to salons regularly,” said Olivier Blayac, general manager of Color&Co. “We’re trying to upgrade home users.”

With the video consultation, consumers receive a personalized hair color treatment, along with additional products they might need (for example, a product to touch up roots or to reduce brassiness). As part of the personalized experience, if consumers aren’t happy with what they get, they can take part in another consultation and Color&Co will tweak the formula—a concept that Guive Balooch, vp of technology at L’Oréal, said isn’t usually possible with dye-at-home solutions.

“[W]e are personalizing everything, [so] we’re able to go really precise and closer to what you need rather than making you jump too far where you can’t get the result you want,” Balooch said.

At debut, consumers can subscribe for $19.90 (charged at whichever frequency they decide to receive the product), or do it once for $26.90. Of course, not everyone is comfortable taking part in a video consultation, so the Color&Co team’s took a year and a half to develop a quiz that asks the same questions a colorist asks. Balooch said the algorithm takes into account hair differences like ethnicity, whether it’s been dyed before and natural undertones. In the future, Balooch said he wants the algorithm to use consumer data it’s receiving to give “more precise advice” and figure out color trends.

“We’re not trying to downgrade people who go to salons regularly. We’re trying to upgrade home users.”
-Olivier Blayac, general manager, Color&Co

“[The data is] either to improve for the customer [experience] through the personalization or through shades we should be carrying,” Balooch said.

Blayac said that the data will help give Color&Co more insight beyond hair type and trends, but across cultures, genders and more. Additionally, Balooch said that his team is comprised of half men and half women, and it includes people who live in two U.S. locations in San Francisco and New York, as well as one in Japan. This helped inform the type of algorithm they were building and the data they needed to collect to make it happen.

“The more information we collect, the more precise we will be even in the understanding of the goal of the person,” Blayac said.

To start, Blayac said Color&Co is rolling out on a grassroots level; it’s not trying to implement a massive public relations campaign. Since it takes two weeks to train colorists, and the colorists take consultations while working their day jobs, it’s not necessarily easy to handle a surge of traffic. Another potential feature down the road for Color&Co is sending people to the colorists in-person at whatever salon is closet to them. However, a big part of the job is to ensure colorists (and, by extension, Color&Co) don’t sell false promises to consumers, Balooch highlighted.

“What we have to do with beauty and technology is not only tell people what works, but also what doesn’t work,” Balooch said. “We’ve tested [the algorithm] many times, and if you can’t get from A to B, we will tell you can’t. The last thing we want is [for someone] to have a false expectation of what they can and cannot do, and I think that’s where [it’s] very important for consumers in terms of trust.”

@itstheannmarie annmarie.alcantara@adweek.com Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.