If you asked me a few years ago what makeup product I was buying most often, I would say lipstick. Yet, you would hardly ever see me wearing it. Since this was pre-pandemic, protective masks were not the reason; it was all about shade choice. The shades were beautiful; they were supposed to work well with my skin tone, but something didn’t look right. At some point I just decided that a bold lip is not the right look for me and stopped buying bright lipstick altogether. Then I happened to play with the in-store augmented reality mirror at a beauty retailer, virtually trying on colors that I would have never considered buying, and to say I was surprised with what shades looked good on me would be an understatement. Lipstick testers from store displays were the last thing I wanted to put on my lips, so I missed many an opportunity to buy the perfect shade.

As a color category, makeup is about finding the right shade. The retail lockdown in 2020 meant that in-store testers were unavailable and limited consumers’ ability to try makeup products in-person. According to the latest NPD Makeup Consumer Report, shoppers’ preference for stores that allow them to self-test products declined significantly in the past year. As of this spring, only one-third of makeup users indicate that that’s how they prefer to shop for makeup – a far cry from the 41% who responded similarly before the pandemic. Considering how important finding the right shade of makeup is, the inability to try color cosmetics before committing to a purchase can be a significant factor in prestige makeup sales performance.

One way consumers can see how a product would look is trying it on virtually. The concept is not very new, and there are a host of apps, websites, and in-store augmented-reality mirrors that can meet this need. Yet, makeup users’ awareness of virtual try-on is quite low. According to NPD’s report, half of makeup users didn’t know they could try on makeup virtually, with 43% of Gen Z and Millennials saying so. This finding is quite surprising, considering these generations are more familiar with the latest technologies. Low awareness is clearly a missed opportunity for beauty brands and retailers, since the influence of virtual try-on has on those who have used it is high: 60% said it influenced their decision to make a makeup purchase.

Even with COVID vaccination levels rising, and retail becoming more accessible, it could take time for consumers to return to pre-pandemic makeup shopping behaviors. Luckily, we live in the age of technology. Making consumers aware that there are useful (and fun!) augmented-reality technologies that allow them to virtually try on makeup could help boost category sales.