Considering the flashier features of L’Oréal’s 352,000 square-foot New York City headquarters — a full Essie nail salon and a Hudson River-facing terrace, for instance — it’s easy to walk right past the company’s virtual reality room.
It looks like a typical conference room. But the L’Oréal Beauty Lab, as it’s referred to internally, is stacked with virtual reality glasses and installed with a VR screen that occupies a full floor-to-ceiling space on the wall. Two other screens in the room are used to display 3D modeling demonstrations.
L’Oréal invested a pretty penny in this buzzy technology, but not to woo customers into thinking it’s cutting edge. (The company wouldn’t disclose how much it spent on the screen, but it was enough for visitors to be warned not to get too near the wall.)
While VR has been prophesied by bullish vendors and big-eyed brands as the next frontier of fashion and beauty, true utility for the technology has failed to materialize on the grand scale. Past attempts include a virtualized runway show at Tommy Hilfiger’s Manhattan store, which involved a clunky headset, and a Piaget-run polo match that felt like a stretch. In beauty, brands are developing augmented reality tools, VR’s close relative, at a breakneck speed to mimic the process of trying on makeup.
But it’s still yet to be shown that this technology can have a real impact on sales. Many brands don’t even know what to do with the data that results from a VR test, and the industry is full of skeptics.
“I’m not a big believer in virtual reality as it relates to retail,” said Scott Friend, a managing director at Bain Capital Ventures, in a previous interview. “Maybe it has a place in an industry like gaming, but having seen the best retail VR experience out there, I walked away from it thinking, ‘Why would I ever do this?’”
In order to drive real use from its in-house VR Beauty Lab, L’Oréal is turning the technology away from consumers, and focusing it instead on internal teams.