l'Oreal's iPhone app Color Genius: is it really Shazam for make-up?


One rumor about the reason why Steve Jobs always wore the same outfit, was that he considered this “one less thing to worry about”.
For the Rude Baguette readers who aren’t fashionistas and not following this week’s craziness of Paris’ Haute-Couture fashion shows, likely about 99% of all readers: In beauty and fashion the choice of color is extremely important. It is meant to be one of the most important factors to influence our decision when purchasing products. Colors are the first thing you see when you walk into a room. The colors your wear express the mood you’re in, it says a lot about how you want to be perceived by others and it varies according to your activity, whether you go to work, chill out with friends or go clubbing. You don’t make the same choices during daytime and at night, and picking or associating the right colors are crucial decisions to take, for some people multiple times a day.
The Color Genius | by l'Oreal
So when the announcement of the Color Genius iPhone app hit our mailbox it made me curious. It is a smart move, even more though if it fulfills on its promise as being the “Shazam of beauty”. This is how l’Oréal, the worlds leading cosmetic and beauty company who has created Color Genius, calls the app. They present it as one of several moves they are undertaking as part of their global digital strategy.
To be straight upfront: calling Color Genius the Shazam of beauty[FR] is a very clear overstatement. It worked fine to get my attention, but there is not much that comes even close to the magic Shazam’s real mobile app provides in the field of music.
Color Genius works nicely for one single purpose : finding the make-up tone that fits your outfit. It is very limited, however, and surprisingly misses a few features that one would expect from any app nowadays.
Undoubtably there is value for this free utility app that targets women who are looking for recommendations or inspiration for the color of their lip-stick or eye-make-up. This might apply to almost 100% of all women. The usability is very nice for the iPhone app’s main purpose. You can pick a picture from your library or take a new photo, the image is then decomposed into 9 colors of which you pick the main color that you want to associate your make-up to. In two more clicks you indicate first if you want to “match it”, “blend it” or “clash it” and second if you’re looking for an daylight or evening recommendation.

As result you get a set of three recommended products which are nicely displayed as carousel. Finally, you can add the products to your favorites or share it with your friends and followers.

It’s nothing spectacular, there no sophisticated algorithm behind the scene, but it’s easy to use and instantly gratifies the user with good recommendations. I am sure it will help many users indeed to have “one less thing to worry about”. However, once you’ve done this a few times, the sexy-ness of the screens becomes less important and you quickly realize the missing items and messy navigation.

I can’t pretend to be the target user, but here is what I would expect this Color Genius app to do, maybe in the next version:

  • Once I reached the recommended products I can’t buy them. Very disappointing. Why can’t I just click and purchase it right from this app or find the closest store with L’Oréal products based on my location? The app does nice branding for l’Oréal products, but it is missing the transactional process and geo-localization.
  • Then, of course, Color Genius only recommends l’Oréal’s own products. It’s understandable, but if they wanted really to become the Shazam of beauty, it has to open-up and become the central app where users can not only find one single brand’s products. L’Oréal is worldwide leader in this market and they can do it, although right now the app is not even covering product recommendations of all brands owned by the company. This is a big limitation in my view.
  • Among the missing features, other then localization services, I would place on top the fact that you can’t access the pictures you have taken and process them a second time. You have to take a new picture every time, because the past pictures aren’t even stored in your photo library. And also, you never see the picture again and can’t find the associated product with your outfit.
  • Thus you end up with a nice list of recommended products that you can add to your favorites, but you don’t see anymore for which occasion they were recommended. The value of the app is then almost reduced to zero. And this makes sharing the results very un-sexy, because what is most social about “colors” is visualizing the outfit and color choices, not just sharing a product. I doubt Color Genius will have big social activity.

To conclude my impression: It’s a very rudimentary app that despite a nice interface and easy-of-use at first glance, clearly does not fulfill the expectation. Color matters, and l’Oréal knows this and should do better then this. I was eager to explore the beauty giants’ digital plans, of which this app is part of, but they did not yet return our calls to discuss their digital strategy. I’ll update the readers if something interesting comes up.