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Brief Published: 18 Sep 2018

Coty & Boots: AI Boost for Online Fragrance Sales

UK retailer Boots now offers a Fragrance Finder for online shoppers

Consumers can't smell perfumes online. But an AI-powered fragrance finder, created by beauty giant Coty for UK retailer Boots, is finding a way around the problem – and reporting very promising results.

Multinational Coty has unveiled initial feedback on its artificially intelligent Fragrance Finder, launched on Boots.com in early 2018. Coty's e-commerce director Jamie Parker recently spoke at Tech., the new retail technology show staged in London (September 12-13).

Coty began with a question, said Parker: "How do we connect people with the fragrances they love?" Interviews with 5,000 people provided the core data for the tool, improved through machine learning.

By asking a series of questions of the online shopper, the company has created an effective solution. Intriguingly, as Parker highlights, the most predictive questions are not about preferred olfactive families (consumers often don't know what they want) – but about colour, architecture or lifestyle.

The Fragrance Finder represents a new take on the Scent Finder pioneered by San Francisco start-up Pinrose in 2014. This was based on a special algorithm developed as a result of a collaboration between Christine Luby, who studied the psychology of scent at college, and US olfactory expert Alan Hirsch from the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago.

Since a low-key launch with no media support, the Boots.com finder has logged 200,000 sessions, with consumers guided through a seven-stage process. Seventy-five per cent of all sessions have been completed, with 94% undertaken for self-purchase. Details of the uptick in sales were not revealed, but Coty believes it has developed a tool that has potential right across the fragrance category.

Also developed by Coty is an AI CoverGirl 'shop the look' feature for Walmart in the US which, unlike most other similar tools, does not require the consumer to download an app – it's offered in-browser. Coty says traffic has doubled, with sales enjoying a very significant spike. Next up for early 2019: a virtual make-up artist.

For more on personalised beauty, see our report Future Beauty: Perfecting Bespoke.