For a brand rooted in Japanese tradition, SK-II is suddenly looking more Silicon Valley. The brand’s entrance into the world of retail is a tech-lover’s dream, filled with AI, “smart” sensors, skin scans and facial recognition technology.
Dubbed the Future X Smart Store by SK-II, the limited run (May 3 to June 28) concept store is located in Tokyo and offers shoppers a completely immersive experience filled with virtual and physical aspects.
“In the last two years, SK-II has sustained global growth in the high double-digit, mid-twenties range behind strong demand for our products—especially our best-seller Facial Treatment Essence,” said Sandeep Seth, Global CEO of SK-II. “However, what SK-II hopes to gain from the Future X Smart Store goes beyond product sales.”
“[It is] the next stage of an ongoing global transformation journey to connect with a new generation of consumers who are yearning for more meaningful engagements with the brands they know and trust.”
The idea of a “smart” store isn’t new, at least in Japan. In 2015, the country’s largest makeup store, Ainz&Tulpe, debuted a touchscreen shop window that guided consumers with how-to tips and makeup looks using facial recognition. Earlier this year Shiseido revamped its flagship in Ginza into a store of the future, too. In the U.S., brands such as Shiseido and Sephora have used handheld devices for a number of years to help consumers identify their perfect foundation shade.
What makes SK-II’s facial recognition so unique, however, is just how far down the tech rabbit hole they’ve ventured. “The SK-II skin scan offered at the Future X Smart Store leverages SK-II’s proprietary skin diagnostics—Magic Ring,” said Sandeep. “Unlike other skin scans on the market, which require direct contact with the skin, this scan performs its intelligent analysis by letting customers sit in a booth.”
Once they’ve finished their scan, consumers roam around the space and at different areas within the store, that scan is used in a variety of interactions with them to create customized product picks, as well as promote the brand’s hero product, the Facial Treatment Essence. The store even communicates with shoppers based on their emotions. “Playful brand interactions triggered by consumers’ emotions and motions will aim to instill a sense of wonder in visitors.” To achieve this type of immersive experience, the store features a whopping 43 cameras and three dozen computers throughout the space.
And, if that wasn’t enough, SK-II is also letting consumers take home a bit of that tech with their proprietary Smart Bottle. It features sensors that know when the bottle has been opened or closed and tracks daily usage through a companion app that also provides tips on getting the most out of the product.
To the brand, this is not just an attempt to create buzz—it’s a digital strategy that it thinks speaks to a new age and a new generation of shoppers. “Consumers’ expectations of product experience in today’s post-digital world is vastly different than when we started, especially in the beauty category,” said Sandeep. “Fueled by advancements in technology like VR and AR, there is an expectation from consumers for more personalized, immersive and interactive experiences from beauty brands.”
To keep up with that demand, he continues, brands need to evolve the way they communicate to satisfy this burgeoning need.
“With the Future X Smart Store, SK-II aims to bring online and offline together, seamlessly, with personalized mixed media experiences to help consumers learn about their skin and in a way that was never possible before,” he said.
And, it isn’t just a one-off pop-up. SK-II is expected to bring the Future X Smart Store to visit more cities worldwide. Those plans and specific locations are yet to be announced but Sandeep assures that they are already working with strategic retail partners to launch new ways to bring this marriage of experience and tech into the retail environment. Said Sandeep, “We hope the Future X Smart Store by SK-II will continue to evolve as a global learning lab for the brand to explore new ways of retail through the use of advanced technologies.”