Beauty may be only skin deep. But the bond between the average woman and her chosen face wash, moisturizer, or liquid eyeliner? Try seriously deep. Like you couldn’t pry them from her cold, dead, gel-manicured hands deep.
And given the way most women shop for makeup, skincare, and beauty products today, the vice-like grip on favorite finds makes sense. Unlike trying on a new dress or the 23 pairs of jeans it’ll inevitably take before you find the right ones, testing out new beauty products is more difficult and varied.
You can sit captive to a high-pressure sales pitch in the nearest department store’s beauty floor, pay for an expensive makeup consultation at a day spa or salon, chance it with testers in retail displays, experiment with samples tossed in with other beauty purchases and sold via online-only subscription services such as BirchBox and BeautyArmy, or spend hours combing the legions of product-specific online reviews and tutorials available on sites such as Beautylish and YouTube. With expert advice or a trial run being a necessary part of making a smart beauty purchasing decision, it’s no wonder that only 6% of beauty and personal care sales occur online, according to recent Euromonitor findings.
“I love skincare, but for me finding the right product is hard. You go to the store, and there are so many products, and you read reviews, but those reviews are for people sort of like you, but not you. On YouTube, the tutorials are great, but there are still a lot of questions, like what products do you recommend for me?” says Caroline Dahllof, who cofounded 105 Looks  with brother Marcus Dahllof and Mitra Roknabadi.
That question led the Dahllofs and Roknabadi to launch their company, which pairs shoppers with beauty stylists via Skype and sends a personalized box of products after the initial consultation. While numerous individual makeup artists have already used Skype to offer tutorials and companies such as Beautylish and Coterie have recently begun pushing the boundaries of beauty e-commerce by selling curated selections of beauty products and exclusives from a limited number of brands, 105 Looks stands out for pairing personalized advice meted out via a live beauty stylist with the ability for customers to buy from a wide range of popular department store brands.
Since its debut in September, the Los Angeles- and New York-based startup and First Growth Venture Network participant has focused on refining its service and growing an audience made up not of the cult beauty fans that populate many beauty blogs and online beauty communities today, but the same shoppers who’d ordinarily head to the department store beauty floor or troll the aisles at Sephora.
Visitors to the site fill out a one-page questionnaire with information about their skin, hair, beauty, and makeup routines, current brands, and skincare concerns. Next, each is matched with a beauty stylist for a free 30- to 40-minute Skype consultation covering skincare and makeup routines, questions about product use, and current product needs.
After the consultation, 105 Looks ships customers a box of beauty items selected to fit their needs, often made up of a combination of new products recommended by the beauty stylist and refills of items already part of the shopper’s routine. Prices mirror retail and brands include “the same prestige brands as high-end department and specialty stores,” a roster that the company hasn’t released in full, though a customer service agent and Facebook images confirm that the list of possibilities includes Nars, Laura Mercier, Trish McEvoy, Sisley, Bobbi Brown, Shiseido, Dior, and Amore Pacific. Like many fashion subscription services, 105 Looks allows customers to return what they don’t want, and both shipping and returns are free.
While consultations may also be done via phone if a customer prefers, Dahllof says using Skype allows stylists to get to know customers, their likes and dislikes, and offer them tips on how to use products.
“If they want to show them how to apply eyeliner, they can actually show them,” she says.
It’s that human input, the sort that has been attracting women to beauty counters for decades, that’s currently difficult to find online. What’s more, Dahllof is betting it’s not only what shoppers want, but also what they need:
“It seems like everybody really wants this personal service,” she says. But at the same time, “Every skin is very different, and products react differently on different skin.”
[Image: Flickr user inger klekacz ]