AI-powered make-up mirrors are driving consumers back to stores as they enhance sense of ‘fakeness’, new study finds

New research explores why consumers are reluctant to use augmented reality make-up mirrors, with users fearing Augmented Reality (AR) devices/apps distort how others see them as well as how they perceive themselves.

A new study has found that digital make-up mirrors enhance a sense of ‘fakeness’ and embarrassment and creates a desire for the ‘real’ in-store experience among consumers.

The report, co-authored by Bayes Business School and conducted between 2018-2022, has explored the psychological and sociological factors of the consumer experience when using Augmented Reality (AR) make-up technology; in particular the role that digital make-up mirrors play in enhancing people’s imagination and their perception of self.

The authors find that although individuals may feel comfortable wearing make-up when looking at themselves through a ‘real’ mirror the opposite is true when looking into a digital make-up mirror.

Consumers found that digital mirrors, promoted by brands including Charlotte Tilbury, L’Oréal and Amazon, enhanced their self-imagination as they were able to imagine themselves looking like their favourite celebrity or how they looked in the past. However, when compared with the ‘real’ shopping experience of buying make-up, AR mirrors have created a strong sense of self inauthenticity. This is because of factors including:

  • Trying make-up instore brings a sense of enjoyment, whereas looking at ourselves through a digital make-up mirror brings a feeling of ‘horror’
  • Individuals have a sense of embarrassment when using digital make-up mirrors and feel less likely to want to share digital content in their search for social acceptance
  • Make-up is an emotional experience: real instore make-up shopping is perceived as a journey of self-reflection which is difficult to compare with digital make-up mirror
  • Individuals view themselves through a lens whereby how they should look is based on a collective online observation of friends, celebrities or influencers. A digital make-up mirror hinders the way individuals search for this proxy-self.

This feeling of self-inauthenticity initially deflates the consumers’ desire to use online make-up mirrors. However, for consumers to ‘complete’ and ‘enjoy’ their shopping experience, they would rather be physically inside the make-up store. In the meantime, while these apps and devices allow them to send a photo of their transformed self to social media, they fear embarrassment from their social network. So, instead of using an AR make-up mirror to try-on makeup, consumers prefer to find a make-up influencer who shares similarity with their own look, such as skin type or face contour and follow their recommendations.

Users of the digital make-up mirror for the study criticised AR’s lack of understanding or respect for human skin, ethnicity or feelings when applying colour on skin, in particular with luxury make-up brands. They also claimed ‘shameful surprise’ with how they looked when using AR make-up mirrors. For instance, although they looked surprised when seeing AR colours on their face, they quickly felt ashamed of their AR look and would barely share their AR photo ‘privately’ with close family and friends rather than sharing it publicly online.

One participant said:

“... It’s my face. I want it. I want to feel it. I want to try it [real makeup products] on. I want to see the consistency...with makeup it’s not something that I can trust any kind of virtual augmented anything for a decision like what I’m putting on my face.”

Khaled El-Shamandi Ahmed, co-author of the study, said managers and creative companies were “a world apart” from consumers in the experience, adding that consumers must be involved as co-creators if progress is to be made.

However, he added that online AR make-up apps could drive consumers’ footfalls to visit make-up stores ahead of Black Friday on 25 November – with the most recent retail footfall figures showing a 14 per cent decline over the pre-Covid comparative period in 2019 – and enjoy ‘real’ makeup shopping experience.

“Digital make-up mirrors do not extend the self but, to the contrary, create a sense of inauthentic self that can result in embarrassment and shame. This is despite the research which promises that AR will transform consumers’ shopping experience.

“Those surveyed described finding the right make-up as an ‘emotional process’ and ‘a journey’. This study makes clear that technology, while a powerful and progressive tool in the service sector, can also be a negative and disruptive influence for the consumer.

“Technology companies and consumers are a world apart in terms of the expected and perceived digital service experience, and customer experience managers have a responsibility to balance the fun-factor with reality.”

Augmented reality magic mirror in the service sector: experiential consumption and the self by Dr Khaled El-Shamandi Ahmed, Fellow in Management at Bayes Business School; Anupama Ambika, Lecturer in Marketing at MICA in Ahmedabad; and Russell Belk, Professor of Marketing at York University, in Toronto is published in the Journal of Service Management.


Notes to editors

  1. The cross-cultural study is based on a mixed qualitative study exploring UK and Indian markets. This comprises of 30 in-depth semi-structured interviews (18 in the UK and 12 in India), of people aged between 19 and 55, followed by netnography (i.e., analysing consumer online reviews for make-up brands). Participants in the interview are both male and female consumers who are familiar with AR makeup. In addition, the authors interviewed two AR industry practitioners where one is a founder of AR agency in London and the other is the Ex-Chief Marketing Officer at a renowned AR agency in the UK. In netnography, the authors extracted 450 online posts from different Instagram AR makeup platforms in India.
  2. An example of a digital make-up mirror can be viewed belowVisual example of digital make up

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