Macy's Self-Service Makeup Centers Could Go Much Farther

When reports hit this week that Macy's was trialing self-service makeup centers—to be called Impulse Beauty—at about 15 locations, we initially thought the retailer was leveraging kiosks. Alas, nothing so digital is going on at Macy's. But the potential for replacing pancake with pixels is quite real.

Envision a customer walking up to a kiosk, looking into a mirror and smiling. The mirror digitally captures the customer's face. With the captured face on a screen, the customer chooses makeup options.

Those choices could be made on a computer screen (iPad app anyone?) or, better yet, via RFID tags affixed to the samples—similar to the efforts of some Japanese retailers. A customer picks up one lipstick and that option appears on the screen. It can be applied to the face on the screen, saved and then compared with a half-dozen other shades, side by side.

At a click, those images could be E-mailed (or texted) to the customer or posted on a password-protected Web page. Or, if the customer has the right free app on her PDA, the kiosk could even beam the images directly to the customer's phone via Bluetooth. From there, it's a click for the customer to share them with friends and family for instant feedback before making her final choices.

This approach would need to deal with lighting issues (perhaps a pull-down menu with a dozen lighting options, such as office, moonlight stroll, spotlight on stage, etc.?) on the screen in addition to lighting issues in the store. The screen's resolution itself also must be carefully chosen so the images shown are as realistic as possible. This is fine technology as long as it doesn't fuel huge returns when the makeup looks quite different in the natural light outside.

It would be nice to also allow for other images to be offered, such as if the person was trying to buy for a romantic partner, sister, daughter, mother, co-worker, etc.

The creativity behind such an app would have no limits. Perhaps an option to change hair color to see how different rouge shades would look if the customer morphed from brunette to blonde or from blonde to redhead?

When stores remove the sales associate from the picture, it can be a good thing only if there's something persuasive and helpful as a replacement. A kiosk can deliver data in a permanent and sharable fashion, all without a benefits plan.