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L’Oréal has launched a bot named Beauty Gifter that asks both the gift giver and the recipient questions in order to sell personalized makeup and skin care gifts via Facebook Messenger.

The bot was first made available in a soft launch last week.

Beauty Gifter is one in a series of conversational experiences L’Oréal plans to create together with Automat Technologies, a Montreal-based startup that has operated primarily in stealth since its launch last year.

Upcoming initiatives could include the use of in-store QR codes to promote conversational experiences, Automat CEO Andy Mauro told VentureBeat in a phone interview.


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“There’s a lot that can be done with that capability, and what I would say is stay tuned for where we’re going to go with that, because that’s a big part of where we’re headed,” Mauro said.

With the debut of Messenger Platform 2.0 last month at Facebook developer conference F8, the Messenger camera is now able to scan QR codes. Recent changes to Facebook Messenger mean QR codes can be linked not just to a bot or profile, as was the case before, but to a broader range of destinations including a specific conversational experiences within a bot, like someone who wants to look for a gift as opposed to someone who can jump directly to sales.

How the gifting works

Beauty Gifter begins by asking the price range of the gift giver and age range of the recipient. Then the gift giver sends a card to the recipient that says, “I want to buy you a gift.”

The bot then asks the gift receiver a series of questions about their skin tone and type, what color combinations they prefer, and whether dry or oily skin are concerns. Once questions are finished, the bot then sends a series of gift options to the gift giver.

According to Mauro, asking the gift receiver what they want doesn’t spoil the surprise because L’Oréal owns dozens of brands, from The Body Shop to Giorgio Armani.

“There’s a whole bunch of crappy gift bots out there right now, and they mostly ask the gift giver to answer those questions. Well, the gift giver doesn’t normally know the answer to those questions, but the gift receiver does,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘Hey, it will spoil the surprise’; we’ve actually found most people don’t care about that. It doesn’t really spoil the surprise since like a dozen L’oréal brands are a part of this.”

Optimized for Messenger 2.0

Both L’Oréal and Automat were mentioned onstage at F8 last week during the keynote speech from Messenger VP David Marcus as examples of innovative bots being made on the Messenger Platform.

Marcus referred to Automat as one of a handful of companies that play crucial roles in the early Messenger bot ecosystem.

Also mentioned at various times during the annual Facebook developer conference were Messenger Platform 2.0 were Epytom Stylist, a fashion recommendation bot, and a Sephora makeover appointment scheduler bot, two bots that also help with beauty and fashion tips.

In another sign of the rush to combine fashion, bots, and ecommerce, last week Amazon launched its Echo Look, which combines Alexa and computer vision to help people pick outfits.

Marketing and sales are due to play a large role in the future of the Messenger platform. Last month in an interview with Recode prior to F8, Marcus said Messenger’s business model is centered on advertising, while earlier this year Messenger began testing advertisements on Messenger.

Mauro thinks conversational marketing could give people an experience more like what you’d find in a store and reshape the business-customer relationship as brands begin to have more direct conversations with customers.

Built in Canada

L’Oréal also recently committed to “establishing a new center of excellence for AI in Montreal.” Montreal is a city increasingly associated with the growing AI industry. In recent months companies like Microsoft and Google have also made investments in AI centers in Montreal.

Last fall Google opened an AI lab in Montreal and announced plans to grow a team there to beef up its representation in the city’s deep learning community, while Microsoft doubled the size of its AI presence in Montreal earlier this year.

Beauty Gifter will initially be available for sales in Canada only, though L’Oréal may deploy the bot in additional markets like the United Kingdom in 2018, Mauro said.

Up until now, Automat has mostly run in stealth mode, but Mauro told VentureBeat his startup is beginning to gel around what it believes is the biggest opportunity in the age of bots on chat apps like Messenger: conversational marketing that delivers direct sales or a salesperson-like experience over digital channels.

In some of its initial projects, Automat also created a Kalani Hilliker bot for fashion advice on Kik and a bot to educate people about the dangers of digging in your yard without identifying things like gas or water lines for California 811.

“I know we’ve been very quiet, very stealthy at Automat,” Mauro said. “It’s very clear to me the biggest aspect of messaging and chatbots is going to be conversational marketing, more so than things like customer service and other aspects of it.”

“Ecommerce in the last 25 years has built web and mobile storefronts that are just devoid of people, and I think conversational marketing is going to start populating those digital storefronts,” he said.

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