The spirit of experimentation has fueled makeup counters in days past and augmented reality try-ons more recently. But it’s hit a wall with e-commerce, as more beauty shoppers stick with tried-and-true products and brands, according to a new report.

Experience platform Nosto commissioned a survey of 2,000 Millennial and Gen Z beauty and skin-care consumers in the U.S. and the U.K. at the end of October and found that, when it comes to online shopping during the pandemic, 56 percent were more likely to go with brands they know and products they’ve purchased before. The figure increases to 62 percent for female shoppers alone.

The scenario seems all the more intriguing considering that a significant proportion, at 44 percent, have bought more beauty and skin-care products over the Internet as opposed to in physical stores in the last six months.

In other words, loyalty matters more than ever online. And product discovery still has quite a job to do. But some tactics work better than others.

The report reveals that “try before you buy” efforts — which offer free samples of makeup, lotion and other products — can be very effective. As many as 72 percent of respondents said they’re more likely to buy from online stores that offer it.

Forty-five percent said AR try-on features could also tilt the balance. That’s far less than physical samples, but for an all-digital solution where no actual product is involved, it makes a good case for technology investment.

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Virtual experiences are just one area where tech can take a consumer from browsing to buying.

Sixty-six percent said they’re more likely to shop stores that recommend new or relevant products similar to what the customer is looking for, and 63 percent said the same for those that remember shopping preferences and customize the online experience.

“With lockdowns and continuing concerns over COVID-19 likely to lead to the continued shutdown or restrictions of physical retail, beauty and cosmetics retailers face a huge opportunity online — despite challenges around encouraging shoppers to try out new brands and products,” said Jake Chatt, Nosto’s head of brand marketing.

User-generated content — such as photos of real people using the products — have also proven popular, with 62 percent saying it could prompt a purchase, as are online quizzes that match products to the consumer’s needs, at 58 percent.

Notably, when actual humans are involved, the figure drops: Just 41 percent said virtual or online beauty consultations with a real person would make a difference.

Still, Chatt sees opportunity there, and the company is “working to help our brands optimize their online stores to replicate the in-store experience of trying on products and getting advice from specialist consultants.”

The study went on, with consumers responding positively to stores featuring product reviews on their web sites (74 percent) and seeing details such as clean ingredients (68 percent) and cruelty-free testing (65 percent). They were not very impressed with vegan products, however, with just 41 percent saying it made them more likely to buy.

In what may be bad news for influencers and celebrity endorsements, their ability to sway reached less than half of respondents, at 44 percent.

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