Ulta Beauty has a new partnership with hair color brand Madison Reed: The beauty retailer will sell Radiant Hair Color Kits, a product previously available only on Madison-Reed.com.
The partnership also will leverage “Madi,” a color-recognition chatbot created by Madison Reed engineers that gives consultations just as a human colorist would do in a salon. The chatbot can assist customers as they shop in-store, and as they have questions (such as “Which color should I choose?”), they can text “Hello” to 34757. Madi then will prompt them to upload a selfie focused on the face and hair, ask a few quick questions and recommend the perfect hair color.
In addition to Radiant Hair Color Kits, Ulta Beauty stores will carry six shades of Madison Reed Root Touch Up. In select stores, the new Root Reboot will also be available in a half dozen shades. Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kits, Root Touch Up and Root Reboot will also be available for purchase via the Ulta website.
Ulta Beauty lately has been a true rarity among retail store operators: It's gung-ho on expanding its brick-and-mortar footprint, planning to open 100 stores this year even while it recently missed revenue expectations. And if it's opening these stores, it had better have some pretty good ideas for how to keep foot traffic flowing and keep customers engaged.
Offering a hair color kit that previously was sold exclusively through Madison Reed's website is at least one way to do that. In a similar fashion, we recently saw Ulta competitor Sephora forge an exclusive partnership to offer products from Skin Laundry. Being able to partner with a rising brand is always a plus for a retailer, giving them products that are likely to move quickly, and also enhancing their reputations as trend spotters.
But, beauty is a beast — a market beast, that is. Traditional beauty retailers are suddenly needing to compete not only with one another, but also with more department stores and apparel retailers that are eyeing beauty products and services as a way to wake up revenue prospects for their brick-and-mortar stores. That means the traditional beauty retailers need more than marketing partnerships.
Sephora has eagerly embraced new technology, such as chatbots, and Ulta's move to leverage Madison Reed's Madi follows the same strategic thinking. A recent study suggested that more than 60% of consumers would feel comfortable chatting with a chatbot, and allowing customers to use a chatbot to help them choose the right hair coloring kit could help them move more quickly to make a purchase than if they have to wait for a store associate to be free. Using the Madi chatbot while shopping at Ulta may help them feel closer to Madison Reed, but Ulta will still see its own bottom line benefits.