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You Can Now ‘Try On’ and Buy 900 Lipsticks On Facebook

Facebook has been steadily ramping up its e-commerce initiatives. Last summer the company made the "Buy" button more widely available for use on the site; in April of this year the platform announced that users could shop directly from the Spring shopping app and 1-800-Flowers via chatbot. Now it wants to help you buy lipstick, and yes, you can try it on first.

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ModiFace, the augmented reality company that’s produced makeup try-on apps like L’Oreal Paris’ Makeup Genius and most recently developed an app for Avon, is getting into the e-commerce game via Facebook Messenger. Today it launched a service it’s calling a "beauty advisor" to help you virtually try on lipstick and then, if you like what you see, buy it instantaneously in the Messenger app.

To access the service, you go to Messenger and find ModiFace in contacts. When you do, a prompt pops up: "Hey there, do you want to find the perfect lipstick? If so, tell me your favorite brand or shade." It tells you how many products it found matching your parameters, and presents a horizontally scrolling feed of the products with names and prices. Under each product is a button allowing you to buy it or try it on. If you opt to try it on, you’re prompted to upload a front-facing photo, and within a few seconds you see yourself virtually "wearing" the shade.

Parham Aarabi, the CEO and founder of ModiFace, saw a huge opportunity on Facebook versus developing a shopping app independently. (ModiFace has its own try-on apps, but none that feature a shopping function.) "There’s always a case to be made for custom apps for a brand, but the thing with Facebook Messenger is that it has a billion users," Aarabi told Racked on a call. "We’re really leveraging the traffic that Facebook Messenger has and finding the best makeup products for [users]."

Right now, those products are limited to lipstick. "We wanted to focus on a very narrow problem and allow people via chat application to find out what lipstick is best for them," Aarabi explained. "In some ways it’s an experiment for us to see how people interact, what questions people ask, how people converse, and that all provides more information so we can make the system better and better over time." Users can try on 900 lipsticks from 70 different brands. ModiFace has access to over 20,000 makeup items total that it eventually hopes to make available via Messenger.

Once the company works out glitches, more categories of products, as well as more brands and retailers, will be added. While trying out the app, I couldn’t get products from Chanel, MAC, L’Oreal Paris, or Maybelline, and right now Sephora is the only retailer you’re diverted to when you push the "buy it" button, so all of its brands are available. Aarabi says that Amazon will be added to the retailer list soon and that "the products you see today could change dramatically day by day." ModiFace will charge brands and retailers a flat annual fee to be included in the service.

There are a few glitches for sure. To start, sure you're facing forward when you take your picture. For a few shots, I was slightly turned and the app wouldn’t accept my photo. In some pictures (like the one above) my lips got washed out, and my resulting lipstick made me look like Kylie Jenner pre-lip plumpers. (Not that there’s anything wrong with thin lips, mind you, but mine aren’t that thin in real life, even with the thinning effects of dark lipstick.)

When buying makeup online, you always have to worry about how the color’s rendered — is what you see on screen what you’re actually getting in the package? Aarabi says that’s a huge part of what his company does. "We try to compensate for lighting. We try to take into account your lip shape," he said. "But it’s always a challenge. Our most recent tech actually looks very realistic. It’s believable that you’re wearing makeup." He acknowledged "it’s not perfect," though. As of early this morning, there was no functionality to download or zoom into your after lipstick picture, so it was hard for me to really get a sense of how I looked because the image was a bit small. Aarabi says that the zoom function will be in place today.

My concern is that people will use this service to try on lipsticks, then shop elsewhere, although if you add a lipstick to your Sephora cart via ModiFace, you can still go back to the site later and add a bunch of other non-lipstick items. (I tried this.)

WeChat, a messaging app in China, has been successful in becoming a one-stop app for all things, including online shopping, and Facebook clearly wants the same for Messenger. The combination of being able to see, at least generally, how a lipstick will look on your face and the ability to purchase immediately is definitely compelling. Whether it's compelling enough to stop arguing with everyone on Facebook about Donald Trump and take a break to go buy lipstick remains to be seen.

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