The global pandemic has resulted in many industries such as food and beverage, and tourism, embracing technology to diversify services, enhance the customer experience, provide longevity to the business and support a drive in market growth and revenue during lockdown restrictions.
We all saw Deliveroo for example expand its service by partnering with grocery retailers Aldi, Morrisons and Sainsbury's during the first lockdown to help UK households have access to essential items through their takeaway delivery service app such as milk, bread, and pasta within 30-minutes of ordering.
AirBnB was another player to develop a platform which allowed users to book from a wide range of options and pay through their system giving the customers a seamless experience and peace of mind with a single point of contact to address any issues rather than be redirected from party to party in a bureaucratic misery. Similarly, for the owner of the holiday rental property, this revised approach allows them to generate revenue from a stagnant asset and get extensive marketing in the process.
Some corners of the leisure and lifestyle industry however have been left by the wayside, whether that is through being too comfortable with existing, traditional processes, lack of talent and forward thinking or just not believing innovation is needed - they’ve been successful until now, so why bother?
The reality is this corner of the world is in crisis. Personal care facilities including hair salons, barbershops and beauticians - amongst other professional industries - have once again been left devastated as the third national lockdown has forced businesses to close and livelihoods to come to a grounding halt. The impact of lockdown restrictions, as well as fluctuating tiered systems at such short notice, is a huge blow to an industry where over half of professionals are self-employed (hairdressing and barbering 54 percent and beauty 57 percent), and cannot switch to online sales or a takeaway service. In addition to this recent surveys and research have confirmed that many hair and beauty businesses are literally teetering on the edge financially.
Tech keeping entire industries alive
The latest available figures (2018) show that the UK hair, beauty and barbering industry employs over 280,000 people and generates over £8 billion in turnover for the UK economy. But the impact of the global pandemic has resulted in the industry being brought to its knees by the lack of innovation in its approach to staff and customers alike. This in turn has created an inefficiency in the optimization of revenues.
The personal care industry has seen some progress with booking apps such as Treatwell allowing customers to book in advance at salons and barbershops, but at the time of writing no developments have occurred between the freelance professionals and the hair and beauty venues. In fact, to this day it has been an industry that until now has relied on having to post on unreliable, costly and time-consuming online classified communities such as Gumtree to rent space!
Salon business owners are finding themselves with unused real estate in the form of empty chairs and outdated ways of marketing them directly to professionals who need a place to work. Similarly, professionals who want to work on their own schedule are either tied in to a long-term, fixed contract or search through general advertisement sites and newspapers to see who was renting.
This is where the implementation of tech can really bolster this type of industry. The role of technology has played a vital role in keeping companies and even sectors alive and I am confident it will do the same within the Hair and Beauty industry. The key is for professionals and businesses to embrace it because it will open up a whole new world of opportunities including addressing one of the biggest issues - flexibility.
One of the trends which has come as a result of the global pandemic is a rise in the H&B workforce wanting to work more flexibly and having the freedom to work to their own schedule. The H&B industry is very much a freelance based industry yet there were limited platforms to accommodate their needs in how they worked - until now.
I believe that there will be technological systems powered by AI and machine learning in place which will give suggestions as to which premises might be best for a certain beauty professional based on particular criteria. Similarly, shop owners will no longer need to spend on marketing costs but instead have a database of professionals where the best options will be automatically selected for them. When you look at what AirBnB has brought to the lodging sector, we can see similar attributes being brought into hair and beauty which is that more people will open barbershops, salons or studios as an investment and make passive income through renting chairs without managing it.
As other industries have moved towards a cashless approach, payments within the hair and beauty industry are still very much through cash and have not yet adapted to the more digital landscape. More and more places as well as freelance professionals will start to adopt cashless transactions and use systems such as SumUp or Square as a means of security and transparency.
The loyalty card as a concept is far from new, and has proved itself time and time again when it comes to customer retention. But the H&B industry is yet to properly succeed. Loyalty is built in the hair and beauty world with a customer very often going to one barber or one hairdresser as familiarity is something most consumers value. However, this has hindered the progress and development of hair and beauty professionals so far. It’s been very difficult to build up a client base and attract new customers.
With the advancement of technology, professionals will be able to reach out to new clients who may be located out of their patch. Customers will be able to contact their barbers and hairdressers remotely, allowing professionals to be mobile and serve their larger client pool more effectively. We believe that this trend will cause the freelance market to grow rapidly in a snowball effect as the success that technology will bring to freelancers will cause more professionals to follow suit and work flexibly.
With more and more technology being developed within the space, data will also become more important than ever. The data that will be collected from all areas will allow for better efficiencies and businesses to make better decisions. Professionals will also benefit from understanding client activity, trends, alongside giving them the opportunity to become proactive in making a change in the sector rather than being reactive.
AI powered systems can create hyper personalized experiences for existing customers too, even giving professionals the chance to ‘surprise and delight’ their clients, all by leveraging the data and understanding what it is they really want and need.
According to The Telegraph, over 4,500 hairdressers and salons have closed for good since the start of the global pandemic. But there is hope! Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been vocal about an imminent review of the restrictions on the beauty sector, and the country as a whole, in the first week of February depending on the rollout of the vaccinations.
Covid-19 has been the catalyst for change. All parties involved within the hair and beauty industry; customers, beauty professionals and business owners will want an easier and more effective way to do business. Technology will be at the forefront to provide longevity for the businesses. In order to keep on top, they will need to embrace the change that is coming.
Omer Ukuser, co-founder, HairFare