The makeover mainframe

The makeover mainframe

THOSE dwelling in the digital age are crippled by the paradox of choice: Decision-making has become a drawn-out process of surfing and cross-referencing multiple review sites and apps to determine the best hotel, restaurant or film to pick in a sea of options. And with the average Singaporean woman being the biggest spender in the region on beauty products, haircuts and visits to a facialist - according to a 2011 Frost & Sullivan survey - she would certainly want to ensure that the prettifying spot she picks is the highest-rated option.

Say "hello" to no less than 18 apps and websites serving as platforms for user reviews as well as booking services, ranging from home-based manicures to top-end celebrity salons. The latest to join the battle of the beauty techies? Vaniday, a global beauty booking app backed by e-commerce behemoth Rocket Internet - the folks behind fashion e-tailer Zalora - that is set to officially launch its first Asian platform here next week.

Vaniday CEO Robinson Blanckaert
Photo: Vaniday

"Singapore is not that small actually," says Robinson Blanckaert, the Singapore-based co-founder and managing director of Vaniday. "We have the most active spa-going population across the globe. As a matter of fact, there are over 18,000 beauty salons spread across the country. But obviously Singapore is a launchpad to the rest of Asia."

Vaniday currently boasts over 800 salons on its app and apart from allowing customers to easily compare, review and book an appointment, beauty businesses are able to manage their operations such as staffing, appointment-making and invoicing through a free software provided by the company.

While the revenue stream of most of these platforms comes from either a subscription fee paid by salons and beauty practitioners or a commission from every booking made, the main draw for consumers is their databases of services and user reviews.

If one requires an emergency touch-up of her wonky lash extensions and her usual therapist is fully booked, she would rather pick a place that's received the stamp of approval from fellow beauty junkies, rather than walk into just any other salon. And with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) receiving a sizeable number of complaints about spas and beauty-related businesses - almost 2,000 cases of negative feedback were lodged in 2014 - and an increase in complaints about unsubstantiated claims by beauty industry advertisements last year, conducting due diligence before stepping into a salon isn't in vain.

"The reason I started Beauty Undercover was that I am sceptical of reviews by bloggers and magazines," says Gabrielle Tan, who founded the beauty review site in 2011. "That is why I wanted to create a platform where actual customers - regular people like you and me - could share their personal experiences at the salons."

The former brand consultant first came up with the idea for her website when purchasing beauty deals on online discount marketplace Groupon, and experiencing varying levels of quality. She began to conduct research online and realised that feedback on such services was not consolidated on any single platform.

Today, beauty review and booking platforms are aplenty and face stiff competition, given our population size and number of similar businesses. With most sites focused on one category of beauty over another, it seems only the big boys with deep pockets have the resources to cover the widest range of services possible. Vaniday, for example, has reportedly raised 15 million euros (S$23.54 million) in funding.

"Vaniday is built to scale," adds Mr Blanckaert. "We are already 'live' in six countries and it (the expansion) will not stop any time soon. From the launch in each country, we've learnt a lot of lessons. Today, for example, we send down to every salon a professional photographer so that each business benefits from professional images."

Vanitee, a local startup that provides quality beauty services from sought-after independent and emerging artists. 
Photo: Vanitee

Given the support received by a global company such as Vaniday, Vanitee, a local startup which has since raised S$5 million in seed funding, has been attempting to rally together the many local platforms to strengthen its position against new entrants.

"When we started Vanitee, we presented acquisition offers to about seven beauty startups but were rejected for various reasons, largely due to unrealistic valuation demands," says Douglas Gan, chief executive officer of Vanitee, who launched Vanitee last May. "If the competitors do not unite, we will start seeing more startups closing down. I say, don't worry about the valuation, if we can dominate the market together, we can all share the pie."

A consolidation of services will also streamline the decision-making process for beauty fans. After all, treating oneself to a pampering massage or spa day should be a relaxing experience, rather than the cause of unnecessary stress.

This article was first published on February 20, 2016.
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