SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon is opening a hair salon in London, its latest push from online to brick-and-mortar — and a move that allows it to collect more real-world consumer data in the meantime.
The e-commerce giant is opening a new tech-heavy hair salon in partnership with a prominent U.K. stylist. The salon will include tablets at every chair, a screen to virtually “try on” hair colors and a station to display information about different products when a customer physically points at them, Amazon said in a news release. The salon is only open to employees to start — a traditional Amazon strategy.
Close observers of the company speculate that it could be a play by Amazon to continue its foray into computer vision, a technology it already uses to track shoppers in its Amazon Go convenience stores.
This endeavor is a bit “baffling,” said Sucharita Kodali, a principal analyst at Forrester. Hair styling is highly personal — not Amazon’s strength, she said. And artisan industries do not always lend themselves to becoming high tech, she added.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.
Amazon spokesperson Harry Staight said the company is working with brands from the salon world for the studio.
Over the past few years, Amazon has carefully pushed into brick-and-mortar retail, after spending decades training customers to shop online. It built a physical bookstore in Seattle and now has about two dozen locations. It purchased Whole Foods in 2017, adding a few hundred retail locations. It’s built pop-up stores and 4-Star stores, which sell highly ranked items from the online site.
It’s also pushed into high-tech groceries. Its Go convenience-style store scans customers’ phones when they enter, then uses sensors and cameras throughout the store to track shoppers and automatically detect which items they are picking up. They walk out without checking out, and the app charges them for what they purchased. Amazon is also rolling out Amazon Go Grocery in Seattle.
Amazon opened its first computer-vision-packed Go store in Seattle in late 2016 with plans to debut it to the public the following March. But kinks in the technology delayed the public opening several more months, to January 2018.
At the new salon, customers can check out hair colors through augmented reality before they commit to a dye, then settle into a chair with a Fire tablet. The salon will include walls of products with QR codes that display more information and, presumably, purchase options.
Amazon says it will open to the public in the “coming weeks.”
The company may see this as a way to sell similar technology to more independent salons, Kodali said. Major retailers tend to be wary of Amazon’s competitive power, but smaller stores do not always have that fear.
“It’s throwing spaghetti against the wall,” she said. “They’re very experimental, and they take what they can learn and they will definitely have learnings from this. What technology people use, how do Amazon shoppers behave, what’s the customer acquisition costs for a salon.”
The company said customers will not have to log in to their Amazon accounts to use the augmented reality features when trying out new hair styles.
The company recently launched the Amazon Professional Beauty Store in the United Kingdom, an online shop that sells wholesale beauty supplies to businesses. The new salon could offer Amazon a way to display some of those products in a real-world setting.
It’s not Amazon’s first push into fashion technology — the company released the Echo Look device in 2017 by pitching users to let it grade their fashion. The free-standing device equipped with a camera was paired with an app and was designed to analyze outfits and make suggestions. It was discontinued last year.
Amazon also offers custom T-shirt design services after analyzing photos of users’ bodies.