Ulta Beauty chief executive Dave Kimbell has highlighted the importance of human connection for beauty retailers despite the technological innovations within the industry.

Speaking at Retail’s Big Show 2024, Kimbell said that while he sees “a lot of opportunity” when it comes to AI and beauty technology, human connection and experiences for consumers remain a priority.

He said: “We innovate across all parts of our business, including beauty technology and we are leaning into AI. We know how important it is that we stay leading so that our customers can keep connected to what Ulta Beauty is delivering. 

“We see a lot of opportunity but everything we do starts with the idea of human connection because that is so important in the beauty category. 

“We see that through the behaviour of our customers, despite all the technology that is being brought forward, there is a strong desire to discover and engage with beauty in human terms.”

Highlighting some of the US retailer’s most recent focus points and innovations, Kimbell said: “The idea of consumers looking for what’s new and what’s next is so critical to the beauty business.

“I know it is also true in every other category and business but in beauty, there really is an insatiable appetite for discovering new products, services, experiences and new ways to explore the category across all ages and all groups.

“We have seen explosive growth on our app as it now represents over 50% of our ecommerce sales. More importantly, it is increasingly becoming the tool that our customers use to navigate their Ulta Beauty experience and it is a hub for our loyalty programme.

“AI has been a big area of focus for us like I know it is for everyone. We have our virtual chat capability that is fuelled by AI and an elevated virtual hair try-on capability.

“We’ve been piloting and investing in a robotic eyelash extension service and we are looking to pilot a robotic manicure capability and streamline that so that it could be something we could either offer in-store or perhaps at home. 

Kimbell also hailed the resilience of the beauty category as a whole and said that the importance it plays in the lives of consumers is “stronger than ever”.

He said: “Despite all of the economic pressures, concerns and anxieties in the world around us, the importance that beauty plays in our customer’s lives is stronger than ever.

“That is a lot down to the category as a whole as it continues to navigate and be resilient to some of the pressures that we are seeing in the overall marketplace.”