To brave the ground floor of any department store is to experience a confusing duality of inner yearning (for that tub of sumptuously colored goo or that architecturally masterful perfume bottle) and a take-no-prisoners defense against a sales force looking to spray, color test or exfoliate you within an inch of your life.
But with its Cyber Beauty Advisor, a California-based makeup company called English Ideas has toned down the hard-charging counter clerk, infused her with information and put her inside an interactive touch-screen kiosk.
Powered by a high-speed Pentium computer running a CD-ROM, the English Ideas makeup kiosk was installed at Bloomingdale's in Manhattan last week, as well as in English Ideas counters at six Macy's stores on the West Coast.
When you come upon the English Ideas counter in a cramped aisle, the tall white terminal blares New Age techno music and shows footage of elegant, made-up faces, inviting you to ``touch to start.''
What follows are video snippets of Rebecca Pflueger, the English Ideas president and co-founder, dispensing advice on the causes of common beauty problems in four different categories -- lips, face, brows and eyes. In a British-accented tone, Pflueger then explains how each problem, like chapped lips or too-thin eyelashes, can be solved by an English Ideas product.
The idea for the Cyber Beauty Advisor came to Pflueger in January when she and her husband, Russell Pflueger, were looking for ways to promote their products without having to travel (they have two small children). ``This was a way to educate people without having to wander too far,'' she said.
Video kiosks in department stores are nothing new. Bloomingdale's, for example, is dotted with displays of models slinking down catwalks.
One nice thing about the Cyber Beauty Advisor, which resembles a sort of touch screen Web site in its design, is that you can control her.
``We made the segments no longer than 30 seconds to accommodate people's attention spans, but you can also stop the segment at any time and go to another one,'' Ms. Pflueger said.
Tired of hearing about why your foundation can get patchy? Just touch the talking face and Pflueger freezes in midsentence, replaced by the previous menu. (Pflueger added that her husband enjoys putting his hand across her on-screen mouth to quiet her down.)
Although it is sometimes hard to hear what the Cyber Beauty Advisor is saying against the surrounding din, Pflueger said it was designed to complement the two sales clerks behind the English Ideas counter.
``Even when you're not intimidated about going up to a counter, sometimes the salespeople are helping other customers,'' she said. ``This way, hopefully, you can get the same information and won't have to wait.'' Better still, the Cyber Beauty Advisor won't spray you with perfume.
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