Find, and book, beauty services with apps

Looking to get a haircut or manicure? Beauty apps and e-directories show you where to go, with reviews thrown in

Whenever Ms Joanne Teo searched online for where she could get her next massage or manicure, she was dissatisfied with the results turned up by search engines.

"I'd type, say, 'hair salon and Orchard' in the search box and what I got were sponsored advertisements and links. There was just not enough information on beauty services and neutral third-party reviews on the search engines," says the 27-year-old consultant.

So in March, she launched interactive beauty e-directory Mefitted.com with her friends, flight attendant Kristalle Poon, 27, and creative director Shawn Lim, 30. The trio pumped $80,000 into the business.

The site lists more than 8,200 salons by location and service type and partners 120 salon brands such as Spa Esprit Group, hair salon Prep and Porcelain Spa to offer Mefitted members exclusive discounts. There is a listing of barbers and tailors for men as well.

The site also features reviews by beauty bloggers - who they say are not paid for their reviews - as well as the salons' customers.

Mefitted.com gets an average of 600 hits a day and its directory service is free for salons and members. They plan to start charging salons a monthly subscription once they gain "enough traction".

Mefitted.com is one of a handful of new Singapore-based technology start-ups that aims to let women book their pampering sessions more conveniently.

At a click, such companies offer a quick overview and review of beauty services offered in the vicinity. Some apps also allow instant bookings. They include beauty service booking app Vanitee and beauty review platform and e-directory GetKlarity. Both were launched this year.

The latest to join the fray here is regional spa and wellness booking app Spabbly, which is slated to launch next month.

Overseas, such beauty service booking apps - such as Vaniday, Helijia and StyleSeat - are big in markets such as Brazil, China, France, the Middle East and the United States.

On the recent spate of such businesses starting up here, Ms Joelle Pang, co-founder of GetKlarity, says: "There is a huge gap in the market. We want to help salons come up with promotions and draw customers who are willing to spend on treatments. Salon owners shouldn't be thinking that discount deal sites are the only way they can get new customers."

Together with two others who are working in the technology start-up industry, Mr Anirban Dutta, 27, and Mr Justin Lee, 23, Ms Pang, 30, started the GetKlarity site in January.

In July, they added a beauty service-booking app, but it was taken offline this month for a revamp. So far, the trio have raised a "low six-figure sum" to invest in the business.

GetKlarity targets consumers who are willing to spend around $100 on a beauty service. Most of its 100 partner salons are boutique ones, such as SK-II Boutique Spa and Japanese salons Nua Singapore and Graceous Eyelash Extension Salon.

GetKlarity also features reviews by beauty bloggers - whom Ms Pang says they do not pay - and organises events at its partner salons where exclusive deals are offered to members.

Earlier this month, GetKlarity - which has more than 5,000 hits a month - organised an event at face spa Jet Concepts - with relative success.

Ms Gladys Cheng, the salon's director, says: "Through such activities, GetKlarity helps bring customers to us and provides us with an opportunity to interact with them.

"Although more than 50 people signed up for the event and only 11 turned up, five ended up booking appointments with us that day."

GetKlarity charges its partner salons a marketing fee - between $1,000 and $10,000 - for such customised events and features in its e-magazine.

Beauty service booking app Vanitee allows users to search by location, review a service, chat with service providers, and book and pay for anything from nail grooming to make-up services. Instead of big salon chains, most of the 450 listings on the app are small home- based beauty enterprises or individual beauticians.

"We believe these small beauty business owners can offer better and more personalised services than the larger beauty chains and the platform allows passionate individuals to launch their business within 24 hours," says Vanitee co-founder Douglas Gan, 32.

He founded the app in May, along with Mr Choy Peng Kong, 30, Ms Kuik Xiao Shi, 31, and Mr Meters Ang, 26. Vanitee is an extension of Vanity Trove, the beauty sampling service launched in 2012 by Mr Gan and Mr Choy. Mr Gan is not new to technology start-ups - he sold ShowNearby, a location-based mobile app, to Global Yellow Pages for $3.5 million in 2010.

In July, Vanitee received funding of $2 million from Singapore cosmetics distributor Luxasia and angel investor Robert Yap.

Ms Sabrina Chong, head of corporate development at Luxasia, says: "We saw a gap in the beauty market for a mobile reservations solution for beauty services and decided to invest in Vanitee, which makes finding beauty services quicker and easier by connecting customers directly with individual beauty service providers."

Popular Japanese community beauty review portal @cosme also recently invested an undisclosed amount in the business, making the move its first foray into South-east Asia.

Mr Kei Sugawara, chief financial officer of beauty company iStyle Inc which operates @cosme, says: "We are confident that with our experience as the largest cosmetics and beauty portal in Japan and North Asia, and our investment in Vanitee's growing network of independent beauty professionals, we will focus our efforts on revolutionising how consumers in Singapore and South-east Asia purchase and experience cosmetics and beauty products and services."

Mr Gan says Vanitee has served about 3,000 customers to date, with each of them booking at least twice and spending an average of $60 for a beauty service.

Vanitee takes a 20 per cent cut of salons' earnings derived from first- time customers who book through its app. Mr Gan adds that before a service provider is listed on the app, it has to fulfil 27 criteria of checks, which include necessary certifications and cleanliness of amenities.

Being listed on the directory is free for service providers.

Ms Sophia Soh of Nailworkz at Beauty World Centre has listed her business on Vanitee since August. She has had three new customers book an appointment with her through the app, and says the platform can help her reach out to a younger crowd that is lacking in the mall where she is located.

She also uses social media platforms such as Instagram to promote her business among younger consumers.

Vanitee intends to expand its services to Malaysia next year.

Filling the spa, beauty and wellness gap in the regional market is the new beauty service booking app Spabbly. When it goes live next month, it will offer access and exclusive deals to beauty services at more than 50 premium spas. These include So Spa at the Singapore Resort & Spa Sentosa; Chi Spa at Shangri-La Singapore; The Royal Kirana Spa & Wellness in Bali, Indonesia; and spa-hotel chains Alila Hotels & Resorts and Banyan Tree.

Besides Singapore, the spas are spread across popular regional destinations such as Bali, Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Hua Hin.

On Spabbly's selling point, co-founder Tee Kien Nguan, 39, says: "Currently, most other players are single destination apps or websites focusing on domestic consumption, which limits the average traveller who makes two to three short trips each year and enjoys exploring different experiences when he goes for his 'spacations'. Spabbly provides both the variation and breadth in terms of product and destination choice."

He aims to get 1,000 spa partners in the region on board by the end of next year.

Other features on the Spabbly app include price comparison and flash deals.

Mr Tee and his co-founder Thomas Seet, 40, are former employees of travel-booking site Expedia and were responsible for growing the brand's business in Asia. They decline to reveal how much money was invested in Spabbly.

When this reporter tested out a couple of these beauty platforms over the weekend, she found that they definitely make it more convenient to find reliable salons nearby and book appointments. However, it can be challenging to make last- minute bookings because it depends on the service provider's schedule.

Ms Deborah Yap, 28, an accounts manager in an advertising firm who is often on the lookout for good deals and reputable salons, says such e-beauty platforms are helpful for consumers like her.

She has been a GetKlarity member since May and has booked two facial sessions on special promotions through the site. "I'm too lazy to do my own research on the best salons to visit, so whenever I need a facial, I'll browse the site for recommendations and ask questions through the live chat box."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'App way to beauty services'. Print Edition | Subscribe