In high school I used to swagger up to make-up counters, ask a bunch of questions, pretend I was going to buy something, then sheepishly ask for some samples. Which I usually got, but not without feeling rather undignified after the whole process. (Full disclosure: I still sometimes do this.)
Enter Birchbox, a new beauty e-commerce site with a few unique twists, which just launched this September. For $10 per month or $110 per year, Birchbox will send you a pretty pink box full of deluxe, oversized samples once a month. Samples span all product categories including fragrance, make-up, skin care, and hair care.
The premise is that the founders want you to be able to try a carefully curated batch of higher-end products before you invest. If you like a product, you can then buy the full-sized version directly from Birchbox. To encourage loyalty, they will give you rewards points for ordering from them, referring friends, and answering surveys. The points can be used towards future purchases.
To round it all out, Birchbox offers editorial content on the site in the form of short articles and videos. Plus all samples arrive with write-ups and how-tos which the company likens to “opening the latest magazine and having the featured products pouring out.” Two Harvard business school graduates, Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp, founded the site. Their friend Mollie Chen, a former beauty editor at Condé Nast Traveler, is the Director of Content.
There are, of course, a zillion places to buy beauty products, and samples are usually free, right? I asked Katia about their business model.
“One of the reasons we designed it this way is that there’s so much clutter in the beauty industry. We focus on the newest and hottest products. Women don’t often know how to find out about all these new things which are constantly launching,” she told me. Right now there are only 12 products for sale on the site, but Katia assured me they are slowly increasing their product line. However, it will remain carefully edited.
And finally, why should we pay for samples? “It’s actually really hard to get samples that you really want, especially the deluxe ones. At a lot of places you need to spend $100 before you get some. We will offer some hard-to-access brands, too,” Katia said. The sample sizes will be large, unique brands (like Phyto and Korres) will be represented, and they will be for products that are new.
Katia thinks that there often isn’t brand loyalty and that women like to try out lots of different products. One of the most interesting aspects Birchbox is that eventually the site will offer sample customization. You will enter your beauty profile and get samples specifically for your skin type, hair color, etc.
I actually really like this concept, despite some cons--like the fact I wouldn't be able to get the Bobbi Brown powder I've been using for six years. The prospect of a surprise package to open up every month and no more groveling for a tiny vial of potion or generic shade of lipstick? I could give up two Starbucks lattes per month for that.
--Image by Larkin Clark