We all love to sample things—from perfumes, taste testing at the grocery store to wine tastings. Retail and manufacturer brands have caught on and discovered that sampling helps expose customers to new products and are more likely to purchase if they try before they buy. Understanding that approach, and in an effort to help cut through the clutter and find products that really work, young entrepreneurs Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp (who met at Harvard Business School) co-founded the beauty sampling program, Birchbox. How it works: subscriptions can be purchased for as little as three months for $30 or as long as a year for $110. Each month, a box is delivered to your doorstep featuring five new beauty and lifestyle products.
What’s unique about this sampling program is that it’s not just a random collection of items thrown together in a box. Products are first sampled by Birchbox staff and curated each month to support a theme. For example, March’s Birchbox theme was “Spring Training.” To help whip customers’ beauty routine into shape, they selected lifestyle products such as Kusmi’s detoxifying tea, Supergoop’s sunscreen wipes, Yogini’s “scent of liberation” and a few other goodies, all with the goal of getting the recipients’ beauty regimen on the right track.
Birchbox also has an extensive e-commerce site to support the offer. Birchbox.com allows customers to fill out their beauty profiles so that Birchboxes can be tailored to the individual’s skin, hair and style. Customers can also purchase the full-size versions of the products, as well as explore editorial content via videos and articles.
Recognizing that women are not the only ones interested in beauty and grooming products, Birchbox recently launched Birchbox Man. Birchbox heard stories from their female customers about their boyfriends and husbands getting jealous of their monthly deliveries. Makes sense considering “men show a keen interest in personal appearance, with 65 percent considering their appearance important and almost half admitting what they want most is to look attractive and well groomed,” according to market researcher Mintel.
The men’s Birchbox subscription works a lot like the women’s. For a $20 monthly subscription fee, men get access to everything from high-end cleansers to aftershave, as well as some products like t-shirts and socks which aren’t samples at all (hence the increased subscription fee).
Although fairly new in its creation, Birchbox is determined to keep things fresh and ever-changing with their partnerships. Most recently Birchbox teamed up with the fashion and make-up talents of Gossip Girl to create a special edition GG Birchbox filled with items inspired by the show’s glamorous characters. And in true fashion of the brand, these boxes are also created around a theme—from a glitzy, black-tie ball to a Hamptons beach party.
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Following in the footsteps of Birchbox’s successful sampling program, NewBeauty magazine launched their own version called TestTube. How it works: every three months, for $29.95 per tube, subscribers receive a TestTube filled with deluxe and full-sized samples of exclusive beauty products and the latest issue of NewBeauty magazine. Like Birchbox, NewBeauty also has an extensive online offer that provides editorial information as well as customer supported content.
As mentioned in a previous post, NewBeauty also recently opened the first-ever beauty store operated by a magazine. Located within the Fred Segal store in Santa Monica, this beauty concept showcases the products featured on the pages of the magazine and is supported by editorial in-store communications, as well as expert staff and demonstrations.
One of the unique features of the store is the Build Your Own TestTube experience, where customers can mix samples from 30 different available products. Steffanie Attenberg, NewBeauty Vice President Group Publisher, explained, “Bringing our incredibly successful sampling program to the retail space not only gives consumers a great way to customize their TestTubes, but it is also an amazing opportunity for us to help shape the product assortment in the store.”
In a time when consumers are still somewhat conservative about what they purchase, these product sampling programs allow them to discover products they might not normally buy or even be aware of, in turn reducing the level of risk in the purchase. Aside from Birchbox and NewBeauty’s TestTube, there are other brands making inroads with a similar subscription-based retail strategy. Check out Foodzie, Sole Society, Jewelmint and Doyle Mueser.
I think we’ll continue to see more concepts like these emerge as sampling continues to be a popular way for consumers to discover new products. What will set them apart are the ones able to create an element of curation and provide personal touches, like Birchbox’s personal note, that help build rapport and create a point of connection with the customer.