Tailored Beauty In A Box: An Interview With Birchbox Founder Katia Beauchamp
In PSFK's Beauty Debrief, we sat down with Katia Beauchamp to discuss how Birchbox looked outside of the sample box industry to create a personalized beauty experience
Birchbox gave the beauty industry its own 360-degree makeover, transforming department store testers into chatoyant, ultra-personalized sample boxes. What started as a monthly subscription service now offers customers the ability to better customize their monthly box of products, along with other perks.
Birchbox’s personalization mission is to become a home for the beauty majority by picking out products tailored to their needs and ultimately enhancing their shopping experience and relationship with beauty.
We sat down with Birchbox Co-founder Katia Beauchamp to discuss how Birchbox tapped into the beauty curious and looked outside of the sample box industry to create a personalized beauty experience, propelling from an ecommerce startup founded by two Harvard Business School grads to a behemothic beauty empire.
Shopping for beauty products is a really complicated and personal process. What’s Birchbox’s unique take on beauty, and how is it hoping to shape consumers’ relationship with beauty?
Our perspective is that beauty is personal. What we really try to do is create an experience where we’re delivering relevant beauty atmosphere. When I say relevant, that means two things. Firstly, we’re making sure that we’re tailoring products to your beauty profile. Secondly, we’re ensuring that we’re introducing you to new products that you wouldn’t necessarily find yourself. We’re trying to broaden your beauty horizon, but make sure that in so doing we’re maintaining trust by focusing on relevance.
By focusing on relevance, we think outside of the box and push ourselves to change, but we never innovate for the sake of innovation because, frankly, it’s more important to us to do something simple to drive value to a customer. Back when we started out, we used the physical postal service to innovate. We did something extremely analog in order to bring the industry more online. That’s something that we hold true to the future of the business.
You experienced explosive growth in subscribers back in 2010 after YouTube beauty star Ingrid Nilsen of Glamorazzi posted a rave review about Birchbox. How is the company continuing to involve the community as a way to enhance product personalization?
Our customers are such a core part of who we are and how we’ve built the company. As we’ve learned more about what they really love, we’ve built more competencies into that. It’s sometimes not just about asking customers what they want, but about listening and understanding what’s motivating these requests and why our customer’s feeling like they’re not getting everything that they need, and then creating something that they didn’t know they wanted, but that answers those requests and thoughts.
We’ve done it in every way, from extremely scaled campaigns to customers, where we’re showcasing them in commercials to individual campaigns with people who have been a Birchbox subscriber for a long time and suddenly have built a massive social presence to very small focus groups where we want to understand from every customer — customers who haven’t had as positive of experiences, to customers who are really avid and super loyal to Birchbox.
At its core, Birchbox’s premise has always been simple. Beauty goods were slow to gain traction online, because shoppers wanted to test them out first. How has your strategy evolved since then, to give customers a more tailor-made experience?
When we launched Birchbox in 2010, we focused on leveraging the Internet for what it was great at, which was collecting and utilizing data, and then serving in efficient transactions. But then we tried to go one step further and build an experience that overcame what the Internet could never do for you. It could never give you the ability to try, and it struggled to give you an experience that was warm and textured, and much more than just a transaction, which is what the beauty industry, especially prestige, really requires.
When we started looking at who our customer was and how we fit into the beauty ecosystem overall, we had the second biggest a-ha moment of Birchbox since the launch, which was that the average consumer, which represents 80 percent of consumers, is not obsessed with beauty. Nobody was really focusing on them from a retail, brand or product perspective. While she represents a small percentage of spend at every other retailer, at Birchbox she represents a majority of our spend. We were naturally attracting this unlikely beauty consumer, and then, within a year, doubling her spend in beauty, changing her profile as a beauty consumer and changing her appetite to spend. We realized, “Wow, we can build the home for the beauty majority.”
What are the biggest shifts that you’ve been seeing in the beauty industry recently?
You can now go directly to consumers and build a brand at scale with them, without what it used to take in terms of massive marketing dollars. Birchbox was able to capitalize on social media early on and go viral essentially because of people having a great experience and sharing their experience.
What are some important consumer attitudes and behaviors around beauty that you’re seeing shape the marketplace?
Consumers have always had a really unique relationship with beauty. They want the value proposition to be true. We’re now living in a consumer renaissance where consumers have infinite options.They expect the product to be wonderful, the branding to be fantastic and the brands to be accessible. They also expect the ingredients now to be more thoughtful, conscientious and natural.
Birchbox has really tapped into this beauty-curious consumer. The key to great personalization is knowing your customer inside and out. Who do you envision as the customers shopping at each version of Birchbox, be it web or brick and mortar? What makes them tick?
She really is different than who the industry has focused on before, because she has a more casual relationship. She simply wasn’t that passionate about beauty or didn’t have time to make it a passion and was absolutely fine with using the same products that she’s been using since she’d first discovered beauty. Something we often heard from our customers was that they used to see beauty as a chore; something they had to do when they needed to replenish something. I believe if you’re going to do something discretionary, it’s the retailer’s responsibility to make it really delightful.
So, our target market is a psychographic more than a demographic. We have consumers who are teenagers and consumers who are mothers and grandmothers of those teenagers. Their shared philosophy is that, “Beauty is something we do. It’s not who we are.” Therefore, we acknowledge that they don’t want to completely change their value system or start investing a ton of time in beauty. They already have their routine. They already have the time that they’re willing to give. Instead, we focus on how we can enhance their experience by sending them new products that work for them and allow them to turn it up a notch in their busy lives.
PSFK’s Beauty Debrief reveals how brands and retailers can build better products and deliver a more personalized experience to customers. Download the full report here, or request a presentation at your office. For full access to all of PSFK’s reports, debriefs, articles and archives, become a PSFK member today.