A New Face For Birchbox: Co-Founder Discusses Dive Into Brick-And-Mortar

After meeting while attending Harvard Business School, Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp created Birchbox to help consumers test and find the products that align with their unique wants and needs.

Each month, Birchbox members receive a box filled with beauty product samples. For $10 per month, boxes cover the gamut, including test-size packages for lotions, face creams, hair masks, nail polishes and cosmetics. If subscribers like what they test, they can visit the Birchbox e-Commerce site to purchase full-size products. 

Since its launch in 2010, Birchbox has experienced rapid growth, amassing more than 800,000 subscribers, 800 brand partners, 6,500 products in the e-Commerce shop and 250 employees worldwide. Approximately 30% of the business comes from the brand’s e-Commerce site.


Now, Birchbox is dipping into brick-and-mortar. The team is celebrating the opening of its first store in SoHo, New York City.

In the below Q&A, Beauchamp discusses the success of Birchbox and why the retailer decided to open a physical store.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): Subscription services seem to be cropping up across different areas of the retail world — from beauty, to food and even dog treats. How has Birchbox gone about differentiating itself in a highly trendy space?

Beauchamp: Personalization has always been our strong suit and key point of difference among our competitors. We leverage our data and the seamless 360-degree Birchbox digital experience to deliver personalized content and useful editorial we know our customers love.

Additionally, we pride ourselves on our strategic editorial presence that sets us apart from others. We never leave our customers unsure about their products, and we give them clear access points for more information that goes beyond our site and blog and extends through social media; from Pinterest to Facebook and Twitter to YouTube. We have created a true omnichannel experience to meet our consumers’ needs via multiple touch points.

RTP: What made Birchbox decide to extend its business from e-Commerce to brick-and-mortar? How did you go about deciding where you would open the location and when?

Beauchamp: Our goal with Birchbox has always been to make it easy, efficient and fun for people to discover new brands and products fit for their lifestyle. The Birchbox store is another channel to help create a robust shopping experience for our customers. Beauty is a touch, try and feel category, and we applied the same model our customers love and expanded into brick-and-mortar. We are bringing our tried-and-true “try, learn, buy” model to our store to deliver the same custom-fit, accessible and convenient experience customers already enjoy through our other channels.

When we tried the pop-up in Chelsea market, we were very excited to open a store in New York, where we could go in and interact with consumers. The 4,500-square-foot duplex space in SoHo was the perfect fit for our debut into brick-and-mortar.

RTP: Did you use customer feedback to establish your brick-and-mortar strategy?

Beauchamp: We applied the insight and feedback from our hundreds of thousands of customers to better understand what makes them tick and create a customer-first, holistic offline shopping experience.

RTP: What elements did you know you wanted to include in the brick-and-mortar experience? 

Beauchamp: The retail store is a direct reflection and extension of our online Birchbox experience. We wanted to build another channel to reach our customers, as we know they have unique buying habits and preferences.

When we were planning the layout of the store we knew there were a few must-haves:

  • Purchasable products from our web site;
  • A row of vanities for product testing;
  • A B.Y.O.B. (Build Your Own Birchbox) section that lets shoppers fill our pink boxes with samples of their choice for $15; and
  • A separate floor set aside for classes on topics such as makeup and skin care tricks, and services like hair styling.

RTP: What technology did you include in the store and why?

Beauchamp: As an online-first company, it was really important to us to incorporate the best things about our site experience within our store. There are four iPads throughout the store for consumers to personalize their shopping experience. There is a large touchscreen Product Matchmaker where after inputting some information about yourself, the screen will recommend products in the store that are best for you. On the lower level, there are two iPads with menus for consumers to browse the hair, makeup and nail beauty service options. We are constantly listening to our customers’ feedback and making adjustments as we see fit to make the offline experience even better.

RTP: Why do you believe the store is an optimal representation of the Birchbox brand and its target customers?

Beauchamp: The store experience, similar to the monthly sample allocation process, takes into consideration each customer’s beauty profile (skin tone and type, hair color, style, etc.) to curate a selection of products that are targeted to their profile, present new products and brands they’ve not yet tried via Birchbox, and continue to surprise and delight.

Our target is what we call “the beauty curious” consumer. She doesn’t have to be on the forefront of beauty trends. She is just interested in knowing and discovering the right thing for her.

RTP: Prior to opening your brick-and-mortar store, you experimented with pop-up stores. Can you share any lessons learned from these experiences and how you applied them to your first brick-and-mortar store?

Beauchamp: Our five successful pop-up shops over the past two years enabled us to see what worked and to test our findings and insights gleaned online in an offline environment. We realized there was a huge advantage in having face-to-face interactions with our customers, and to be able to reach them through multiple points of entry.

As we executed our pop-up shops, we saw the value in bringing our brand to life and creating a store experience that captures the Birchbox retail experience. The most important thing was to bring our unique retail experience to an offline model — we did this via personalization, integration of technology, and our merchandising strategy. 

RTP: How will you engage and market to consumers across channels to encourage them to visit the store? Similarly, how will you encourage customers to engage with the brand digitally while they’re in the store? 

Beauchamp: As consumers become more omnichannel in their shopping habits, we have adapted to learn the best ways to engage with our customers to drive sales and loyalty. Retail is about offering people the services and products they want – on the devices and media they use.

Birchbox’s highly engaged online community has played a big role in the company’s growth to date, and we will continue to bring them into the offline experience. With two million-plus user-generated YouTube impressions per month, more than one million Facebook fans and hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, the Birchbox community has shown us they’re excited about the business, hyper-engaged and have a healthy appetite for more. Our brick-and-mortar store serves as another touch point to reach our audience and educate consumers on who we are as a company.

Visitors are encouraged to follow the store using the hashtag #birchboxsoho, and current Birchbox customers can give us their email to get their history, points balance and personalized product recommendations. 

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