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Birchbox

Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp hope that a physical store will solve the Birchbox conundrum, reports Hilary Stout in The New York Times (3/24/14). Birchbox’s inventive idea — selling "vivid pink" boxes of cosmetics samples via online subscription — certainly has caught on. The service now has more than 800,000 subscribers, twice as many as last year, each paying $10 a month. The speedbump is that subscribers who like a sample typically buy the full size "at department store counters or chains like Sephora," not via Birchbox.

Hayley and Katia are thinking that having a store of their own will change this, that shoppers will get the idea that they’re supposed to try some and then buy some — from Birchbox. Their new, 4,500 square-foot store, in SoHo, will feature "about 2,000 products for sale … (representing some 150 to 250 brands). It will have a row of vanities for product testing. A BYOB — build your own Birchbox — section will let shoppers fill those pink boxes with samples of their choice for $15. A separate floor will be set aside for classes on makeup, hairstyling," and the like.

Touch screens will also be placed throughout the store, enabling customers "to answer questions about themselves and pull up product recommendations and customer reviews." The store is designed to provide a more complete, "total" retail experience. As consultant Craig R. Johnson notes, the internet "can never match the experience of being there in person." Katia says the store’s primary goal is growth, not profitability. "We like the idea of building a store along with the business," she says. It likely will open in May.