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Birchbox beauty grows online to step out to storefront

Businesses tend to grow by taking their brick and mortar store online but in the case of Birchbox the successful start-up is growing through opening a traditional store in Manhattan, reports the New York Times yesterday.

Sephora Brooklyn Grand Opening
Photo by Astrid Stawiarz

The store will be in the center of SoHo’s main shopping area in Manhattan occupying 4500-square-foot duplex space. The store will retain the cyber functionality of the online shopping site as customers can go to touch screen and view options of the products.

The driving force behind online beauty subscription company Birchbox is Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, former classmates from Harvard Business School. Birchbox has grown globally to sell to consumers in four countries its beauty samples for the monthly subscription cost of $10 for women and $20 for men.

During the past four years Birchbox has provided for women subscribers each month in pink boxes (men in green) the samples of beauty lines. Now the brick and mortar store will go where other online to brick and mortar retailers have not gone and that is purchasing products in the store. It will be a total lifestyle experience as a customer can view products, descriptions and information on the touch screen, interact with store consultants and then make purchases.

First shoppers may fill a pink box with the samples of their choice and then they can choose to purchase from 2000 products available for purchase from some 150-250 brands. Technology through touch screen is meeting lifestyle adventure in the experience. The online experience allows upgrades based upon choice preference so this is an extension in –store of that choice model.

A study from PricewaterhouseCooper revealed the type of experience consumers are seeking. ‘Convenient physical stores, a website capable of handling purchases, a mobile site or app — these capabilities are simply the price of admission for a healthy relationship with a consumer,’ the report said.

Craig R. Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting and research firm, believes that online web stores will move toward the model started ten years ago by Apple. It builds brand experience and customer loyalty through its store and touch screen experience, interaction with Apple ‘genius’ and the ability to get knowledge and information on site.

‘If you are a Google and you are an eBay, you are sitting there on the Internet. The Internet is emotionally a very flat experience. It can never match the experience of being there in person,’ opines Johnson.

Another factor in opening a storefront is that 30% of the company's business is from purchase of full size product. Company research shows that product purchases went to Sephora store counters and other stores.

Barna and Beauchamp began the start-up while at Harvard in 2010 and wanted to create a beauty consultant experience along with that of a girlfriend’s friendly input. Beauchamp was an intern at Estee Lauder and used her skills to cold-call beauty companies with the business opportunity to provide samples for their pink boxes.

So far the company has shipped nine million boxes, will open this store as its fifth and has over 800,000 customers. This store will be a laboratory to test out the lifestyle experience. There is no decision on any expansion outside of New York City area. You can find Birchbox on its website and also on an app from Apple iPhone.

‘We are not focused on profitability, we are focused on hyper growth,’ Beauchamp said. ‘We like the idea of building a store along with the business.’

To view more information about retail and technologies view the list below in Author’s suggestions and the video atop this article with a look at Birchbox during New York Fashion week.

Twitter Victoria Wagner@victoriaross888

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