Birchbox has been a beauty powerhouse for the past few years, amassing thousands of loyal subscribers. But until this summer, it had remained an online-only business.
Then in July, co-founders and co-chief executives Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna (who met at Harvard Business School) decided to expand by opening a chic new brick-and-mortar store.
Designed with the online consumer in mind, the Birchbox store groups merchandise by type instead of brand, similar to what you might see while browsing a beauty website. In many ways it’s like a live-action Pinterest or Instagram. And to accentuate its online inspiration, the Soho location is even decorated with Instagram images from Birchbox fans.
The design of the store seems to draw inspiration from Apple, though Birchbox has more color and fewer iPads. But like in the Apple store, the focus is on technology as well as introducing new products.
The highlight of the Birchbox Soho shop is the BYOB area. Here you can select five items from a diverse assortment to create your own Birchbox.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that everything in the BYOB section is a sample, and therefore ranges in size from small to miniscule. But the products are high quality, and the promotion offers an opportunity to collect some samples without committing to a subscription.
Birchbox’s expansion into offline retail reflects an interesting new business trend. Years ago, companies began with brick-and-mortar stores; after becoming well-established, they could then move to an online platform. (Imagine if MacDonald’s had launched a website before a restaurant!) But now many companies build up a following online and only later try their hand at live retail.
If Birchbox’s Soho store succeeds, perhaps it will set the new standard in beauty sales. Stores will have to adapt to the internet-driven market, creating an easier, more interactive shopping experience.