Three Things Your Association Can Learn from the Birchbox Model

Beauty product subscription service Birchbox reported that its sales quadrupled last year and are on track to triple in 2013. What can associations learn from the discovery retail model?

Trying, then buying: That’s the entire basis of Birchbox’s success.

Once a month, subscribers to the sampler service find a pink box on their doorstep full of sample-size beauty products to test. And the price for the service, available in versions for both women and men, is just right: $10 a month for hers, $20 for his.

Novel approach, right? Well, what happens next is even more interesting: BuzzFeed reported that, according to vendor Stila, one of its eye shadow samples featured by the service got 10 times more buyers for full-size versions than the industry average.

“While some offer a better price for a recurring purchase commitment, Birchbox’s model, which it calls ‘discovery commerce,’ views the monthly boxes as a way to educate and market to consumers, with the goal of enticing them to make additional purchases down the line,” GigaOM’s Ki Mae Heussner wrote in an article about the service.

Can associations create a member benefit that offers a similar service? Some lessons they might learn from Birchbox’s subscription model:

1. Offer members something personalized.

The first step in the process is a survey: Birchbox asks new subscribers about their beauty product preferences and personal characteristics such as their hairstyles and skin. Every month, the company chooses products for each member based on his or her answers. This way, members receive products specifically catered to their wants and needs.

“It’s the ‘Hey, they choose it for you,’ concept, and the fact that you know the research on the products has been done before you get them,” Amy Marks-McGee, founder of emerging trends consulting company Trendincite, told The Street. “When consumers receive their product, they may see a brand they’ve never heard of before, and suddenly they’re in the know. Being a member of a service like Birchbox is like being part of the party.”

2. Create content to support your recommendations.

Each subscription box includes a postcard listing the products, their use, and their retail price. But Birchbox’s services extend far outside the box. The company also publishes instructional videos, articles, and photos on that month’s featured products and blog posts on industry trends on a regular basis.

By providing members with quality content, the company helps ensure that its recommendations can be trusted. They don’t just tell their members what products to use—they show them how to use them.

3. Take advantage of the process of discovery.

Brands want consumers to buy their products, while consumers want to try the products without commitment. Birchbox facilitates the process on both sides. The result: According to recent data compiled by the company, 50 percent of subscribers are making regular purchases of full-size products on the site. Safe to say, their members trust and value the company’s recommendations.

“Before Birchbox, consumers were buying full-sized products before knowing whether or not they’re actually the right fit for them,” said Birchbox cofounder and CEO Katia Beauchamp. “By sampling products before purchasing, we help consumers buy the products and brands they know are the best fit for their needs, with confidence.”

How could your association help members along in the discovery process? Let us know your take in the comments.

(photo by The Daring Librarian/Flickr)

Anita Ferrer

By Anita Ferrer

Anita Ferrer is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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