Birchbox’s MD on laying the foundations for a personalisation drive

The word ‘personalisation’ is thrown around with wild abandon in retail these days, but one retailer making good on its promise is Birchbox.

The subscription-based beauty retailer is already famed for sending its customers a box of beauty samples each month, personalised for them based on an individual ‘beauty profile’ created via a short questionnaire.

Birchbox is now seeking to infuse this level of personalisation throughout its eCommerce platform, and has unveiled the first step of this process.

In its Fitzrovia office, complete with pink venetian blinds, newly appointed UK managing director, Sally Scott, and product manager, Ankita D’Mello, laid out the retailer’s bold plans.

“This is laying the groundwork for what is coming down the pipe,” says Scott. “Personalisation is a big part of our USP and it is why our customers and our brands like us. “

The new website has introduced features including revamped product pages that highlight information commonly being requested by customers, and the website overhaul has already resulted in a 21% increase in shop revenue per session.

But it is only the start of what is to come.

“The idea is this whole project is the foundation of what we would like to start doing next year and in order to really get into personalisation we had to first set this whole piece up,” explains D’Mello.

Birchbox is remaining coy about how this will look in practice, but it will involve a better logged-in experience to help customers discover product and information without having to rely on the on-site navigation.

The beauty retailer has already gathered a lot of information on customers through its ‘beauty profiles’, which customers are asked to create during their first interaction with the brand.

“That is what sets us apart from the other big players in the market,” says Scott. “We are trying to personalise everything customers do.”

Keeping data fresh

In April, Birchbox carried out a big push to ask customers to update the information in their beauty profiles as it seeks to improve the personalisation element.

Birchbox realised it was often asking questions that were not always relevant for its beauty profiles. This included a question asking what colour a customer’s hair was, which excluded those who have no hair.

“The truth is we were not harnessing all of that knowledge in the right way to actually tell our customers ‘here is a product that might actually be really good for you’,” admits D’Mello.

The personalisation capabilities for Birchbox are massive considering the levels of information it holds on its customers.

“We know so much about our customers,” says D’Mello.  “We know what they are looking at, what they are shopping, we know their beauty profile, and what products they have sampled.”

The levels of information customers are voluntarily giving away requires consumers to have high levels of confidence in Birchbox.

“At the end of the day we want to provide a great experience for the customer but it is based on trust,” says Scott. “You need to trust us that for your £10 a month we will deliver something special for you.”

Customers appear to be voting with their wallets. The UK is Birchbox’s fastest growing market and last year the UK passed the 100,000 paying subscribers mark, a 67% year-on-year increase.

Scott wants to maintain double digit growth in the UK in the coming years, while D’Mello does not believe the introduction of GDPR will impact future levels of personalisation.

“When customers are giving us information about their beauty profile they are doing it because they want to,” says D’Mello. “You can get a subscription box without a beauty profile and we will give you generic products. Ultimately the decision is up to you.”

Data security and the future

Any personalisation will be kept in-house rather than outsourced to ensure Birchbox keeps tight control over its GDPR compliance.

Globally Birchbox has over one million paying subscribers and is bringing on tens of thousands more each month, but the company is wary not to rest on its laurels.

“We will constantly invest in our website because we will constantly invest in the customer experience,” says Scott. “I don’t think there will ever be a day where we say ‘that’s good, let’s see what happens now’.”

She concludes: “It is always a case of ‘what can we do next?’”

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