Brand Experience Brief: Birchbox

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Birchbox, the online cosmetics sampling subscription service, operates a retail location that teaches brick-and-mortar companies how to stage extraordinary store experiences.

Other brand experience briefs (video audits and analyses of new and interesting retail and restaurant concepts):

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DLYohn Brand Experience Brief: Birchbox from Denise Lee Yohn on Vimeo.


The biggest news in retail these days is how e-commerce brands that once did business exclusively online are now opening brick-and-mortar stores. So in today’s brand experience brief, I cover Birchbox, the company that started out as a cosmetics sampling service and has become a beloved beauty brand. Their retail store in New York’s SOHO neighborhood is a terrific example of how these digital brands are teaching brick-and-mortar companies how to stage extraordinary store experiences.

Colorful window displays attract passers-by on the outside and inside shoppers are greeted with an invitation to add their bright pink entries to a special contest. The galley-style store is small but doesn’t feel cramped thanks to high, exposed ceilings, clear sightlines, and lots of white paint, natural materials, and metal.

While the store is beautifully designed and filled with a lot of eye candy, what really stands out are the employees. Decked in cute t-shirts, they’re friendly and eagerly offer service but they’re not in your face. You can take advantage of their expertise by having them help you sample products at the store’s Try Bar.

That’s another thing — the store experience is very interactive. Everything is meant to be tried so there are sampling dispensers everywhere. Tablets serve as digital screens through which you can access a product recommender and learn more about the products through reviews, videos, and other content. And there are computers where you can sign up for a Birchbox mail subscription. There’s also BYOB area where you can select 5 samples and build your own Birchbox.

Posters promoting products are done with the right combination of elegant design and content, and there’s helpful instructional signage like how to sample fragrances. And because there is so much product in the store, eye catching displays really help, like this one that features the top sellers from the site and another that highlights gift ideas.

The top level of the two-story space holds all of the core women’s products from skin care to makeup to nails and more. The bottom floor features the men’s section and a full salon service area where they also offer classes occasionally. The best part of all is the products are organized by category, not by brand — this fits the brand concept of experimentation and personalization.

This Birchbox store is a welcome change from the typical department store cosmetics set-up with the stuffy sales people behind branded counters, and from Sephora which makes its products more accessible than department stores but still organizes everything by brand. Everything from the employees providing helpful, personal service to the emphasis on interactivity makes Birchbox a true lifestyle retail experience — quite a feat for what was once just an e-commerce subscription business.

Image via flickr

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