The Customer Confidential Podcast

Birchbox: Unboxing a Fantastic Customer Experience

Birchbox cofounder Hayley Barna discusses how the beauty e-commerce company got its start, how it tracks customer buying behavior and its decision to open physical stores.


Birchbox: Unboxing a Fantastic Customer Experience

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I’ve been getting a box in the mail every month this year. Inside I usually find four or five samples of products I’ve never heard of, like Billy Jealousy Liquid Sand Exfoliating Facial Cleanser or PARLOR Re-Workable Hold Paste or Das Boom Everywhere Lotion Detroit, whose distinctive scent is “a trio of tobacco, musk and motor oil that invokes the Motor City,” according to its label.

I would never have purchased these products off a store shelf. These samples were selected and sent to me by Birchbox, a five-year-old e-commerce company that has devised a brilliant business around the idea of getting customers to pay for beauty and grooming samples. Yes, samples. The ones that companies usually give for free to entice customers to buy a full-size product.

For a monthly fee, Birchbox subscribers receive a box each month, and inside they discover several high-end beauty product samples. Early on, each customer shares some personal information to help Birchbox select the right combination of samples. Many go on to buy full-sized products from Birchbox’s website. The most ardent Birchbox fans consider their deliveries a special treat. Some of them even post YouTube videos of themselves opening their boxes with delight.

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Co-founder Hayley Barna, who worked at Bain early in her career, recently joined me on the Net Promoter System Podcast to explain how she came up with the idea for Birchbox, and how it creates this unique customer experience. She shared some of the secrets to maintaining the quality of the experience despite the company’s rapid growth. Birchbox now has more than 1 million subscribers and it’s on its way to becoming a household name.

“The first interaction that we have with a customer is, ‘Tell us a lot of information about yourself, so that we can give you a fantastic experience,’” Hayley says. “So we really live and die by that close relationship to our consumer.”

Those close relationships with customers are the key to the company’s rapid growth. Hayley and her business partner, Katia Beauchamp, track each customer’s purchasing behavior over the span of their Birchbox relationship. They look for patterns that might inform future offers and guide business decisions. They use the Net Promoter System® to keep their fingers on the pulse of the customer experience, identify areas of weakness and find new opportunities to improve.

This careful monitoring, along with Birchbox’s vast customer data, makes it a great partner to consumer products companies, which often struggle to learn about and form relationships with the customers who buy their goods. Some of these manufacturers are so eager to work with Birchbox that they produce samples exclusively for its customers.

What’s the secret behind Birchbox’s runaway success? You can unbox it by listening to Hayley on the Net Promoter System Podcast. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or listen to this episode through the player above. Click here to browse more Net Promoter System podcasts.

Net Promoter®, Net Promoter System®, Net Promoter Score® and NPS® are registered trademarks of Bain & Company, Inc., Fred Reichheld and Satmetrix Systems, Inc.


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