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When Birchbox launched the first beauty subscription box in 2010, it changed the game. Twelve years ago, the idea of receiving a curated selection of beauty products every month was completely novel. Instead of spending hours browsing beauty retailers' shelves, beauty boxes allowed us to discover and test products from home.
Over the last decade, the subscription e-commerce market has blossomed into a 2.6 billion-dollar industry. Since Birchbox was the first to enter the market, they continue to maintain the highest brand awareness (according to a 2017 survey from Statista). But, other contenders like Ipsy and Glossybox have gained comparable notoriety. Ipsy, for example, has garnered 56% brand awareness amongst 18 to 29-year-old female consumers. Beauty retailers and publications have also gained market share, with brands like Allure, Sephora, Target, and Walmart launching their own versions.
With thousands of different beauty boxes out today, the market has naturally become competitive. Which begs the question: How are today's subscription services adapting to stay current amidst the ever-changing beauty landscape? To unpack the answer, we tapped Cocotique's CEO Dana Hill, Birchbox's chief impact officer Candace McDonald, and OuiPlease's CEO Jessica Barouche to discuss how beauty box brands are keeping up.
How Beauty Boxes Are Evolving
Meeting the Changing Needs of Consumers
As much as beauty boxes have evolved, so have consumers. With beauty lovers becoming more conscious of the products they use, the products in their boxes must reflect their values. "[The consumer's thought process went from:] How do I get the best results from these products? to How do these products make me feel about myself? How do these products support what I care about?" Mcdonald says. "We try to create space in our offering to highlight our customers' concerns and commit to evolving our business to show up more in spaces we know we can do better in.
Catering to Underrepresented Communities
The beauty industry has long neglected people of color. This created a need for beauty boxes that carry products for Black and Brown consumers, such as Cocotique, CurlBox, and The Beem Box. "There was a void in the marketplace for a subscription box that catered to women of color's beauty and self-care needs from head to toe," Hill notes. "My goal is to create an inclusive beauty product discovery destination where our customers can feel comfortable with the knowledge that we've curated products with their specific needs in mind."
Not only do these boxes provide us with products that work for our diverse skin tones and textured hair, but they also provide increased visibility for BIPOC-owned brands. "In addition to introducing our community to established beauty brands, it's important that we also support and provide a platform for smaller, emerging brands to gain exposure,'' Hill says.
Offering Unique International Products
It's always fascinating to learn about beauty products from other countries. And thankfully, beauty boxes have made international products more accessible. For example, Bomibox delivers the best K-beauty products to your door. Nomakenolife has become one of the leading Japanese and Korean beauty box brands. And OuiPlease allows us to experience the magic of French beauty.
"With so many Francophiles craving the 'Je ne sais quoi' France has to offer, OuiPlease is particularly well-positioned to cater to their hunger for everything France," Barouche says. "As a French native, I want to ensure each box has a 'wow' effect for our customers and transport them to Paris, St. Tropez, or Normandy.
Creating Specialty Boxes
With many beauty boxes offering the same perks, brands are starting to focus on hyper-specific niches to stand out in the market. BeautyFix by Dermstore only offers skincare products, and Petit Vour features only vegan and cruelty-free products.
Cocotique has also found success with specialty boxes. "We launched a quarterly Makeup Lovers Box last December," Hill says. "It's specifically for subscribers who only want makeup. I want to continue to grow that subscription box, curate more specialty non-subscription boxes, and curate new products for our signature subscription box."
Beauty collaborations always create hype, and subscription brands have tested this approach to attract new customers. In 2021, Glossybox launched a limited-edition collaboration box with Bumble and Bumble (which sold out). That same year, Birchbox teamed up with BrownGirlJane to create a wellness-focused box featuring Black-owned brands. And this year, Ipsy debuted its first-ever exclusive brand takeover with Fenty Beauty, giving its members access to seven Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin products at a fraction of the cost.
Maintaining customer loyalty and growing brand awareness requires creativity. Many brands have experimented with unique IRL events to connect with beauty lovers. In 2019, Birchbox did 500 pop-ups in Walgreens for the holiday season, where shoppers could buy Birchbox gift cards, limited-edition boxes, and travel-size beauty products. In 2021, Ipsy hosted its 10th-anniversary event and offered beauty services, the chance to build glam bags, and exclusive panels and demos.
In a world where there are so many ways to shop for beauty products, why are we still turning to beauty boxes? As a busy mom and beauty lover, there will always be something magical about receiving products at my doorstep every month. I'm not alone in feeling this way, either. Between 2015 and 2020, total sales for subscription boxes from brands including Birchbox, BoxyCharm, FabFitFun, GlossyBox, and Ipsy have more than quadrupled. There are also 85.4M views on the TikTok hashtag #beautybox, proving beauty boxes still get Gen Z and Millennials buzzing.
The beauty subscription box industry has come a long way since 2010, and there's still more room for innovation. However, it's exciting to see companies working towards a box for every need. Whether you want to try K-beauty products or are on the hunt for the best products for textured hair, the hope is there will be something for you.