For Jessie Neff, Christmas doesn't just come in December. She feels
like it's "Christmas every month" when she receives her package from
An online beauty subscription service, Birchbox sends
members a collection of sample-size beauty products tailored to
individual preferences once a month.
The site may not know Neff as well as friends and family who give gifts around the holidays, but it's trying.
In September, the 28-year-old's box included nail polish in her favorite color: lime green.
having users fill out personal style surveys, tracking browsing and
purchase history, and employing behind-the-scenes styling teams,
Birchbox and other e-commerce businesses, including BaubleBar,
ShoeDazzle and BeachMint's six celeb-backed sites representing
everything from home decor by Justin Timberlake to fashion by Mary-Kate
Olsen and Ashley Olsen, are trying to make every customer feel as if
they have their own personal stylist.
As e-commerce continues to
grow, shoppers are presented with a seemingly endless array of choices
and decisions to make about what products to buy. Personal styling sites
are attempting to make that process easier by "editing down all the
noise," as Birchbox co-founder Katia Beauchamp says, using shoppers'
personal style and brand preferences to make specific-to-the-individual
recommendations on everything from clothes and shoes to nail polish and
"Instead of' 'Build it and they will come,' these
e-commerce merchants practice 'Personalize and push it and they will
shop,' " says Nita Rollins, a trends expert for digital marketing agency
And they are shopping, in some cases by the millions.
ShoeDazzle, which sends users an e-mail with a link to their
"personalized boutique" of shoe styles every month, has 13 million
members. Birchbox has "hundreds of thousands" of subscribers, Beauchamp
says. And BaubleBar, which sells jewelry, says it gets about 400,000
unique views a month.
Products tailored to personal taste
site's specific number of users doesn't necessarily translate into the
same number of unique recommendations: ShoeDazzle has a team that
classifies the site's offerings by personality type, and at Birchbox,
"different groups of people get the same types of boxes," Beauchamp
But there are several ways each site targets its customers with products they will like.
general, the sites create user profiles based on style surveys and
subsequent customer service interactions, including e-mails and phone
calls, and a user's browsing and purchase history. And the style surveys
are often interactive.
ShoeMint, a site that sells shoes designed
by actress Rachel Bilson and celebrity stylist Nicole Chavez, prompts
first-time users to answer a series of questions about their style and
brand preferences through photos of people and products, asking them to
pick their favorite celebrity look or the shoes that most resemble what
they would wear to work.
BaubleBar doesn't use surveys but employs
a SWAT team - Service With Accessorizing Talent - that's on hand to
answer customer questions via e-mail or phone about how to pair jewelry
or put together an outfit around a user's new purchase.
minute they make a purchase we keep a customer profile on them and our
SWAT team starts a dialogue," says Amy Jain, co-founder of BaubleBar
with Daniella Yacobovsky. "We have notes on them and can customize our
recommendations or answers to what we know they like."
The duo say
their team gets 50-75 e-mails a day from customers seeking styling
tips, and BaubleBar customers often get handwritten thank-you notes from
a style team member along with their delivered purchases.
keep up interest, many of the sites constantly display new products.
Birchbox, where customers can also buy full-size versions of the samples
they're sent, boasts at least 350 beauty brands.
With such an extensive product line, "The thrill of discovery doesn't diminish," Rollins says.
BaubleBar, customers can find 100 new products a week, encouraging many
of them to come back several times in a short period, Yacobovsky says.
Price point lets you experiment
sites' tailored shopping experiences not only cut down on time normally
spent trying to find your favorite products by doing the work for you,
they also let shoppers try different looks without the worry of spending
a lot of money on something that may not work out.
point makes it possible to experiment with different trends and
fashion," says Yacobovsky of BaubleBar, where the average price for
jewelry is $40 to $70.
A Birchbox subscription costs $10 a month
and includes boxes filled with four to five beauty samples, from nail
polish to foundation to lip gloss.
"It feels like you get a lot of
reward for not a lot of personal cost," says Sara Hogan of the service.
The 27-year-old also shops with BaubleBar, personal styling service
CakeStyle and personalized nail polish subscription site Julep Maven.
While she admits the shopping sites are "a little addicting," she says it's worth it.
that little bit of personalization makes it feel valuable," she says.
"It makes it feel worth it to spend $10 for things you'll actually use."