What's in the Box?

Discover the best beauty subscription services—and how to get your brand featured by one.
beauty subscription box, cosmetics

Budget-conscious beauty enthusiasts overwhelmed by an endless selection of makeup and haircare products are discovering their favorite brands in a whole new way: via beauty subscription services that conveniently deliver items right to their door. Offering a selection of products handpicked by experts or consumers themselves, curated beauty subscriptions not only save time, but money too.

We go behind the scenes to learn how the top beauty subscription services in the industry got their start—and how you can partner with these companies to grow your own brand.

One of the pioneers of the beauty subscription movement, Birchbox is well-known for offering personalized beauty picks tailored to each customer’s skin, hair and style—for just $10 a month. Founded in 2010, chief executive officer and cofounder Katia Beauchamp says the idea behind Birchbox was to change the way people find and shop for beauty supplies online.

“We wanted women to enjoy it on their own terms,” Beauchamp says.

While Beauchamp and cofounder Hayley Barna were attending business school, Barna had an editor friend who worked at Condé Nast who sent her exciting new beauty items to try.

“It was a lightbulb moment—if only we could all have a beauty editor best friend!” recalls Beauchamp. “So that was the consumer insight that inspired what the customer experience would look like,” she adds.

Birchbox’s many exciting milestones over the past six years include taking the brand overseas, hitting one million subscribers, opening a store and launching Birchbox Man.

“Since Day 1, we’ve focused on offering customers a full and valuable discovery experience, from the first try of a new sample to the ultimate purchase of the full-size product. It was never just about sending a monthly box; the idea was to leverage the subscription to build a relationship with our customers, introduce them to new products and get them to shop for beauty online with us,” Beauchamp says.

Eric Neher, vice president of merchandising, says that brands interested in partnering with Birchbox can start by sending a sample for their team to try. The products are then tested to determine if they’re a good fit for an upcoming box, which are curated with a particular theme in mind.

“We are planning up to a year in advance, but also like to be nimble and work quickly. Sometimes, just a few months will pass between our initial contact with a brand and their launch in Birchbox,” Neher says.

“Our customers respond best to products that are effective, simple and intuitive.”

Testimonial: There have been many success stories for the more than 800 companies that are partnered with Birchbox, including the haircare company amika. “When amika first began working with Birchbox in 2012, our goal as a young, indie company was to reach their niche, beauty-enthusiast demographic and build brand awareness,” amika’s national retail sales and education manager Dana Amador says. “However, over time, due to the unique relationship Birchbox has built with their audience, brand awareness transformed organically into brand loyalty for amika … Their insight and influence has truly shaped the ‘who, what and how’ in every step of our brand growth.”

Get Connected
* Website: birchbox.com
* Facebook: facebook.com/birchbox
* Instagram: @birchbox
* Twitter: @birchbox

Still in its infant stage, the up-and-coming Happy Dot Box, founded in 2015, promotes positive beauty lessons and mental health—and even donates 5 percent of its proceeds to charity organizations.

“What is happiness? Great products, inner beauty, health and giving back,” founder Courtney Copeland says.

With a background in manufacturing and distribution and as a mother who worked for a nonprofit for 27 years, Copeland created a unique experience for customers by offering four to five full-size luxury products in every box, along with a bonus gift and self-help teachings, for $24 a month.

“It feels really good to know you are contributing and helping different nonprofits by subscribing. I would say that quality and experience is what sets our service above the other boxes,” she says.

Currently, about 50 brands are partnered with Happy Dot Box. New brands looking to be featured can send a sample and the company will review them to see if there’s a “hero product” that fits into one of its upcoming themes.

“If selected, brands can donate product, get paid a percentage of their manufacturing cost, or we may really like a product and pay for the full amount of the manufacturing cost,” Copeland says. “We look for products to be special and unique … Seasons of the year and trends have a lot to do with the selections.”

Though Happy Dot Box doesn’t sell products offered in past boxes for repeat buys online, they have helped smaller mom-and-pop brands only found on Etsy and local stores get a lot of exposure.

“Our mission is to provide subscribers the opportunity to get hooked on products that we believe are special, and then send them to the original brand’s website for repeat purchase. Allocating a marketing budget through sampling programs is a much bigger advantage for brands to get their product not only seen but sampled … Those [testers] end up being loyal brand customers,” Copeland says.

In 2017, Copeland says fans can expect to see more vegan and all-natural products geared toward a healthy lifestyle. She adds, “We are also working on some major partnerships for the inner-beauty bonus gifts and nonprofit fun!”

Testimonial: “As an emerging brand, it is critical to create awareness and marketing for Manna Kadar Cosmetics and to partner with a great subscription service such as Happy Dot Box,” says Manna Kadar, founder of Manna Kadar Cosmetics. “Their subscribers are engaged, savvy and are looking to discover new products, which have proved to be one of the most effective ways to create a buzz for new products as well as gain loyal new customers.”

Get Connected
* Website: happydotbox.com
* Facebook: facebook.com/happydotbox
* Instagram: @happydotbox
* Twitter: @happydotbox

Scentbird, a unique fragrance subscription service, allows customers to pick one scent per month—from over 450 fragrances—for $14.95 monthly.

“There are quite a few things that set us apart,” chief marketing officer and cofounder Rachel ten Brink says. “First, we’re totally focused on fragrance. We reach over 2.5 million fragrance aficionados monthly through our social media, PR, emails and website traffic. Secondly, we’re truly consumer-driven. [Customers] get to call the shots and pick what fragrance they want to receive each month … This results in a much higher conversion to full-size purchases.”

Wanting to create a smarter, more affordable way for people to discover the perfect fragrances, ten Brink cofounded Scentbird in 2014, to offer “very accurate recommendations” using an algorithm that pulled keywords from the fragrances a consumer already liked and matched them with similar keywords used by other customers. “Getting recommendations is great, but you have to experience it in order to want to commit to buying it. This is how the sampling subscription was born,” she adds.

Last year, Scentbird launched a subscription service for men, which now accounts for 25 percent of their subscriber base. The company will also soon offer a two-perfume-per-month subscription.

“Brands on Scentbird get to build a relationship with our community; it’s not a one-shot deal where the consumer only sees you once,” ten Brink says. “Some consumers will pick your fragrance in January, others in November; they will review it, recommend it to more members and thus continue to build the relationship and create awareness. Finally, this system offers unique customer relationship management and analytics for brands.”

Scentbird offers fragrances from high-end, niche, new and well-established brands that are the best fit for their “millennial consumers.” Brands that want to be featured can also reach out to Scentbird. Seasonal and new products weigh heavily in their decision about which items to include and feature as the cologne and perfume of the month, says ten Brink.

Testimonial: One brand that has seen great results through a partnership with Scentbird is Lisa Hoffman Fragrances. “We launched a curated collection of her scents on Scentbird in April 2016. Their marketing team specifically attributed Scentbird as one of their key drivers in growing their EDP sales over 550 percent year over year,” ten Brink says. “Overall, brands tend to see a 10 percent conversion from sampling to full sizes, which is higher than any other sampling option out there.”

Get Connected
* Website: scentbird.com
* Facebook: facebook.com/scentbird
* Instagram: @scentbird
* Twitter: @scentbird

Partnered with some of the biggest brands in the industry, such as Tarte and Makeup Geek, BoxyCharm offers subscribers products from brands they already know as well as others they’ll be excited to discover. Each box contains four to five full-size beauty products valued at $100 or more at a subscription cost of just $21 per month!

Launched in 2013 by chief executive officer and founder Yosef Martin, BoxyCharm pays the full manufacturing costs of the products it features, whereas most companies pay only a percentage of this cost. Its approach allows the company to be very selective about what each box contains. The company holds curation meetings a few times per week, where products are tested on people of many ethnicities and skin types to confirm that each item is universally liked.

“It’s not a secret ingredient; it’s more of a secret recipe,” Martin says. “What makes us different is that you have a full experience with a full-size product, so you’re more educated about it and you can really decide if that product works for you. Secondly, because we can pay for manufacturing costs, we’re not forced to place anything in the box; we are always just looking for the right products to fit our subscribers.”

BoxyCharm also launches new products, such as full-size eyeshadow palettes. “But they’ve got to agree with our standards of quality,” Martin says.

Currently, about 100 brands are partnered with BoxyCharm. If customers wish to buy more of what they receive, they are redirected to the brand’s site. Customers can also leave reviews on BoxyCharm’s website to create a true community of makeup lovers.

“A big part of our growth was learning how to grow organically, by word of mouth,” Martin says.

Every brand that has worked with BoxyCharm has continued to work with them, Martin says. “We are very tuned in to what will be trending. We won’t just be on the curve, but ahead of the curve.”

Testimonial: “We enjoy working with BoxyCharm,” chief executive officer of Mirabella Beauty John Maly says. “They expose our brand and products to a new audience. For us, it is a very small cost of advertising. Additionally, BoxyCharm has been helpful to allow us to exit old collections.”

Get Connected
* Website: boxycharm.com
* Facebook: facebook.com/boxycharm
* Instagram: @boxycharm
* Twitter: @boxycharm

Founded in 2011, the world-renowned Glossybox has sold more than 11 million boxes globally to over 305,000 monthly subscribers across the globe and currently ships to 10 countries, says the company’s U.S. president and managing director Britta Fleck.

Partnered with 1,200 brands, Glossybox subscribers experience luxury items from a wide range of high-end and niche companies—with five luxury travel or full-size items in each carefully curated box ($21/box).

“It is important to feature a diverse range of products throughout the year; if we just featured a lipstick, we will make sure that we won’t include another one in the following box,” Fleck says.

Brands can approach Glossybox if they’re interested in getting their product featured. The company then evaluates if the brand is the right fit by learning about their objectives and expectations, Fleck says.

“We offer many different services. For example, a brand launches a new product to the U.S. market and needs to gather consumer insights. Since each product in the box gets its own survey, we are able to provide direct consumer feedback—which is extremely valuable to the brands. Afterwards, we select the best product and decide in which box it will be featured,” she says.

Glossybox has formed many lasting partnerships as a result of its successful model. “Our re-participation rate is more than 90 percent,” Fleck says. “We have formed great relationships with many brands and Glossybox is an integral part of their marketing plan.”

With a team comprised of beauty experts and beauty addicts, Fleck says Glossybox has their finger on the pulse to keep its subscribers up to date with the latest trends in the industry.

Testimonial: “As a new brand, Glossybox was able to provide a wide reach of awareness for our product to a very large audience that we would have been unable to reach on our own,” creator and brand manager for Florapy Beauty, Kristen O'Connell, says. “We greatly enjoyed working with them and trusted them with our brand image and were happy to work closely with their creative team to make sure that the brand voice came across authentically through all their channels of exposure. They worked hard to understand our brand and our philosophy, which created a lasting relationship that feels like a partnership, not a transaction.”

Get Connected!
* Website: glossybox.com
* Facebook: facebook.com/glossyboxus
* Instagram: @glossybox_us
* Twitter: @glossybox_us

What started as a women’s lifestyle magazine in 2009 is now the hit subscription box FabFitFun. “We realized that we were writing about all these amazing products—why not take it a step further and actually put them into people’s hands?” cofounder and editor-in-chief Katie Rosen says.

Debuted in 2013, FabFitFun includes 6 to 12 full-size items in each box, with top brands like Dermalogica, Josie Maran and Trina Turk previously featured. Subscribers can expect a range of high quality products that includes not only beauty and fashion but health, fitness, home and technology. A subscription (four boxes) is $49.99, but is valued at $200.

“There is a little something for everyone. And because of the mix, many of our most loved products are both unexpected and super useful,” Rosen says. From an herb garden kit to a power bank, FabFitFun picks its products by analyzing data and forecasting trends.

“We survey members like crazy to understand what they love and want to see,” Rosen says. “We also have an amazing team of chic, smart, beauty-loving trendsetters who guide the process. Each season our team puts together a short list of goals that we want to hit—products and brands that you can’t live without each season.”

FabFitFun also sometimes works with brands to create exclusive, limited edition products. From creating original videos and social media content to throwing events with influencers and celebrities to promote upcoming boxes, many brands—big and small—have formed long-lasting partnerships with FabFitFun.

Brands interested in partnering with FabFitFun typically send one or two products for the team to sample and review, which typically takes between three to six months. “We give brands feedback on everything we try,” Rosen says.

There are also perks, such as discounts and access to members-only sales offers, for its consumers. “Each box also has an amazing give-back component,” Rosen says. The company has helped nonprofit organizations in the past, including the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and I Am That Girl.

Testimonial: “One of my favorite partnerships was with a wonderful brand called Tribe Alive,” Rosen says. “Tribe Alive utilizes their passion for fashion and responsible commerce as a platform to help alleviate poverty among women. They work with artisan partners all over the world to employ impoverished women at fair-trade wages and give them access to a safe job, sustainable income and a chance to determine their own future. We worked with Tribe Alive on an amazing collection of beaded bracelets for our fall ‘15 box. After the partnership, we received a wonderful note explaining that we helped change the lives of an entire village of women in Honduras.”

Get Connected
* Website: fabfitfun.com
* Facebook: facebook.com/fabfitfun
* Instagram: @fabfitfun
* Twitter: @fabfitfun

Man Made
See how Dollar Shave Club stands apart from the competition.

By now your customers have heard of (or maybe even subscribe to) Dollar Shave Club, which debuted in 2012. Though the launch initially started with razors, the company has since expanded to include five grooming categories: shaving, skin care, hair styling, shower care and fresh, says chief innovation officer Fadi Mourad.

As a company that manufacturers its own products rather than simply featuring other brands’ items, Dollar Shave Club is continuing to expand its merchandise to encompass all areas of the men’s bathroom category. If you own a business that offers a wide variety of grooming or beauty products, starting your own subscription service could be a viable way to grow your company online.

Inspired by the negative shopping experience many men have had with buying overpriced razors, the hugely successful Dollar Shave Club now has over 3 million members, who also receive a monthly magazine called The Bathroom Minutes.

“We’ve tapped into our 3.2 million members to understand their frustrations in all areas of grooming, and our product development team has sourced the most effective ingredients, technologies and innovations to build efficacious products directly for them,” Mourad says. “No other subscription service provides the depth of grooming solutions we provide to men.”

Get Connected
* Website: dollarshaveclub.com
* Facebook: facebook.com/dollarshaveclub
* Instagram: @dollarshaveclub
* Twitter: @dollarshaveclub

[Photo courtesy of FabFitFun]