My opinion on the first Birchbox physical store in Paris
Over the last few months, a bunch of fresh and ambitious make-up brands have started to set up physical store networks in France. On this blog, I have already echoed what Nyx and L’Oréal Paris retail concepts were all about not to mention the inspiring moves of 3ina and Models Own abroad. Just click on the brand to access the articles I specifically wrote about them.
The time has come now to explore how Birchbox, the online iconic beauty-box specialist, has entered the physical retail world with its first European store in Paris. For those who have never heard about Birchbox, you should know that the brand, created in 2010 in the US, has sold 2 million beauty boxes online last year. The brand business model is mainly based on a $10 monthly subscription which allows the fans to receive each month a beauty box that comprises 6 travel-size beauty products. These products comply with the requirements and areas of interest the customers mention beforehand when they register online.
Birchbox is progressively becoming an omni-channel retailer since it has already opened a few physical stores in New York City.
France and Paris are not tabula rasa for Birchbox. In fact, the brand can already rely on 50,000 fans, 15,000 of whom are actually based in Paris. Obviously, they have been heavily engaged on social media (Facebook and Instagram above all) weeks before the grand opening to drive a consistent traffic to the store as soon as the gates have opened.
I could not resist an embedded experience in the store to figure out how a beauty pure player tries to shake up the market through a whole new customer experience.
Let’s dig into the concept right now.
The location in Paris
Birchbox has picked up the Rue Montmartre (for some reason, it has nothing to do with picturesque Montmartre “village” in Paris), close to the gigantic partly open-air Forum des Halles shopping mall and the busy and trendy Montorgueil area. A smart choice since the location lures both locals and tourists in search for inspring brands and places.
In France, most of the make-up stores appreciate colourful and dynamic storefronts. However, Birchbox has chosen to play it classic and sensible. We can feel that Birchbox has deliberately avoided aggressive promotional and marketing materials from leading brands to stand out from the competitors.
The store layout and the merchandising
The 150 sqm on the ground floor are organised around a central, long and straight corridor. The circulation is made easy and intuitive while products are clearly exposed on the wall shelves
The materials inside are natural and sturdy. A beautiful wooden floor combined with elegant and pastel coloured furnitures create a clean and peaceful ambiance that encourages people to stroll and enjoy the visit. It has nothing to do with the hectic and sometimes agressive atmosphere we are used to in mainstream beauty networks. Basically, we find in the Birchbox physical store the same personality as on the website.
As the store is easy to figure out the signage is minimalistic. A few elegant and intimate mirrors which are displayed throughout the boutique make the visitors feel at home.
Some comfortable chairs are welcoming you to take a break and talk to the staff if need be.
The Birchbox branding is very subtle and is concentrated on the checkout area.
The product offering
Birchbox offer is broken into 3 main sectors : make-up, skin care and hair care.
Even though Birchbox has developed its own label on a few selection of make-up items, the store mainly focuses on international high-end brands such as Bobby Brown, Clinique, Clarins or Caudalie.
If you dig in a little deeper, you may come upon niche brands that have been already appreciated by the Birchbox community.
A very small range of items is addressing men.
And, you accidentally come across the store main hotspot : “la fabrique”
Just like the name indicates, ” la Fabrique” is the place where customers are encouraged to create their own beauty box. Whereas customers can be frustrated not to be able to choose the brands and the products inside their box when they order it online, the situation is pretty different here. In the store, the clients are totally autonomous to pick up 6 different products that will fill their beauty box.
The “Fabrique” section provides lots of retail insights.
First, I found it inspiring to see that a digital pure player has designed, at the end of the day, a truly physical ergonomics. With the “fabrique”, the clients are playing shopkeeper. They touch, grab the products and wrap them into a box. Through a kind of “Charlie and the chocolate factory” machinery that has been adapted to the beauty business. No “phygital” tools are involved here whatsoever, even though experts keep telling us that they are vital to thrive in the omni-channel competition.
The “fabrique” section is at the heart of Birchbox business model and expertise. By focusing on affordable travel format samples to encourage visitors to discover new brands and products, Birchbox is expecting customers to switch to standard formats in a second phase. A smart move to boost turnover and profit margins.
In a few weeks, the store will also open its 50 sqm “studio” on the second floor. This studio will offer both hair stylist services and make-up tutorials. To be heavily shared on the brand social media platforms.
The price positioning
Birchbox business is based on a subscription model. In France, in exchange for €15 every month, the clients benefit from a 10% discount on every item. A brand new way to approach the beauty market in France that encourage people to regularly try new brands and products without feeling guilty.
The store is also showcasing gift cards. A powerful technique to attract new customers.
Birchbox has designed a service policy that brings a whole new experience.
If the staff is definitely here to help you it only occurs when you decide it. If you don’t ask for help, no one will bother you. A great feeling that should favour a positive word of mouth among Parisians.
As soon as you get in touch with the staff, you can feel that the sales people are both pro and caring. As a good friend with whom you want to share beauty tricks and tips.
The truth is that the store has done its best to empower the customers. Detailed info signs are displayed in the shelves to provide customers with practical advices about how using some beauty creams and masks. Birchbox has voluntarily designed them in a way they cannot be confused with marketing and promotional materials from the brands themselves.
Once you get at the checkout area, you can notice that there is no traditional (and ofter ugly) till. The store is equipped with an advanced technology payment system that looks like the one in the Apple stores. A very good final impression before leaving the boutique.
To wrap up the visite, I would say that Birchbox has set up a physical store where customer satisfaction is the ultimate purpose. And the brand clearly makes it happen.
You can feel that something special happens at the very moment when you enter the store. A positive feeling that leads you to discover new brands, have a seat and talk to the staff or play to create your own beauty box. As if you would be at home with your friends to a certain extent.
At the end of the day, Birchbox makes you feel independent to choose whatever you want without the marketing pressure we usually feel in larger beauty chains. Thanks to this original and smart DNA, I truly believe that Birchbox has a huge potential on the French market.