Birchbox , which provides $10 monthly beauty subscriptions, proclaims to be more than a “subscription service.” According to its CEO and co-founder, Katia Beauchamp, it’s a beauty retailer using the subscription service as a marketing tool to engage customers to buy full-size products in its brick and mortar stores and online.
I think that’s a novel idea, and it’s one that’s worked for decades. But in an industry that’s saturated with beauty companies trying to flirt with women and earn their affection, you have to stand out, and well, put out. I’m not being crude—you have to give customers more than what they expect. They have to feel like they’re getting value and they’re getting their money’s worth—and really a little more than that. That’s why customers love a gift with purchase or a few samples stuffed in with their full-size purchase or coupons for their next purchase.
I’ve been with Birchbox for 30 boxes now. That’s two-and-a-half years of joy, misunderstandings, disappointments, and lots of change. Birchbox has felt like that bestie who had the best advice and tips for helping me to feel and look my best. If my skin felt parched, she knew the moisturizer I should try. If I was looking dull, she had a recommendation for the best highlighter. Yep, she was my girl. And then…things changed. She changed. Our relationship evolved and I realized we were growing apart and it was time to part ways. I still love her and wish her well, but we need to separate because we’re not suited for each other anymore. Here are 6 reasons I’m breaking up with Birchbox.
- Loyalty not rewarded. Those who joined Birchbox after it’s amazing point system ended in July 2016 will never know the joy it truly brought its customers. One of the things that differentiated them from others [Ipsy, Sephora, etc.] is that the points system allowed you to earn points [redeemable for real spending dollars on Birchbox.com] for reviews of sample products you received. After they eliminated this aspect of the points system in July 2016, I haven’t been as compelled to purchase from them. Their previous point system allowed me to afford high quality products on my limited budget. I’d saved points and intentionally wait to buy something on Birchbox.com. Not any more. I also think it attracted and helped them maintain loyal customers. I’m sure they ended this because this model proved to not be profitable or sustainable for them as a company. Think about it: You receive 5 products. You earn 10 points for each product you review. 10 points equals a dollar. If you review one box, you earn $5, that’s half of the price of the $10 box back in your pocket. Essentially, you’re only paying $5 a box. I get it, I’m sure they probably lost profit being so generous with points. However, instead of completely eliminating this aspect of the points system, they could have simply revised it (give less points for each item reviewed), so the customer is still getting some value for reviewing products.
- Samples often don’t match beauty profile. As a woman of color with curly, kinky, afro-textured hair, I don’t need hair texture sprays. I’ve got plenty of my own texture, yet Birchbox has managed to send me several of these sprays over the years even though my profile clearly states I’m a black woman with curly, frizzy and coarse hair. Birchbox: I really could’ve used some of those hair oils and creams you sent to other subscribers. Another thing that has irked me is that I’ve never received any products specifically for my acne, oily-prone skin. Not. A. Single. One. However, I’ve repeatedly received products for dry skin like creams and oils. I’ve seen other subscribers on unboxing videos and Instagram posts receiving serums for congested pores and acne treatments. What gives, Birchbox? I could forgive these grievances in the past because at least I was getting all those points.
- Itsy bitsy, teensy weensy sample sizes. In my September 2016 box, I received the world’s smallest eyebrow pencil ever by Benefit. The pencil’s packaging was only about an inch-and-a-half long and contained about 1/8 inch of brow product to use. I barely had enough to use it more than a few times. I’ve also received small containers that were half-filled and samples only large enough for one use. Now, to be fair, brands are the ones that manufacture the samples. Birchbox is just a distributor. However, if a sample is ridiculously small, Birchbox might consider adding an additional sample or choosing larger samples to include in the box. It’s disheartening when you pay $10 for a box, and it’s worth less than that.
- Tutorials, where are thou? I’m in the content marketing business. I can’t help myself, I pay attention to brands and how they create, market, and distribute content. Birchbox video content has gone down. They used to produce more YouTube tutorials to go along with the featured products in the subscription boxes. Instead, they’ve upped their Snapchat and Live Facebook content. In a way, that’s a plus—they’re providing more ways to connect with customers. However, Snapchat posts are only available for 24 hours and Live Facebook is not edited. I’m spoiled: Sometimes I want to watch a produced, edited video that’s only 3 minutes long rather than a 45-minute Live Facebook chat. Can’t we have Snapchat, Live Facebook and YouTube videos?
- Shipping errors. I’ve mostly had good experiences with Birchbox’s customer service. Anytime a mistake has been made, they’ve been accommodating and fixed it. For example, I ordered a lipstick and what was only supposed to be two-day shipping turned into 14 days. Apparently, my shipment was held up thanks to Newgistics, a service that Birchbox uses for delivery. I contacted Birchbox, and they immediately shipped another lipstick using UPS. Customer service said I was welcome to keep the other lipstick if it ever arrived (eventually it did, and I gave it to my mom). Despite the mostly stellar customer service, this past year has been sprinkled with shipping delays. I’ve not received tracking information at times, at other times the tracking was not even accurate and the package was received nearly a week after said delivery date. One time, I didn’t receive my subscription box and I had to be shipped a new one.
- Returns take FOREVER. I love that Birchbox has a 90-day return policy. That’s much better than the traditional 30 days most retailers offer. However, they truly need the 90 days. Because they use Newgistics as delivery service, it takes a long time to ship a package back to them. I’ve made about 3-4 returns with Birchbox, and each time it took an unreasonable amount time to receive a refund. You can track your return package, and I once saw my package was just sitting in a warehouse for 3 weeks before it was delivered back to Birchbox. That’s so inconvenient and annoying.
As much as I enjoyed Birchbox for these last 30 boxes, I’ve become more impatient with the shipping, tiny samples and receiving samples that don’t suit me. I’ve already signed up for Ipsy and Play by Sephora. I am a beauty hoarder after all, and I need something to feed my addiction.
Farewell, Birchbox. If you get your act together, I’ll be happy to return.