Birchbox is hailed as the number one beauty box in the UK and I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype. I embarked on my beauty box journey back in January, and opted to try a six-month Birchbox beauty box subscription via a Groupon half price offer. This is a monthly subscription box service where at the beginning of each month you are sent a box containing at least five samples of beauty products. Each box costs £10 (plus £2.95 shipping) and there is a choice of a monthly subscription, six month (free shipping on the first box), or a yearly subscription (with two free boxes).
I received six boxes with a total of 33 samples/products (nine were full sized). Loyalty points (eight or nine points per item depending on how many items were in the box) were awarded for each review or rating made on the box or product, and I ended up with a total of 331 points where each 100 points was worth £10 to spend on products on the website. Points are valid for six months, and can only be spent if you are an active subscriber.
I have devised 10 key points for a good beauty box subscription, which are:
- Clear and easy to understand terms and pricing. The types of subscriptions available were straightforward and easy to understand with the total price clearly stated and the shipping costs. ✔
- Charges reasonable shopping costs. Each order costs £2.95 as a flat rate. ✔
- Easy and quick to sign up. Setting up an account and subscribing takes minutes. ✔
- Sends email confirmations and tracking numbers when orders are despatched. I received email confirmations each time a box or order was despatched. ✔
- Has a reliable delivery service. Personally I encountered no issues as the company used Yodel and Hermes as couriers. I feel this will vary from area to area depending on how reliable the courier is as others may have had issues. ✓
- Is straightforward to cancel. There is an option to cancel in the account panel, which is easy to locate. It took a couple of minutes and I then received an email to confirm the cancellation. ✔
- Allows users to fill out a profile to help tailor products if there is no choice available. There is a basic profile that can be adjusted, but I feel the profile is a very rough guideline and shouldn’t be relied upon. ✔
- Has an effective and responsive customer service, with a phone number and email available for queries. Birchbox has a message system, and also responds to direct messages on social media as well on public posts. ✓
- Publishes genuine customer feedback (including negative) on the website and on social media. Honest and genuine reviews, whether good or bad is the right of a consumer. Birchbox acknowledges both (where some sites delete them), and thus customers can read real and unedited feedback and reviews. ✔
- Sends a balance of cosmetics, skincare, hair, and body products with new and established brands. During my six-month subscription there were nearly 50% body and hair care products in relation to skincare and makeup items, with the same kinds of products sampled. I received four leave in conditioning hair products in total. Their own brand and exclusive one seem to dominate the curations, rather than the sampling of new products from well-known brands. ✗
✔ = 1 Point was achieved
✓ = ½ Point was achieved, and no issues were encountered. However, other customers had issues.
✗ = Point was not achieved
Birchbox also has a bonus loyalty scheme and a referral scheme, which gives it a club or a community feeling rather than just a customer and retailer relationship. They encourage customers to share photos of their boxes on social media, and how they have used their products, with an incentive of monthly competitions. While most companies delete negative comments or are defensive, Birchbox addresses them with sympathy, which gives the company more credibility in that they are willing to listen to problems publicly and that they are not shirking away from problems. I did make a comment when I received a box with nothing I could or would use—I literally opened it, and after two or three minutes of perusing my five items, I put the lid back on and left it in a corner of a room. They responded and said they would take on the feedback and apologized. For this I must give them some credit, as many companies would ignore it.
Occasionally, there maybe a choice of an item in a subsequent box, and customers are sent an email with a link to make their choice. It’s a nice idea, but not all requests can be guaranteed. However, it allows the customer to have a choice, and also a sneak preview to keep them interested. I also have reservations about how the profile information is used, as it is hard to please so many variations of a profile. Each month there is a booklet listing all the products, so there are various versions of boxes available and I assume each customer is allocated the one that matches their profile as closely as possible. For this reason I would not expect too much from filling out the profile.
In total here is the breakdown of the samples I received where there were 14 items out of 33 I could or did use:
7 x Haircare
1 x Cleanser
4 x Lip products
4 x Eye products
2 x Nail products
5 x Facial treatments
2 x Face moisturizer
5 x Body products
3 x Accessories
With the exception of the hair care and body products, the others were quite evenly spread out. As the idea is to sample products that you would want to buy later, it defeats the object when there are too many samples of the same kinds of products. Sometimes people like to sample brands for a purpose, and perhaps this is something Birchbox need to look at. For instance I read younger subscribers who gave poor reviews of Ole Henriksen’s Truth Serum because it didn’t suit them. Quite simply it seems a waste of a sample of what is an excellent product, as they sent the samples to the wrong demographic. I, in turn would have liked to have sampled Paula’s Choice or Laura Mercier, which are brands I have wanted to try and would buy.
Upon canceling my subscription, it was straightforward and easy. You must do this before the 1st of the month when the billing period begins. On the screen it gives you the option of changing your subscription or canceling, and also asks why you are leaving. I was then sent a confirmation email stating that the subscription was canceled, but my account would remain open if I wished to resubscribe, to spend any points, or to buy from the online shop. I also deleted my payment information for security purposes, but if you do have any outstanding boxes due, payment will still be taken even if if you delete this.
Birchbox is flexible, and reasonably priced for a beauty box. The presentation is excellent where items are sent in a fabric drawstring bag inside a colorful box. Each month there is a sneak peak at what is on offer the following month, and for long term subscribers the main complaint is that of repeat products that reappear. I personally never experienced any issues with delivery, each box arrived by the 11th of the month, and I always got a despatch confirmation email with a tracking link.
Subscribers also get advance notice of limited edition boxes with a discount sometimes, and free shipping. There are also exclusive items or collections available, including their own LOC range, which do seem heavily promoted over other brands.
Ordering products with the points can be a little tricky as there are restrictions (you cannot buy sale goods or other boxes), and some items go out of stock. If the order is under £35 you pay an additional £2.95 postage, unless it is a sampled product of the month where it is free. I ordered using my points and got my order within five days, but the item I had wanted to order was out of stock for a whole month, and found an alternative as it didn’t look as if my items would be restocked.
I would recommend trying out the box on a monthly basis first, and maybe wait until they announce a spoiler list (the first day of the month) to see if any of the items are ones that you would use or are interested in. There are various promotions too, with free gifts offered (this month is a free eye pencil worth £13 from Lord & Berry) or voucher codes off a first box, so shop around to see what suits you. Half of the products I received I won’t use because they aren’t colors that suit me, or are products I don’t use, but there is always that gamble with beauty boxes. While there are many swap clubs to resolve this issue, many (as I do) choose to regift unwanted products. Birchbox is great if you want to build up your beauty collection, if you live rurally and don’t have access to many stores, or have a network of family and friends that you and swap items with. The quality of boxes will vary from month to month, but you can discover some great new finds, and receive some bargains.
©2016. Beauty Super Spy.