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Walgreens Gets a Makeover

A match made in heaven? Only time will tell. Birchbox, the company known for their beauty boxes and subscription program that changed the beauty industry and influenced a new segment of retail, is now accessible to more customers at 11 Walgreens stores. The Birchbox partnership has completely redefined the Walgreens shopping experience for skincare products at the drugstore, making cleaner, higher-end brands accessible to all, while elevating the brand offering.

For Birchbox, this is an opportunity to translate the subscription box model into a physical space that goes beyond their flagship store in New York and the pop-up model. The spaces range from 400 to 1,000 square feet and resemble mini Birchbox stores. For Walgreens, it’s an opportunity to invest in a growing brand while showcasing their knowledge and access to beauty brands that weren’t previously sold in the store, a sure upgrade from the traditional drugstore beauty lineup.

Like its online and store presence, the products sold are curated by beauty experts and cover over 40 brands. Women can sample and buy beauty products – an experience that goes well beyond customizing a box. The interactive BYOB (Build Your Own Birchbox) experience allows customers to test and play with product samples before making their box for $15. Full-size products can also be purchases and tested at the inspiration station. This test and play environment mirrors that of what Sephora has recently done with their T.I.P. (teach, inspire, play) model. As physical stores fight for relevancy, creating a multi-faceted experience becomes that much more important.

As Birchbox develops the retail experience at its Walgreens locations, it plans to incorporate insights gleaned from its standalone store in Soho, New York City which opened in 2014. This leaves us with a pending question as to why Birchbox haulted their expansion to more physical stores. They were an early clicks to bricks pioneer, but never expanded. We presume this shift is due to a downsizing at Birchbox over the past few years that cut 15% of its staff as it faced a tough time raising capital to expand the business. Walgreens minority stake in the business should ignite growth moving forward.

Will this be a win-win? This could help Walgreens stand out in customers minds as a beauty destination among the Sephora’s and Ulta’s of the world? Only time will tell. Birchbox is currently present at 11 Walgreens locations in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Dallas and Miami.

Alex Timion

Alex leads McMillanDoolittle’s global communications work and is the primary point of contact for Ebeltoft Group, McMillanDoolittle’s international partnership with over two dozen retail consulting member firms around the world. In this capacity, Alex coordinates collaborative project work, assists with original global studies, runs point on Ebeltoft Group’s annual publication Retail Innovations, and provides comprehensive event planning assistance for bi-annual international conferences. As a Senior Associate, Alex provides planning and presentation support for the company’s retail focused study tours and speaking engagements, including NRF’s Big Show.

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