Birchbox uses brick-and-mortar to learn about online shoppers

Birchbox opened its first brick-and-mortar retail location in New York City earlier this month, joining a growing list of e-retailers opting to try out a non-digital storefront. But for Birchbox, the new SoHo store is just as much about improving the online experience as attracting offline customers.

Birchbox's digital subscription service mails sample beauty products to customers for a monthly $10 charge. The new physical location allows shoppers to browse products in person and create their own sample box, plus a little something extra: available hair stylists, nail technicians and makeup artists to inform customers about beauty trends.

Online retailers opening flagship stores is a growing trend with Warby Parker, Nasty Gal, Just Fab and Bonobos among the e-commerce players who have found success in brick-and-mortar. Most treat their storefront as a place for shoppers uncomfortable with buying online to see and feel what they're paying for before placing an order in-store. Birchbox goes a step beyond that.

The store is more of a laboratory, co-founder Katia Beauchamp told The New York Times. The service has collected more than 800,000 subscribers since its debut four years ago, but less than a third of those users end up buying any of the products sampled at The store can help them learn why.

Cameras and heat sensors track in-store shoppers and help Birchbox index what products consumers are interested in and how they use the iPads installed on site for assistance. In the future, Beauchamp hopes to add Wi-Fi analytics that would allow the Birchbox app to become a companion to the in-store experience, sending push notifications and collecting data on how often a shopper has visited and what they've purchased.

While that may sound awfully 1984 to some shoppers, the hope is that it will ultimately provide value to them in the form of a more personalized shopping experience.

"Traditionally when customers walk into a retail store, they're anonymous," Dave Gilboa, co-founder of Warby Parker, told Quartz about similar efforts the retailer is making in analytics. "The store clerks don't know who that person is and whether they've shopped 100 times in another store."

If Birchbox can figure out how to collect valuable shopper data and eliminate fumbling conversations with store attendants, they could have a win-win on their hands.

For more:
-See this Quartz story
-See this LA Times story

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