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Beauty in a Box: The Birchbox Experience

Renee Gonzalez  |  February 02, 2016

Birchbox, a popular subscription service, is looking to change the beauty industry model of shopping for beauty products in-store. Established in 2010, the New York City-based company has emerged as low-cost online monthly/yearly subscription service that delivers personalized beauty and cosmetic samples to customers. Unlike the traditional way of trying new beauty products at a cosmetic store, Birchbox favors the element of surprise with delivering higher quality product samples that are not as well-known or accessible to in-store shoppers. Customers can then choose to buy the full-size version of the sample products from the website.

To find out more about the Birchbox subscription service and how it works, we conducted a qualitative, unmoderated remote diary study with 5 female participants encompassing the entire Birchbox experience. All participants agreed to document their experience of signing up for the monthly subscription service, unboxing the delivered packages, and providing feedback on the products used from the packages.

Through this diary study, we were able to capture and better understand the process and overall experience of ordering a Birchbox subscription package online. We gained insight into the value of the beauty subscription service to new customers, and we grasped why Birchbox has become such a trending service in discovering and purchasing beauty and cosmetics products online.

Part 1: Signing up

In the first part of the study, participants were asked to visit the Birchbox website and sign up for the $10 monthly subscription service of a beauty box.


Most participants were surprised to find out that they could purchase the sample products on the website. Most participants thought that the service only delivered and provided sample beauty products, but they found it convenient that they could order the full-size product on the website as well.

While signing up for the service, most participants found the process easy to navigate through and gave an average rating of 4.2 out of 5 from a scale of 1 – 5 for ease of signing up (1 = Very Difficult, 5 = Very Easy). Participants were comfortable with the required steps to sign up and did not feel that the process was long or arduous to complete.

Delivery date

During signup, a few participants became confused about the delivery date of their packages.

Some participants were not sure if the date that was provided at the end of the ordering process was the date that the box would be delivered or shipped.

Customizing the box

Some participants were disappointed that they were not able to personalize their settings for the items in the box when signing up for the service. As it turned out, there was an option to customize the box at the end of the ordering process, but the majority of the participants would have preferred to customize their settings upon signup to ensure that they received items that matched their personal preferences.

Part 2: Delivery and unboxing

In the second part of the study, we observed participants unboxing the delivered Birchbox packages and discovered some surprising findings from the process.


Delivery expectations

For many of the participants, the delivery time was much longer than expected. For some participants, it took over two weeks to receive the package after they ordered it online. Information on the delivery of the package was not easily discoverable on the website, which caused disappointment and frustration for participants.

For many of the participants, the tracking number of the package did not update in real time. In other subscription service experiences, participants commented that they received email updates on the status of their order throughout the waiting period and until the delivery of their order.  

The box

Despite their disappointment with the delivery time, all of the participants were excited about the arrival of their Birchbox packages. The element of surprise and the look and design of the box greatly appealed to the participants. For a few, the box was so aesthetically appealing that they mentioned they would repurpose the box to hold their makeup or use it store other items.

New products

During their unboxing experience, participants laid out each sample item and recorded their reactions to the products they received. None of the participants had heard of or used any of the products before, and were curious to try them out.

Skin care products

Participants noted that the least appealing products were the skin care items, such as the highlighting creme, the CC creme, and the face lotion. Participants were hesitant about using these products because of their personal skin type and skin needs, fearing that their skin would negatively react with the products.

Sample size

In addition, most participants were surprised at the small size of the sample items. They had expected a bigger (but still not full-size) sample of each product. Some thought the price of the service did not equal the value of the products.

Overall, participants were greatly pleased with the experience of unboxing their Birchbox package and rated an average of 4 out of 5 for satisfaction from a scale of 1 – 5 (1 = Not At All Satisfied, 5 = Very Satisfied). Participants looked forward to using the items and providing their feedback in the final part of the study.

Part 3: Feedback on the products

In the last portion of the study, participants were asked to use the products from their Birchbox packages and record their feedback on what items they used, did not use, liked, and/or disliked.


Instructions & tutorials

In general, most participants were happy with their experience of trying out new beauty products that they had never heard of or tried before. The items that most surprised participants were the highlighting creme and the CC creme.

For the participants who liked the highlighting creme and CC creme, many were initially confused with how to apply and use the products. One participant had to ask a friend, and others looked up how to use these cremes online before trying them on. Participants commented that wanted instructions or a tutorial to teach and learn how to properly use these new products.

Skin tone

The eye shadow product was also popular with our participants. The participants who liked it stated that the colors matched well with their skin tone. Participants who didn’t like they eye shadow noted that they were initially excited about the product, but they became disappointed when it didn’t match their skin tone.

Product match

Overall, participants were most pleased with the products that best fit their skin type and tone as well as their beauty needs. With Birchbox, they were able to discover new beauty products that they would have otherwise not had discovered on their own.

Depending on how many products best matched the personal needs and preferences of the customer, the value of the package varied from participant to participant. Participants who that received products matching their personal preferences rated the value of the service higher than participants who didn’t receive items matching their taste.

Overall experience

Despite the mixed review of the items of the box, participants rated their overall satisfaction with Birchbox as an average of 4.4 out of 5 on a scale of 1 – 5 (1 = Not At All Satisfied, 5 = Very Satisfied) and gave an average value of 4.2 out of 5 for the products in the package. In addition, half of the participants said that they would continue their monthly subscription to see what they received next month after customizing their personal preferences to their beauty needs and wants. The other half said that they would cancel their subscription because the cost did not equal the value and size of the samples.


In this three-part study, we found that the overall Birchbox monthly subscription experience was well received for first-time users throughout the process of the signing up for the service, receiving the package, and using the products.

The value of Birchbox is that it saves time in discovering new beauty products that customers would otherwise not have discovered while shopping on their own time.

In addition, the surprise and aesthetic appeal of the box created a happy customer experience for all of the participants. This greatly outweighed the complications with the delivery expectations of the box and the size of the samples.

As most of the participants suggested, the ability to customize their box and personalize their settings for the products received would be a great improvement to their experience with Birchbox and would increase their overall satisfaction with the service.  

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About the author:

Renee is a UX researcher for UserTesting with experience in product, marketing, and social media. She grew up in Santa Cruz, graduated from the University of San Francisco, and currently works in Silicon Valley.