My Ungroomed Experience With Birchbox’s Email Program

Finding the perfect gift is always a challenge. And for me, finding the right gifts for the men in my life is an even greater struggle. I tend to mix up their length and width sizes for pants and have a hard time coming up with ideas more original than a tie. Still, I rack my brain trying to come up with items that they’ll actually use.

For example, my dad and I like to eat sushi together, so this year for Christmas I bought him a Groupon for a sushi-making class. Likewise, my fiancé uses specific hair gels and shaving creams, so I decided to buy him a six-month subscription to Birchbox Man for his December birthday. 

Birchbox Man is a service offered by subscription beauty supplies company Birchbox that delivers samples of men’s grooming products right to your door every month. When I purchased the subscription, I initially found the gifting process pretty painless. I simply visited the Birchbox website, selected what kind of gift subscription I wanted to send, how long I wanted the subscription to last for, and entered in my shipping and billing details. 

Now, I’ve been writing about email programs long enough to know that brands usually offer you a discount when you sign up for their email lists. Birchbox is one of these companies. It promises 10% off your first purchase of $35 or more. So, I abandoned my cart, enrolled in the email program, and waited for my promo code to arrive.

Without fail, I received my welcome email containing my coveted coupon. I waited about a week until I went back to the site to purchase the gift subscription; in the meantime I received the traditional shopping cart abandonment email with a promo code reminding me to complete my purchase

When I did revisit the site to edit my order and make the purchase, I entered in the promo code I had received in my welcome email. But much to my dismay, it didn’t work. I later read the caveat listed underneath the email sign up form that said the 10% off code only applied to purchases of full-sized products, not to subscriptions. Birchbox sells full-size versions of the samples it distributes to its customers via its online store. But at its core, Birchbox is a subscription service. So why wouldn’t it let me apply a promo code to to its main product offering, a subscription?

I shrugged off my frustration and applied the promo code I had received in my shopping cart abandonment email: a $10 credit to use toward my next purchase. I was satisfied with my purchase and couldn’t wait to give my fiance his gift.

Birchbox, it seems, wasn’t satisfied. The next day I received an email with the subject line “FREE BAGGU Bag When You Subscribe.”

What?! A free bag when I subscribe? But I just purchased a subscription less than 24 hours ago. Where was this offer then? Sure, the subscription was for my fiance, but I wouldn’t have minded getting a little free gift, too.

The next day I received an email acknowledging that I used my $10 credit toward paying for a subscription. So, if Birchbox was confirming that I just bought a subscription, why did it send me an offer telling me to subscribe to its service the previous day?

The promotional messages didn’t stop. The next day I received another email offering me a free men’s travel kit when I purchased a three-month Birchbox Man subscription—a $70 value. 

Seriously? I just bought a six-month subscription. My fiance would have loved the extra gift. Why was the e-tailer continuing to send me offers for a product I already bought?

Over the course of the next few days I continued to receive more emails from Birchbox inviting me to purchase a gift subscription. The first offered me 20% off on a yearly subscription plus a free deluxe makeup bundle (sigh). The next email invited me to get something for myself and offered me a $10 coupon. The third asked if I forgot to buy a gift for someone on my list and provided me instructions on how to gift a subscription—plus it offered me 20% off. I even received an email from Birchbox Man yesterday offering me a free pair of socks with my subscription purchase.

HELLO?!? I already bought a gift subscription last week. Why are you not looking at my past purchase data? And why do you continue to offer me services that I don’t need?

Now, because Birchbox knew that I gifted my purchased subscription, it’s possible that the e-tailer simply wanted to upsell me and get me to buy a subscription of monthly beauty products for myself, or purchase yet another gift subscription. However, if this was the case, then it should have made this clearer in its messaging. Also, the content didn’t reflect where I was in my customer journey. 

Here are three ways I think Birchbox could have improved my experience with its email program.

Offer me real value. If I’m signing up for an email program offered by a subscription service, then I’m indicating that I’m interested in that subscription service. Offering me a promo code for something other than the core service isn’t providing me with real value; it’s providing the value to the business. New relationships are fragile and marketers should do everything they can to make a good first impression.

Follow my customer journey. If I purchase a six-month Birchbox Man subscription, don’t send me a free gift offer for a three-month Birchbox Man subscription three days later. Also, don’t send me instructions on how to gift a subscription when I already bought one a few days prior. These messages make me feel like I missed out on a great deal and that you don’t really know, or appreciate, how I’m engaging with your business.

Send me targeted content. Other than my name and email address, Birchbox doesn’t know much about me. Perhaps if Birchbox had asked me for more data about myself when I was purchasing a subscription for my fiancé (such as gender or which products I like to use), then it could have sent me more relevant, targeted content that would have been more persuasive in terms of getting me to sign up for my own subscription. Something like this would have been effective: “Hey Elyse! We noticed that you recently gifted a Birchbox Man subscription. Why not get something for yourself? We noticed that you like Kate Spade fragrances. Get your own fragrance samples in your first Birchbox subscription box.”

Instead, the messages I received seemed a bit too batch-and-blast and made me feel like Birchbox didn’t know who it was talking to or that I even made a purchase.

It looks like its email marketing has a little grooming to do.

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