Personal care products e-retailer Birchbox Inc. has had a rough year.
In January, the retailer eliminated 50 positions, roughly 15% of its staff, and suspended its operations in Canada. Then, in late June, Birchbox made further cuts, laying off another 30 employees, or 12% of its remaining staff.
“It’s been extremely challenging,” says CEO and co-founder Katia Beauchamp. “It’s not where you want to be when you’re starting a business.”
But the slimmed-down retailer, No. 202 in the Internet Retailer 2016 Top 500 Guide, has delivered some good news this holiday season: The retailer is beating its holiday goals thanks in part to a mobile site relaunch just prior to the holidays Though Birchbox declines to disclose its holiday sales, the e-retailer says the revamped mobile site streamlined the checkout process—particularly for shoppers buying digital gift cards. Beauchamp says those improvements have helped the retailer sell nearly double the number of digital gift cards that it sold a year ago.
“We focused on making the gifting flow easier for mobile shoppers,” she says. Mobile is increasingly important for Birchbox as its customer base skews young and many of these shoppers are eager and willing to shop on mobile devices. From Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, 54% of the retailer’s sales stemmed from shoppers buying from Birchbox’s mobile site or app, marking the first time mobile sales surpassed desktop sales.
Those mobile sales have been bolstered by the retailer’s marketing strategy, which is heavily focused on social media—and targeting ads at consumers on their mobile devices, Beauchamp says. “We want to be top of mind for early adopters,” she says. And many of those early adopters are on Snapchat, which led the retailer to aggressively use the platform.
From Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, Birchbox sought to drive sales via Snapchat by featuring holiday deals in its posts, along with a URL that showcased the offers. Because the URL wasn’t clickable because of the platform’s constraints, shoppers had to manually type the URL into a browser. And, surprisingly, a small number of shoppers did.
“A certain subset of our customers are on Snapchat,” Beauchamp says, noting that those shoppers are important to the retailer because they’re influential.
While it isn’t difficult attributing a sale to a shopper who types in a specific URL or a shopper who clicks directly from a social network to a retailer’s site, that isn’t how most shoppers behave she says. That’s clear looking at the retailer’s traffic—only 2.1% of Birchbox.com’s traffic stemmed from shoppers clicking from social networks, according to SimilarWeb Ltd. It’s also true for online shopping as a whole. Data gathered by Adobe Digital Insights shows 0.9% of holiday sales from Nov. 1-Dec. 5 stemmed from shoppers who clicked from a social network.
“Social networks aren’t where shoppers are looking for products,” she says. “Even so, we believe that they do help drive sales.”
While tracking the impact of those sales is “challenging” beyond looking at the last click a consumer makes before clicking and buying, Birchbox is working to find ways to understand how social networks influence a shopper’s decision to buy. For instance, it examines the impact on sales when it pays to promote posts on platforms like Facebook and YouTube versus times it does not. The system isn’t perfect, but neither are systems retailers use to evaluate offline ads like print and TV, she says.Favorite