First Birchbox store uses Artificial Intelligence and iPads to make beauty shopping better

It seems we’ve all become a little, OK, a LOT, obsessed with online shopping. There’s something about the ease, the choice and the lack of ‘end-it-all-now’ changing room queuing dilemmas that make it so much more appealing than the real thing.

But when it comes to beauty products, e-commerce often just doesn’t cut it. If you can’t swatch that make-up, smell that perfume or test out that lotion on the back of your hand, chances are you won’t be buying it. But what’s the alternative? A really snooty assistant who is just totally staring at your open pores and shiny forehead as she talks to you about a foundation about as much as your monthly wage? No thanks. And it’s this combination of online shopping hurdles and real life shopping nightmares that has led to the huge popularity of subscription box services over the past few years.

Take a look at offerings from Birchbox, Glossybox and Latest in Beauty and don’t tell us you’re not frothing at the mouth with excitement for those teeny-tiny bottles, those high-end, unusual brands you would never normally let yourself within a ten metre radius of. And let’s not forget the adorable boxes you’ll desperately try to cram things into afterwards in a further attempt to justify a monthly subscription to beauty stuff you don’t need.

But as well as these brands appear to be doing, the daddy of beauty subscription boxes, Birchbox, has turned the whole model on its head and has opened up a real life beauty store in New York’s fashionable SoHo district, called Birchbox Soho.

The NY-based company’s flagship store will be a huge 4,500 square feet of beauty and cosmetic goodness, featuring a whopping 250 brands. The challenge is translating the brand’s highly-effective and customisable experience into the offline world without intimidating shoppers or making beauty shopping a headache, and it’s done with a fair bit of tech.

Enter the store and you’ll be prompted to answer a range of questions about your beauty habits, lifestyle and skin types on a series of iPads and touchscreens. A mixture of AI and machine learning will then take this information and build personalised product profiles for each and every shopper, so that they can then go on to try out and purchase the stuff Birchbox reckons will suit them. There’ll also be a tonne of digital content, videos and user reviews available too, further blending the offline and online retail worlds to create a unique shopping experience.

As you’d imagine, it’s far from just a regular shopping experience after that. You can create your own Birchbox in a designated BYOB or ‘Build your own Birchbox’ area if you’ve got into the habit of having everything tied up neatly in a box or want to create the ultimate beauty gift, you can try out all kinds of products over at the Try Bar without being hassled by pushy sales people and you can even receive hair and beauty treatments (and soon classes!) in the store’s basement. It truly is a beauty-product-obsessed girl’s idea of paradise.

Whether Birchbox’s success will translate seamlessly into a brick and mortar venture remains to be seen, but it’s certainly good to see such an innovative company try to take its core values to the offline world.


Becca Caddy