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Is Liberty revolutionising the beauty subscription box market?

Sophie Smith
03 December 2021

The popularity of subscription boxes soared during the pandemic, with the UK beauty box market worth £78.9 million in 2020. By 2025, the market is estimated to be worth £93.3 million, according to a Royal Mail report.

This acceleration in beauty subscription box sales was prompted by a nationwide surge in selfcare and grooming during the multiple COVID-19 lockdowns. With consumers unable to browse and purchase products in-store, online retail grew and the beauty box market captured consumer attention.

Jumping on the trend, Liberty recently launched its new The Beauty Drop subscription box. Unlike existing beauty boxes, the luxury retailer has taken its subscription box in a different direction…

The typical beauty box subscription model sees the consumer paying for a box to arrive at their door each month. While this continues to be a success for many beauty brands including Birchbox and Glossybox, Liberty have strayed away and we wonder if they’re onto something.

Liberty’s beauty box has a fully redeemable monthly fee. Subscribers pay £20 a month and receive four free boxes a year, worth over £300. The full fee each month then translates into credit that subscribers can spend in-store and online. After launching in September, The Beauty Drop box sold out within 12 hours, which hints at the appeal a subscription service like this may have going forward.

Discussing the decision behind its fully redeemable fee, Sarah Coonan, Buying Director at Liberty, said: “By making the fee redeemable, the discovery box becomes a reward for our customers’ loyalty rather than a product to buy. This felt very important to me.

"The boxes are a big investment for us. It is a whole new business model, so it has been a learning curve for us as a traditional retailer to adopt such a disruptive model. The great thing with a subscription model is you have a much closer, long-term relationship with your customer. We didn’t want it to be transactional, our customers are part of our community and we want them to feel part of our gang.

“The reaction has been phenomenal. Without sounding too dramatic, the launch was my proudest career moment. We conceived and built it during lockdown and I genuinely believe it’s the most unique beauty subscription on the market.”

A successful business model is imperative for retailers selling beauty boxes, but also for the brands inside too.

Supplying samples or full-size products to these boxes is a huge marketing move. It gives many beauty retailers a platform they cannot create themselves, with the potential to increase their revenue and customer base. However, these benefits come from subscribers wanting more and purchasing their products after trying it in the box.

Skincare brand Balance Me emphasises the impact beauty boxes can have on a brand. After joining Birchbox and several other beauty boxes, Balance Me highlights the importance of subscription boxes for the brand, saying it has allowed them to expand globally and reach a wider customer base.

Commenting on this, Clare Hopkins, Co-founder of Balance Me, said: “Beauty boxes have absolutely been good for us. It has been really successful to help grow awareness for our brand and also the products that we sample.

“It has been particularly good in raising awareness in the US, as it’s given us the opportunity as a smaller brand to be able to sample to large numbers of people.

“For us, the real focus is to use our bestsellers and new products to get awareness out there. It’s about getting the product really right, so you make sure you’re sampling something people are really going to want to try and are interested in. For the products we have sampled, people have really loved them and gone onto buy the full size.”

Birchbox

But this success is not always guaranteed. Especially when subscribers have got another box to look forward to, with different products to try. What is the pull to spend more and purchase the product?

With a fully redeemable monthly fee, subscribers are encouraged to spend on brands across Liberty’s beauty offering. So, is this model likely to increase product buys when there is credit to spend?

However, not even the Liberty subscription service can ensure that subscribers use their credit on specific brands included in the box. The fully redeemable fee could increase the chance of this though.

Adding to this, Sarah Coonan, said: “You can spend the monthly fee across anything in beauty, including services. We didn’t want to build in any hidden restrictions or make it complicated to use. At the end of the day, we feel very lucky that a customer chooses to spend their hard-earned cash with us, so we wanted to make sure it was a very customer centric model.”

While many UK beauty boxes are only sold online, Liberty can entice people back into its store with the redeemable fee. While it may be easier to order online, it’s important for brands, like Liberty, to encourage in-store shopping again after the pandemic. The redeemable fee opens the subscription service up for consumers to enjoy both online and in-store shopping.

Offering something different to competitors is important to stand out. Whether that’s by diversifying their business model or introducing new innovative features. Liberty have chosen a different approach, using its new beauty box to entice customers and offer them a rewarding subscription service. With the success of its model so far, will Liberty see other beauty box brands following in its footsteps?

 

Hear more from Sarah Coonan on 'The Beauty Edit' podcast from TheIndustry.fashion here.

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