Beauty Boxes in the UK

Beauty Boxes are a relatively new idea - you pay a small amount ($10 for Birchbox the market leaders in the US, £10 for Glossy Box in the UK), and in theory you get five "luxury samples" to test new products in the privacy of your own home. Yes, you could pick up quite a few of the samples for free if you're willing to go around various stores and ask, but not all (I should point out that the make-up samples they send out look like colours that might have been "mistakes" the company couldn't sell).

I think the idea was brilliant, but the problem is that it's been copied again and again, and the market has become saturated. Several companies have stopped producing their monthly boxes, others have been bought out by larger competitors, and the various beauty bloggers who review their parcels have visibly been getting less and less enthusiastic about their boxes.

I'm guessing that beauty PRs are also getting increasingly fed up with a constant stream of requests for samples.

I started throwing in a handful of samples in the Culture Concierge bags we provided for those visiting London. We've worked on an "honesty system" because these started out with family; we include everything from guide books to DVDs for those moments of insomnia to adaptors for plugs, and just ask people to leave whatever they don't want at the hotel's reception. Samples of lotions and potions have turned out to be very popular, and people (oh, okay women) have asked where to buy them. By far the most popular have been REN Clean Skincare (they always have offers if you order online) and Becca Cosmetics (they use real make-up artists not pushy saleswomen in their South Ken store).

Incidentally several of these REN sample users were staying at the fabulous Belgraves Thompson Hotel ... who not only have the most fabulous bathrooms (photo above), but stock them with REN products. Hmmm. (A taxi driver told me he loved that Belgraves let him use their rest rooms - and mentioned their "lovely" products).

I signed up for a few different "beauty boxes" in the UK because I was getting into a rut in terms of my "beauty routine" and wanted to try out some new brands. I think that a lot of the complaints online are because the subscribers seem to be teenagers and young women in their twenties who want add up the value of their boxes and then complain when it's "only" whatever they've calculated. Many of them then complain about the products being too expensive for them, which suggests they are unlikely to be customers - and not the demographic the beauty companies themselves are targeting.

(I should confess that, having seen a few, I'm thinking of doing a "beauty box" for Culture Concierge members. Maybe).

The UK Beauty Box I've enjoyed the most is from Amarya, a shop that sells organic and natural beauty products (including REN). They concentrate on the products not the packaging, which in my opinion is a good thing, because if all I wanted was a pretty box, then I'd jolly well buy a pretty box. The £10 monthly box was good (I didn't take a photo of the contents, but one can be found here), but their £25 personalised box was amazing, very well thought out, and took into account the various issues I specified going from the more serious (psoriasis) to the mundane (a dislike of coconut). They answer emails very promptly, and you can see from others' comments that they sort out any issues straight away.

Latest in Beauty I tried this week. They work on a different system of allowing you to pick the samples you want, individually or by the box, and only pay for those. Their You Advent Calendar is currently half price, very good value for 24 good sized samples (here) - I ordered it, Yodel didn't deliver it (a card through the door with a tracking number their web site rejected). What impressed me is that within ten minutes of emailing LIB they wrote back apologising, and saying they'd send me another box via Royal Mail. It arrived the next day.

I mentioned Glossy Box to male friends looking for Christmas present suggestions, and a couple signed up, but I warned them all that the company had the worst customer service imaginable. I signed up and was told I'd be sent a box in October. I wasn't, and when I asked I was told their web site had been wrong, my first box would be in November. By December I'd pretty much stopped even thinking anything like help would come out of the airheads that work for the company.

The contents of the November box were fine for trying out new products, as were those in the December box - photos below - the "edition" box was kinda poor value, but you could see the products before you bought, so mea culpa.

First up we had two generous samples of Argentum (5 ml each) - they'd been pushing this in a store, but I wasn't willing to pay £147 for 70 ml of a product I hadn't tried. If you want tighter skin, it's amazing and worked in minutes.

The other products were a drug-store brand lipstick and body lotion, a sample of a perfume, an own-brand blusher (this was the "bonus" sixth item for Christmas). I love the Seche Vite top coat, so I'd been planning to try their new range of nail varnishes. I'm so glad I didn't now. The bottle I was sent was an ugly colour (Enamoured - and nothing like the official Seche photo of this shade), but the colour is a matter of taste, so I tried it to "feel the quality" ... Remembering this is the week I mostly spent lying on my side after a bad fall in Waitrose, I put it on following their instructions, let it dry, which it did very quickly, answered the phone, chatted for some ten minutes (Adrian Murdoch, if you must know), and saw that it had already chipped. By the evening half of the nail varnish had rubbed off. That's why I think "Beauty Boxes" can be brilliant, as I got to try several products for the price of a nail varnish I would have bought.

Until today I would have - and did - recommend Glossy Box with a "the customer service sucks" caveat. Today I asked them to cancel my subscription and refund the balance, because their web site also suck.

This afternoon I pointed out to Glossy Box that the following was an issue for me. They offer subscribers points towards another box if people order through a referral link, and many of the beauty bloggers use this. Mine for example is http://www.glossybox.co.uk/referal?CI=OTg1MDM= and in theory I get 200 points towards the 1000 needed for a free box. I say "in theory" because although friends are using this link, the points don't seem to ever come through on my account. Fine, no biggie because I don't plan to renew my subscription (I made the mistake of signing up for six months rather than paying monthly).

My issue is how Glossy Box ask subscribers to share this link. If you go to their web page https://www.glossybox.co.uk/referafriend/customer/overview/ and click "Connect to Twitter" to share your referral link, then you're signing away access to your Twitter direct messages and profile settings (see screen shot below).

Glossy Box's answer? - since they don't answer emails about missing box, I admit I was surprised they even answered - was this:

Not sure if I was more surprised to hear they didn't know what their web site was doing, or that they were trying to blame my laptop (because of Loot Busters I have good security software, but I tried another computer, same result).

I fiddled with their web site - just accidentally clicking somewhere I guess I shouldn't have. Incidentally, if you want to have a look around at what they are planning around the world, their "campaigns" page is open here http://campaigns.glossybox.net/ - no I didn't hack it, although they are bound to blame me again. So if you're a rival company, feel free to look around ... ;-)

So if you're looking for a last minute beauty gift, the Amarya Personalised Monthly box is wonderful (the recipient can fill in their preferences themselves), and the Latest in Beauty Advent Calendar is a bargain. If you want to hand over your details to hackers, Glossy Box is probably the way to go.

(I also ordered the LuxBox, but it hasn't arrived yet. The only "food" subscription box I've tried so far was the Graze Box, which was inedible if you have any taste buds, and was mostly thrown away).

Update - Glossy Box apologised for blaming me for their IT issues, and I have been allowed to cancel my subscription ... they just don't seem too willing to refund me the balance of the subscription. Nine out of ten comments on the Facebook page are customer service issues, so if you're doing an MBA I highly recommend them as a case study in how not to run a company.

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