Ecommerce Tips

How Dermstore Used a Subscription Box as the Ultimate Cross-Sell

Here at Autoship Cloud, we like helping up-and-coming ecommerce businesses by highlighting brands that do the ecommerce and subscription business models well. In that spirit of learning from effective and successful brands, we’ll be shining a spotlight each month on companies that demonstrate effective tactics, smooth user experiences, and more.

Last month, we looked at how a subscription service can help consumers stay stocked up on products they need a constant supply of. And while regular, repeat purchases are a great source of business revenue, that’s not all a subscription can accomplish for your brand. 

Case in point: Dermstore’s “BeautyFIX” subscription box. Let’s take a closer look.


A Mystery Box with Skin in the Game

The Company

Dermstore was founded by a dermatologist that wanted to give his patients easier access to skin treatments and professional-grade products. Most of these top-tier products are available only at dermatologists’ offices, making it difficult for patients and customers alike to get their hands on them. 

Dermstore created retail availability for these goods by selling a variety of expert-recommended brands directly to the consumer. After making the most effective skin treatments accessible to the broader market, they began selling beauty products as well, maintaining their primary value proposition of best-in-class quality. 

The Status Quo

While Dermstore has made quite a name for itself by offering products that make dermatologist-proven skincare practices possible, there were clearly a few hurdles in the way. 

For one, by removing the clinic appointment from the equation, consumers no longer had an expert guiding them to products that would best meet their needs. For another, most of the products carry hefty price tags, making the idea of sampling different treatments to find one that works unappealing to most customers. 

For each customer, this resulted in one of two behavior patterns: either a) they tried one or two products, didn’t find something that worked, and decided it was too expensive to buy anything else, or b) they found something that worked reasonably well on the first or second try and became a repeat customer, but decided it was too expensive to stray from their chosen product.

Clearly, Dermstore had a serious cross-selling problem. Finding the right products clearly required a little trial-and-error, but doing so was cost-prohibitive to most customers. So, the question became “how do we help them find the right products without breaking their budgets?”

The answer was to put the “recommended” back in “expert-recommended.”

Thinking Inside the Subscription Box

Dermstore saw the need to guide consumers to relevant products, and met that need with a curated subscription box they called BeautyFIX. 

For those unfamiliar with the model, curated boxes are almost like birthday gifts: the recipient doesn’t know what’s inside until they open it. When signing up, the customer answers a survey that helps determine what kinds of products will best suit them. Then, an expert at the company chooses the contents of the box specifically for that individual. 

Unlike “theme of the month” subscription boxes, each BeautyFIX box is unique to the subscriber, and is stocked with different products each month. The items are chosen based on the individual consumer’s needs and preferences, much like a “Shop and Return” box (except you get to keep everything in the box for the same price). 

The BeautyFIX Subscription Box is designed to give its customers access to top-of-the-line skincare products at an affordable price. These boxes, valued at over $100, are offered for just $24.95 a month (or $34.95 if you choose to make a one-time purchase rather than a subscription).

Each product in the Subscription Box comes in either a full size or deluxe travel size. In total, they include over six different products for customers to try. If a subscriber enjoyed any of the products in their box, they can easily find and buy the full-priced version on Dermstore’s eCommerce store. 

Additionally, subscribers get discounts when they buy the products they’ve sampled. And if they don’t like the products in any given box, they’re only out the cost of a fast food dinner date.

It’s an elegant solution to a complex customer pain point, and it’s been a successful business strategy as a result. 


Why the BeautyFIX Curated Subscription Box Works

The BeautyFIX Subscription Box has received—and continues to receive—wide acclaim from its customers and large voices in the beauty industry, like Elle and Bazaar. So what lessons can we learn from Dermstore’s success? Why is BeautyFIX so successful? Let’s break it down. 

It Reduces Risk

The primary barrier preventing new customers from buying from Dermstore is the financial risk involved. Not everyone can afford to spend $50 on four floral ounces only to find out they don’t like the product (and those that can usually don’t want to). 

So even when these consumers stand to benefit from higher quality products, they elect to keep using more affordable options where they either know what they’re getting, or don’t suffer as severe a loss if they wind up dissatisfied with the product.

The BeautyFIX box alleviates this “choose wisely” pressure. It gives subscribers the flexibility to get it wrong a time or two before they find a product they really like, and it helps them find new products (perhaps even ones that work better than those they discovered initially). 

It’s a Compelling Cross-Sell

Whenever a consumer feels overwhelmed by options or under-educated for a given buying decision, they tend to play it safe. They’ll pick whatever is familiar or, absent any familiar options, whatever is the least expensive. They’re less willing to experiment with new products because they have no idea where to start. 

The curated (rather than random or even semi-random) nature of the BeautyFIX subscription box answers this conundrum. These picks aren’t happenstance: they’re carefully chosen by an expert in an effort to meet the subscriber’s need.

A customer randomly picking products is a coin toss—maybe the customer will be happy, but it’s just as likely that they won’t. And regardless of the fact that Dermstore doesn’t manufacture the products, or that the product may not have been designed for someone with skin like theirs, a dissatisfied customer typically develops a negative view of the brand.

Rather than dissatisfy a large number of customers, prompting them to leave negative reviews and spread negative word-of-mouth, Dermstore is creating controlled environments for customers to try new products, where they’re more likely to perform as the consumer expects.

In other words it’s not just a sales tactic—it’s active reputation management.

It Keeps Things Interesting

One of the biggest draws of subscription boxes like this is that “birthday gift” effect. Nearly everyone enjoys being pleasantly surprised, even if you’re paying for that surprise yourself. The catch here, is that every subscription box eventually sends at least one thing that the subscriber won’t want. 

There are different approaches to handling this problem. The “Shop and Return” model is a popular one, where customers don’t have to pay for what they don’t want. Dermstore handles it by keeping the cost low. That way, even if there are multiple items in the box that don’t meet the consumer’s preferences, they’re not out much (see our first point in this section).

Additionally, the box is tailored to the preferences of the subscriber, and they’re all very high-quality products. So the odds of the subscriber enjoying the products are higher, and barring that, they’re products that could easily be gifted to friends or family (which creates another potential customer). 

All-in-all, it makes for a collection of products that the subscriber is incredibly likely to appreciate. 

It’s Specific Rather Than Generic

We’ve touched on this several times already, but the custom nature of the BeautyFIX box is a compelling draw. Just as we all appreciate birthday surprises, we also appreciate it when gifts are relevant. After all, few things are as disappointing as a gift that demonstrates that the giver doesn’t really understand you. 

With “Theme of the Month” boxes, every subscriber gets the same things in their box. Clothing sizes may be specific to the recipient, but otherwise, the contents are identical. This works off of the assumption that if the theme is relevant to the subscriber, then the products matching that theme will be desirable. 

That assumption is, at best, only mostly correct, and there are plenty of items in a given theme box that are sold, regifted, or that go unused. 

With a curated box like BeautyFIX, subscribers get the feeling that each box was built just for them. Even when a given product in a given box isn’t to their liking, they still get the feeling that the person who selected the items did so with the subscriber’s preferences and needs in mind.

The bespoke quality of every box makes subscribers feel special, feel important, feel cared for. These positive emotions help establish a positive brand image, and build customer loyalty. 

Giving Your Shopping Experience a “Face Lift”

Turning these lessons from Dermstore into applied learning requires some additional website functionality. You can’t very well offer your own curated subscription box without a way for customers to sign up and pay for it. You could build that functionality yourself, but that requires web development skills, and those skills come at a premium. 

Instead, most brands that offer services like this use a third-party solution that integrates directly into their website. With the right API, you can give your customers a smooth interface with robust functionality, making it as easy as possible for subscribers to get what they want, when they want it, the way they want to have it. 

We’re one of those solutions. Our WordPress plug-in, Autoship Cloud, makes it easy for you to install an interface that streamlines your subscription process, and makes upsells and cross-sells as easy as clicking a button. 

We don’t mean to give the wrong impression. Our API won’t work for every business. But if you’re struggling to manage repeat orders and the customization that customers crave, then you should check us out.

So, to give you a baseline for comparison, here are a few things Autoship Cloud can make your system capable of.

Custom Scheduling Options

Depending on your product, customers may want a new box on a regular or semi-regular basis. Autoship gives you the power to tailor your subscription interface to perfectly complement your delivery schedule. This allows customers to further customize the frequency and day of the week they want their package to come.

Multi-Device Compatibility

Customers can easily complete and check on their orders no matter what device they are using. This means they can reschedule shipments and add or change products in their orders whenever they want, even from their smartphone.

The “On Second Thought” Effect

Let’s face it: customers change their minds sometimes, and that’s ok. Or it is, as long as they have the flexibility to change their order, too. Autoship can help you give your subscribers peace of mind knowing they can modify, postpone, or cancel their order at any time and without any hassle. 

If these sound like the qualities you want in your subscription service interface, get a test drive of Autoship Cloud for free. Or, just contact us. We’ll be happy to answer any questions and help you see how the plug-in fits into your WordPress website. 

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