Friday, May 4, 2012

Rant: April Birchbox Debaucle

Note: This post is a rant post that expresses my personal opinion based on my personal experience. I purchased this subscription on my own and have only expressed my own opinions below.  The purpose of this post is to relay my personal experience to my followers, however, I am in no way attempting to coerce you to act upon my experience--the choice is entirely yours.

Update 5/14: 
I was so frustrated with Birchbox's response (or lack of) to my issues with my April box that I sent them another email on May 9th that said:


I'm still confused as to how this response addresses my major complaint, which was the size of the products I received. There's a huge difference between receiving a .2 fl oz or larger sample and one that's just small enough for 1x use. And as far as personal settings so, my beauty style is trendy and adventurous. How do any of these products fit that profile? I am also listed as interested in anything natural and organic as well as "sensitive" in regards to my skin, so wouldn't sending me chemical-filled perfume samples in every box be a NO?

When I first joined Birchbox the service claim was that we'd receive "deluxe-size samples" and for the first few months we truly did. I see the text on the website has been changed to "trial-sized samples" quietly and without any sort of announcement. This seems a bit deceptive to me. There's a huge difference between deluxe-size (which is more specific) and trial-size (which could mean any size). Let's be serious, I receive free trial-size products all the time. I can walk into many cosmetics stores and a sales associate will guide me through the products and provide me with free samples at no cost, which is what you informed me is the main value of the service I pay for through Birchbox. I agree that at face-value the service Birchbox is supposd to provide along with deluxe-size products is absolutely potentially worth $10, but I personally don't feel I'm receiving products I'm interested in (despite having changed my settings under Birchbox's guidance) or products that are worth much monetarily due to their small size. How am I even able to determine I like a product enough to purchase it full-size if I can only use it once? Especially with sensitive skin, long-term use is something beauty-lovers like myself are constantly challenged with. I would need to use a product at least a couple times to determine if my skin can handle it.

If you're pushing the same service at the same price and you've changed the details of products delivered regarding size, technically you're charging us for a different service/product--those of us that have been with you since before you changed the text from "deluxe" to "trial-size". I think it's important that you address this change and let those of us that had been with you since before this change know. Also, for those that no longer wish to stay due to this change, wouldn't it be appropriate to offer reimbursement for year-long subscriptions they no longer wish to continue as a direct result of this change? I personally feel that I should be reimbursed for the last 2 boxes I've been sent, at least partially.

I'm so confused and disappointed by both the response I received, which quite frankly did not address my issue and seemed "canned" in nature, and by this deceptive change in product size promise.

I look forward to hearing your response."

I feel confident that I very clearly stated my issues with my box as well as Birchbox in general. Would you agree? Well, this is the response I received today, five days after I sent the email above:

"Thanks for getting back to us!

We changed the wording on the website to "trial" because we want customers to understand one of the basic tenets of the subscription right off the bat, which is that the point is to try different products. As our brand and service continue to evolve we'll continue to make similar changes to the presentation on the website. We're still completely committed to getting deluxe-sized products into the boxes though. Our brand teams works to get products that can yield 2-3 uses and are resealable every month (industry standard for deluxe-size). We haven't changed the sizes of the samples, we just changed the wording to evoke a more action-oriented service. In fact, we're implementing a system where we'll get at least 1 full-size color product into each subscriber's box every 4 months.

As a full-service beauty company, we try to cover the range from skincare to haircare to fragrance to cosmetics and even lifestyle/healthcare. Unfortunately that means we can't currently exclude an item from the boxes (ie: fragrance) or only give certain products (ie: only haircare). We can't promise that you'll love every product you receive each month, but we certainly are always trying to get our subscribers products they can use and may even surprise them once they've tried them. We're constantly pushing ourselves to find interesting brands and products. We're proud of the work we do, but we also understand that we can't please everybody all the time.

I'm really sorry that you were disappointed. I'll definitely pass your comments on to our team as we certainly don't want people to feel deceived because of changes we're making to the website.

If you have any other questions and concerns, feel free to let us know."

Clearly Birchbox will not or cannot respond concisely to my concerns. And I just want to say that I personally do not feel that saying "trial-size" rather than "deluxe-size" is better branding in the sense that it directly conveys the message that Birchbox's purpose is to give you a chance to try other products. In fact, the only think exchanging "trial" for "deluxe" does is convey the type of samples you'll receive. The more I think about it the more it's irritating that Birchbox tried to claim that changing the wording was to convey a clearer message. I'm a copywriter by profession, I don't take words lightly... :/

The phrase I'm referring to by the way is on the "box" page of the Birchbox website which says:

"Join Birchbox and get monthly deliveries of trial-sized samples from both well-known brands and emerging gems. It’s the smart way to try and buy new products."

It used to say "deluxe" rather than "trial-size". As you can see, Birchbox very clearly states that you get monthly deliveries of trial-sized samples in the first sentence. This indicates that you receive small samples of products on a regular basis. Pretty clear right? I'm not confused by that sentence. The next sentence states that joining this service will enable you to try new products and buy new products more effective. Also very clear, correct? Then could somebody please explain to me why Birchbox is claiming that changing the wording that only refers directly to the type/size of the sample products you get on a regular basis conveys a more clear message? I just hate excuses that clearly don't make sense. The response I received above makes no sense to me. Seriously. None.

And the bit about trying to send out deluxe samples consistently??? Ummm who's receiving all deluxe samples because I'm not. Much of what I've received lately A. was not resealable and B. was 1-time use. Ay yi yi...

Oh well, I cancelled at the beginning of this month and don't intend to go back. I managed to cancel 1 day too late to avoid the Gossip Girls box this month which, in my opinion, was disappointing, but I'm not even going to bother going into detail on that.

Oh well, can't say I didn't try! And again, this post is based on my personal experience and opinions. Everyone needs to make their own decision ;)

Original Post:

I've been with Birchbox on and off for almost a year now. I signed up near the beginning of their launch last year, then cancelled my subscription (as I'm sure you know if you follow my blog) after December's uber disappointing box. I waited a few months and then saw/heard that some people were really feeling better about their subscriptions, so I decided to give Birchbox another chance and signed up for the April box. I received my box towards the beginning of last month, was very disappointed, and contacted Birchbox. I received a response and haven't had the energy since to post it ... probably largely due to the fact that Birchbox keeps disappointing me. You also know I hate to post negative things unless I really feel it will benefit my readers, but I really feel you guys need to know about my personal experience here. Also, I've been asked to post about my box, the message I sent to Birchbox, and the response I received by several followers, so here we go...

2012 April Birchbox

My April Birchbox - Yes to Blueberries mini-pack of cleansing towelettes, PUR 4-in-1 mineral tinted moisturizer, Benta Berry G-1 facial exfoliator, Kahina ArganOil, Kahina facial lotion, Taylor Swift Wonderstruck perfume.
My first issue with this box is that this box was supposed to have a natural theme. Can someone explain to me what's so natural about Taylor Swift's Wonderstruck perfume? Last I checked, it contains plenty of chemicals and synthetic fragrance like most non-natural perfumes. This wasn't even considered my bonus extra, this was a featured product. Is it because it is supposed to smell floral and flowers are natural? Still confused. If you know me you know I have a preference for natural beauty products so I get super frustrated with companies that claim "natural" then throw in things that are clearly not.

 My second issue is that the size of 4 of the products--Taylor Swift's not-so-natural perfume, Benta Berry exfoliating facial cleanser, Kahina argan oil, and Kahina facial lotion--are extremely small. I'm talking free-sample small. Actually, I often get larger samples than that for free when I purchase from beauty stores like Ulta, Sephora, etc. I can also get more product than one of these packets holds for free if I go to Origins and want to try out a few things--they're amazing when it comes to sampling their products, I can't say enough! In fact, the products in the picture above are almost true-to-size haha.

I looked at the contents of this box and my heart just sank. I gave Birchbox a second chance and unfortunately, I was let down for the same reasons I original cancelled. I decided to contact Birchbox over my box. After all, how can they improve if they never receive feedback? If you follow my blog you know I've contacted them before. I've been told different things about the reasons and justifications behind the products I've received. I was even told once that it was essentially my fault because my settings dictated what I got, so I was given suggestions on how to adjust my settings to get boxes better suited to my likes/desires. It didn't work before and it didn't work here.

Anyway, I sent in the following email to Birchbox on April 17th...


I was a subscriber to Birchbox for a while in 2011 and I frequently reviewed my boxes on my blog, however, after several different issues with my subscriptions and disappointing boxes (despite being given advice on how to "improve" the box that was sent to me by choosing different account settings) I ended my subscription.

I recently gave Birchbox a second try after a few beauty blogger friends of mine said their boxes had improved. I loved Birchbox in the beginning so I decided perhaps things are better and last year I had just experienced a "bump in the road". Unfortunately, I received my box several days ago and it is exactly like the ones I received last year that were so disappointing. Not only are the samples so small (most were the size of the samples you receive with purchase from Sephora), but there was nothing that matched my personal settings. I am so incredibly disappointed and I really don't feel that my box was worth $10 even with shipping. Please advise as to your thoughts on this. I've had several readers/followers that received the same box I did express the same shock and disappointment.

Thank you so much for your time!"

I received a response on the 20th asking what the email associated with my account was. I responded within 2 hours of the email from Birchbox with my account info. I then received this response on the 24th (in short, it took a week to get a substantial answer--seems kind of excessive)...

"Thanks so much for being in touch and I'm so sorry to hear you were disappointed with your box!

I understand your concerns and I'd love to discuss your feedback with you.

The ultimate idea behind our business is that you get to try an amazing array of products before you consider buying them. We always strive to send our members products that they'll love, but we are also happy to know we are fulfilling our goal of helping you navigate through the cluttered beauty world to suss out products. This is part of the inherent value of your $10 subscription.

Yes, you can choose samples of products at department stores, but with Birchbox you are also paying for a service. The value of your membership is that you don't have to find a sales associate to help you navigate through the aisles, find the products you want to sample, and do all this while feeling pressured to purchase a full-size product (which most of us cannot always afford).

Each month our brand team works really hard to acquire all the samples for the boxes. They are then allocated according to what everyone has in their profile. For instance, as someone who listed their skin concerns as "sensitive" and "sun-protection" the Pur Minerals tinted moisturizer seemed like a good fit as mineral products tend to be better for sensitive skin and it is SPF 20 as well. We sent you the Benta Berry exfoliating cleanser because you've let us know that you have combination skin. This exfoliator is gentle enough for your dryer areas, but also regulates oil production for the areas that are a bit more oily.

Additionally, please don't forget about our
Birchbox Points program! Every month by leaving feedback on your samples, you earn back 50-60 Birchbox points--which is half the cost of your monthly Birchbox. 100 Birchbox points is equal to $10 in our shop and with all the other ways to earn points, they rack up fast! Please don't forget to check this out as it's an amazing bonus to your subscription which counts for incredible full-size discounts that can't be beat anywhere else!

I hope my email assured you of the value of your purchase, the care that goes into selecting samples,
and our appreciation of all of your feedback. Please don't hesitate to be in touch with any more suggestions, comments, or if you would like to discuss anything further."

Does anyone see any issues with this response? In one swoop customer service managed to disregard the majority of my actual issue (the size of the products) and further push Birchbox on me (earning Birchbox points and using the shop).

Aside from not once addressing my issues with the sheer size of the samples I received (a major issue I mentioned in my initial email), I was told that the majority of the $10 value for which we pay Birchbox has to do with them choosing products for us as you can see here...

"Yes, you can choose samples of products at department stores, but with Birchbox you are also paying for a service. The value of your membership is that you don't have to find a sales associate to help you navigate through the aisles, find the products you want to sample, and do all this while feeling pressured to purchase a full-size product (which most of us cannot always afford)."

Ummmmm I was under the impression that the point was to try out new beauty products through deluxe-size samples we received from beloved and emerging brands. Ironically, this text on the site has been changed to "trial-size". That seems a bit vague to me. Trial size could be a month or one-time use. Had I know the subscription had changed from deluxe-size to trial-size I would have never signed back up. The ironic part is, the meta tagline at the top of the web page says, "Deluxe beauty samples delivered to your door" still! Most of what I received was definitely not deluxe.

And regarding the service being worth $10 so I don't have to "find sales associate" and navigate through aisles ... I wasn't aware that receive 2 or 3 lotions or oils every month was helping me to navigate through the "cluttered beauty world and suss out products".

When I review subscription services, and I've done a decent amount, I look for a few different things:
  • Sample size
  • Sample brand variety (we don't need 4 out of 5 products to be from the same company)
  • Sample type variety (we don't need 3 out of 5 samples to be lotion or oil every time)
  • Presence of obvious "filler" products (putting a non-natural perfume in a natural-themed box is obviously not well thought out and putting a fragrance sample in every box, which is what I believe many of us have experienced, really does feel like a filler)
  • Non-beauty items in beauty boxes (one follower told me she received detergent one month???) - why call it a beauty box if you don't stick to beauty? Nothing glamorous about laundry last I checked...
  • General repeats (nobody wants to receive the same box every month with slight variation)
To me, these are many of the areas Birchbox now fails in.  When they first launched I was so excited over everything I saw and received. Each Birchbox was like a little present filled with goodies. Now, I see the same things over and over and the sizes are getting smaller and smaller. And the cherry on the cake for me is the customer service. While I've never had anyone be overtly rude, I have yet to have someone be extremely helpful. I very clearly laid out my issues with my box and I received a very generic response that didn't hit my main issues. Ironically, again I was told my box was a result of my choices on my profile.

Needless to say, I will not be continuing with Birchbox anytime soon unless some amazingly miraculous event occurs. I tried to cancel my subscription the other day and somehow it didn't take, so I will be getting May's box. While it's supposed to be amazing with its special Gossip Girls theme, I've seen too many misses with their boxes lately to get excited. Perhaps they'll prove me wrong with this one, but even then, it will take more than 1 box to make me a believer again.

So there you have it. I know some people still love their Birchbox subscription and I'm extremely happy and excited for them that they've found a service that suits them. I wish Birchbox could have been this for me.


  1. Eek! I've been pretty happy with my box but I haven't gotten tiny sizes that like for the most part.

    I do have a problem with the email they sent you. It sounds like they copy & pasted that email and didn't bother to read most of what you told them. That's a major no-no in my book.

    1. Exactly :( So sad in my opinion and so unprofessional. Aren't we essntially paying for customer service according to Birchbox?

  2. You know I'm right there with you. What frustrates me is they blow you off or try and blame you. I've had two leaky disgusting messes of boxes and one time told sorry here are some points to use the second time no response. My last box included laundry detergent, now its my understanding this box is not just samples but a treat or a way to pamper ourselves, anyone it the entire internet that thinks doing laundry is a treat? I didn't bother to notify them why because they do not care. Not only that I signed up based on reviews from others and I get that's my fault for not doing more research because I unfortunately signed up for a year. My reasoning I'm disabled so being in a house 24/7 very limited to going out and doing things I thought this will be a good treat. Again I don't think laundry detergent qualifies as that, the leaking oil I tell you the first one arrived leaky why would you even attempt to send one the next month and repeats yes that is a treat. What really bothers me though is there is a waiting line for people to try this service, which I beg you if you are on that list research please, why cannot cancel my subscription? Yes it says if you sign up for the yearly no cancelling but that is if you don't get faulty packages over and over, and when there wasn't a line to join. I refuse to just cancel and walk away so I'm stuck with another year which I hate. At least other services you can quit, you can skip and you know what they have great customer service when there is a problem and don't blame their customers. I honestly hate that it comes every month because instead of it being a treat its a reminder of a mistake I made. The other problem I had with "the treat" they keep putting natural snacks in the boxes. Okay some people are quite choosey with what they eat, some of us have families with severe allergies and I really don't want a food treat in my box and can you say an open chocolate treat melted with argan oil? Yes that was a treat

    1. :( That's really, really sad on Birchbox's part. I wish they'd just take all of this into consideration and try to right the mistakes and move forward.

  3. This is a good read I just recently signed up with BB and May will be my first one. I have a lot of blogger friends who have also been disappointed with the size of the products and how the themes don't really make sense. I'm with you they totally didn't hit on the points that you made and seems like they brushed it off. They seem like they are quickly moving in the direction of big business that ignores that little guy :(

    1. It's sad that even after I cancelled last year and waited a few months that it's just more of the same :( I understand that business sometimes make mistakes and things get overlooked, but it's how a company deals with those mistakes that makes them exceptional or terrible. I hope your first box with them is great. It's supposed to be good because of the theme, so I guess we'll see!

  4. If I was considering signing up for Birchbox, I don't think I would even bother after reading your post. Terrible customer service! How do you get an e-mail like yours and respond with something like they did that seems to blame YOU for what you received? (which looked to me like some of the samples I get for free by taking a survey or just giving my mailing addy on Facebook or the company's website--why pay $10 just so someone can pick things they *think* you'll like when you can do it for free yourself and guarantee you won't get something you're allergic to or hate or think isn't worth the money?) They basically sent you a long justification for their service and didn't address the size of the sample at all. I realize their ultimate goal is to get you not to cancel if you complain, but you were disappointed in the sizes of products, which, to me, doesn't have a thing to do with your profile or settings on the site, and they didn't even touch on that. I would be tempted to tell them you want a partial refund on that box because it wasn't about your settings on the website, it was about the fact that their samples, regardless of what they are, are getting smaller and aren't worth the price of admission. And I don't like that they've changed the language on the website to omit "deluxe-size samples." Sneaky. Not to mention I don't see how it's convenient or worth the money to pay $10 with or without shipping to have someone send you a bunch of trial-size samples. Like I said, I can do surveys for 5 minutes or just search for freebies online and not even spend $10 worth of my time to get really great samples that I know I want instead of paying someone to pick randomly for me based on a profile they can interpret as they see fit. No thanks! I've only signed up for Julep's monthly service so far, and after the 3-month period, I'll probably be done with that, too. There's only so much nail polish and mani/pedi stuff you can get in one lifetime. I like that you can preview a box and skip or cancel whenever, but there's only so many colors I need and can use.

    1. I know, I was so disappointed and thrown off by the response :( Poor customer service is never something I can make excuses for. I'm not going to be subscribing to Birchbox any more after all of this of course, but I truly hope they can pull it together and become an amazing sample service company because when they're good they're so fun. It's just sad to see companies revert to things like this.

  5. *My apologies for the harsh language..
    I'm even pissed off for you!! "please don't forget about our Birchbox Points program!" That is the most douche-y response I have ever heard. They didn't even address the fact that you were furious and complaining.

    I won a box from Teen Vogue. I'm not even going to review it, since it would be a complete waste of my time, as well as for my readers. The only positive thing about the box, is that its cute when it comes in the mail. They also sent me super shitty samples and I mean SUPER SHITTY and went right in the trash. They did however send me a full size Essie (which I already had). I know since I won the box, nothing was tailored to fit a profile. I'm pretty sure they just put random leftovers in my box. Now that I think of it.. thats probably what they do for everyone! Shit...

    1. Hahaha Nail Files you crack me up! And yeah, I agree with your opinion. It's really, really ridiculous that a company with thousands upon thousands of subscribers at $10 a piece can't pull it together over a year into it :( I just received the Gossip Girl box that I didn't want, but didn't cancel in time to avoid and ... yeah. Ridiculous :( I may do a post just to talk about how ridiculous I think it is because what the heck were they thinking putting Beauty Blender cleaner in the box without a beauty blender? I get that it could in theory be used for other things, but that to me is like putting a tube of mascara in the box without mascara in it. Ay yi yi...

  6. I would bet that 95% of the stuff that goes into a Birch Box is free to them anyway. It's as simple as sending a letter or email to a manufacturer or brand and asking for samples for your service. From the consumer's point of view the samples they are sending you are nothing you can't pick up off Facebook, freebie sites or walking up to the makeup counter and asking, and no they probably will not try to hard sell you into buying the larger size. Don't we get enough samples from the purchases we make from retailers such as Bloom, Ulta and Sephora? Then to make matters worse they did exactly what the credit card companies do when you call to complain. They say they are "sorry" but are required to upsell you (don't forget about our Birchbox Points program!).

    I truly am sorry you had such a rotten experience. What I personally see from most of these subscription beauty packages is someone trying to take advantage of the boom in cosmetic sales due to the economy, nothing more.

    <3 Shannon

    1. I agree, the more I watch some of them (Birchbox being one of the main culprits) the more I'm discouraged. Tina (below) said she received detergent one week. Detergent in a beauty box???? When you compare this box to the free one I recently received from Target the value of the free one is much better. The samples were actually a decent size and while they were "drugstore" brands, they did a nice job of putting together a good selection of things. I think my absolutely biggest complaint is the sneaky way they went from "deluxe size" to "trial-size" on the site. I mentioned this in my response to their response above. We'll see what they say. It's been a few days, so hopefully I'll hear back soon :/

  7. Instead of emailing them I would personally call them (the number is listed on the website) and request to speak to a supervisor once you get to a person. Email allows customer service representatives to skirt the issue at hand, but a real phone call--they can't just hang up the phone on you and they can't ignore the words you say to them. I also believe speaking to a supervisor or manager will allow you to request reimbursement of some form since the CS rep completely ignored your request.


Please make sure all comments are appropriate and void of self-promotion such as links, blog URLs, etc. Thanks for chatting!