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Walgreens makes play for beauty subscription market with shop-in-shop Birchbox deal

US pharmacy chain Walgreens has teamed up with subscription-based online beauty brand Birchbox to develop 11 shop-in-shop beauty departments, in a large scale trial that coincides with Walgreens buying a minority stake in Birchbox.

The Birchbox presence is described as ‘a retail experience that will give the everyday beauty consumer an elevated, intuitive and stress-free way to discover and shop for prestige beauty’. The in-store format has been designed by DCIArtform.

The 11 pilot sites are located across six markets, with a mix of urban, suburban, flagship and cornerstore branches of Walgreens. The Birchbox spaces will be between 400 sq ft (37 sq m) and 74.3 sq m (800 sq ft) in size, and will benefit from elevated design spend to help them stand out from existing beauty departments.

The Birchbox-branded spaces will feature skincare, hair and makeup products from more than 40 premium brands. They will be staffed by Birchbox-trained Walgreens staff, and the departments will offer subscriptions to Birchbox’s monthly delivery services.

“This is an exciting time for beauty at Walgreens,” says Walgreens president of operations Richard Ashworth. “Our customers want to shop the most sought-after brands in a welcoming and accessible environment, and the addition of Birchbox to our growing beauty offering is a big step in delivering on our promise to differentiate and elevate the beauty experience at Walgreens. This collaboration will help enable Walgreens to continue to strengthen our beauty offering and build our prestige portfolio.”

Easy navigation and curated product options will be key to the format, which according to Walgreens will offer relatable staff and a warm and welcoming environment. A grid-style framework will guide customers through their make-up routines to allow easy shopping missions.

Fixtures have been designed to feel like domestic furniture, Birchbox products will be framed like artworks, and wallpaper will be used to help customers feel at home. Digital content will provide context and product education, and feature tables will allows testing, product spotlights and launch events. Flagship locations will feature a Birchbox checkout.

“In Walgreens, we have found an exciting partner that supports our mission of reaching an underserved customer who doesn’t prioritize beauty,” says Birchbox co-founder and CEO  Katia Beauchamp. “Birchbox has effectively changed the relationship that this customer, who represents 70 percent of the market, has with beauty and increased her spend in the category. Walgreens is deeply committed to beauty and shares our vision for a different type of retail experience – one that is holistic, seamless and designed to help shoppers make informed, confident decisions. Together we will continue to evolve the integration of our physical and digital shopping experiences.”

The first six locations will open in December, in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. A further five stores – in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Miami, will open in early 2019. The relationship will be reflected online, with a Birchbox shop on the Walgreens website.