5 Minutes With Ankita D’Mello, Product Manager, Birchbox

In light of Birchbox's recent website redesign, we took the opportunity to have a chat with Ankita D'Mello, the online beauty retailer's product manager.

Ankita D'Mello Birchbox

Tell me about the Birchbox story.

Birchbox was founded in the US in September 2010 by Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna when they saw an opportunity to change the way people discover and shop for beauty.

Birchbox helps consumers discover beauty products through monthly deliveries of curated, deluxe samples that are tailored to their beauty profile. Each box includes a mix of products across categories – from makeup and hair to skincare and body.

Birchbox then brings the magic of product discovery online. In the e-shop, we sell full-sized versions of every product we sample, as well as other editor-approved products. Birchbox also features editorial content designed to educate consumers: from how-to videos to expert interviews, and beauty news roundups.

With a personalised and targeted profile, Birchbox allows consumers to try the best and latest products in their home, including hard-to-find international or niche brands, and provides a seamless way to purchase the full size versions of the products they love.

Today the company has one million subscribers globally, 500 beauty and grooming brand partners, operations in six countries, and stores in New York City and Paris.

Congrats on the new-look website!

Unlike other beauty retailers, our target audience is not the product-obsessed consumer who can easily differentiate her salicylic acid from her glow tonic. The online beauty retailer is targeting “the casual beauty consumer” – individuals who are interested in beauty as a functional product rather than a passion, who may find the world of beauty intimidating and confusing.

With the new-look and feel of the site, Birchbox is making the shopping experience feel more like a conversation with a friend who understands their needs, with increased storytelling in the editorial content introducing shoppers to new categories. Our priority was to introduce the principle that has been so effective from the box subscription service through to the digital experience, the site now offers useful discovery and education through delight.

Key features of the redesign include the navigation pane, pillar pages, and changing monthly design.

There’s an increasing demand for subscription-box retailers emerging online – especially for beauty. Why?

Consumers are looking for a more “discovery”-driven experience, and they want to be introduced to new brands and guided through the journey. They enjoy the ease and experience of trialling new products in the comfort of their own home.

What gap in the UK retail market does Birchbox strive to address?

Our biggest differentiator as a beauty retailer is our target customer. For them (the casual beauty consumers), beauty as a category is not a passion point and this is the only experience designed for that mindset. For our customers, the world of beauty is intimidating and overwhelming and frankly, they don’t really know where to start, even though they’re interested.

Unlike other beauty retailers, our strategy is to give you fewer options to choose from and better guidance so your experience is easier and more productive.

“Consumers are looking for a more ‘discovery’-driven experience”

How is Birchbox’s business model different to its main competitors?

Our boxes are personalised to each subscribers’ individual beauty profile and we also have the full-size product offering to our business model. Everything you sample can be bought in full-size on our website.

What’s in store for Birchbox for 2019?

The site redesign is the start of more personalisation to give customers a more meaningful and relevant experience onsite.

How is Birchbox addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry?

As a business we hold rich data (through the beauty profile element of our experience) and we are increasingly using the data we have and what we know about our customers to continue to improve the experience and relationship we have with them.

Describe your role and responsibilities at Birchbox.

Product at Birchbox is all about the online customer experience and hence is a touch point across a number of different functions of the business. In a nutshell, I see a major part of my role is understanding all the moving parts of the organisation and ensuring that the overall experience delivered to the customer is easy and delightful.

A more challenging part of my role is driving change and propagating that through multiple teams in our organisation. An example of this is introducing a new delivery method such as click-and-collect which not only requires carrier integration and a customer interface but also ensuring that internally, our customer service team are educated on the new feature and are able to handle queries from customers.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background beforehand.

I started out my career as front-end engineer and have always been passionate about building websites and making them even better. I spent a good chunk of my career at a management consulting company where I was a product manager across multiple industries from financial services to resources as well as retail products. In general, I like being able to wear multiple hats and dabble in new areas.

“I have worked in a number of industries in the past and possibly the most exciting has been retail”

What got you into retail in the first place?

I have worked in a number of industries in the past and possibly the most exciting has been retail. I think the main reason is that it is so relatable to most people. The truth is that you would have seen a retail company’s product on a shelf or an ad on the tube somewhere and it always sparks curiosity when it’s a brand that you can resonate with. For me, Birchbox was that brand. I felt like I understood what the company was about and I wanted to be a part of that. It is a very fast-paced industry and competition is always fierce so you’ve always got to be on your toes.

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

Coming from a larger corporate and structured company, this has definitely benefited my role at Birchbox in being able to juggle numerous things at a time as well as improve internal processes. I have streamlined and automated a number of manual tasks at Birchbox which allows us to focus more of our time on feature development and innovation.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Often that you can’t make everyone happy. As a product manager, I deal with numerous stakeholders that often have conflicting priorities. It is my job to prioritise work and launch features to our customers in the most effective way. The key to this is ensuring that communication is constant and that all stakeholders truly understand why certain decisions are being made even if they were initially opposed to them.

And the most rewarding?

The most rewarding is how tangible the results of your work can be. However good or bad, it is amazing to see how tiny changes can create a huge impact.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Retail is a really exciting place to be. My one piece of advice is to be creative, no matter what area you are joining. It can be daunting to be different but its the best way to stand out.

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