Ipsy’s CMO talks BoxyCharm merger and shares the keys to beauty-box success

Personalization and scouring TikTok have helped it rise to the top.
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· 5 min read

In February, Ipsy used a TikTok video with the Saweetie and Doja Cat hit “Best Friend” and two people dressed up as living beauty boxes to introduce some big changes to its business.

The beauty subscription-box company announced that BoxyCharm, another subscription box offering full-size beauty products under the same parent company, Beauty for All Industries, would merge under the Ipsy umbrella. The move united Ipsy’s penchant for personalization on its boxes of sample-size products with BoxyCharm’s focus on full-sized items and commerce, CMO Jenna Habayeb told Retail Brew.

  • The two companies had operated as separate businesses since Ipsy bought BoxyCharm for $500 million in 2020, with a reported 4.3 million subscribers between them.

Ipsy has since seen “positive signals” from members, Habayeb said. “We didn’t know if people were gonna be really pissed off about a merge like that. We’ve had a lot more people sign up. We’ve had a lot of inactive members re-sign up.”

Ipsy, which says it is currently the largest beauty membership in the world, was founded in 2011, just a year after Birchbox pioneered the category that has since seen its ups and downs: Birchbox’s fate remains unclear amid struggles, while retailers like Target and Sephora have ended their offerings in recent years.

“It’s been a really great ride to be able to see so many great competitors come into the space but to be able to stand strong for the last 12 years,” she said.

Habayeb shared a few of the ways Ipsy has boxed out its competition, and where there’s still room to grow.

Something for everyone: Ipsy’s focus on personalization has been one of the company’s “major competitive advantages,” Habayeb said. It built a proprietary AI model utilizing thousands of data points collected from its members, from quizzes to product ratings to the products they choose.

As a result of its personalization focus, Ipsy’s audience ranges from 12-year-olds to 70-year-olds, Habayeb said.

“If you’re younger and you want more color, or you want products for acne, or if you’re older and you want products for aging or more skin care, you’re able to really work and sort of manipulate our system in terms of sending the signals to get the types of products you want,” she noted.

  • The Glam Bag’s $13-a-month price point also makes it more accessible to a younger audience, but it aims to tap further into the Gen Z audience through platforms like TikTok, where it has 3.2 million followers.

Put to the test: With the announcement of the BoxyCharm merger, Ipsy also rolled out additional features: Power Pick, a handpicked “superstar product” guaranteed in every bag (one of June’s Power Picks is the cult-favorite Benefit Hoola Matte Bronzer) and Beauty Boost, adding a premium full-size product for an extra $15 per month.

  • The company conducts “fake door tests” for new concepts like these, to test attachment rate and conversion and play around with pricing and product types, Habayeb said.
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“[If] we are going to be investing in these products, we have to buy them months and months ahead of time to make sure that we have the inventory to meet the demand,” she said. “So we really have to prove it before we launch.”

Buying in: Ipsy also has “killer merchandisers,” Habayeb shared. Ipsy’s SVP of merchandising Kristy Westrup came from LVMH, while VP of brand partner strategy Doak Sergent spent 12 years at Condé Nast, so Ipsy forges strong relationships with brands to meet their often-differing needs.

“Some brands are launching a new product, and they just need trial,” Habayeb said. “Some brands need reviews because they want to work with Sephora and get more reviews on their products. Some brands have a core product they just want to make sure that people remember and continue to love.”

The team does monthly consumer research to figure out what its subscribers are interested in—from ingredients to products to categories. They also “constantly scour” social media to find the “hottest new thing.” That’s often something trending on TikTok, like the Drunk Elephant Rosi Drops it secured for its April 2023 BoxyCharm box, for example.

Looking ahead: With less planning needed, those viral products are often easier to secure for its commerce business, an area it hopes to expand. The business—which offers up to 80% off products from brands like NARS and Mac to subscribers—will help Ipsy “think beyond the beauty subscription total addressable market,” and it continues to grow, Habayeb said.

“Subscription at large is growing, and it's changing, and it’s evolving,” she noted, so commerce is a “huge opportunity” to engage its members going forward. “Twelve years ago, we were a very big disruptor. And now, in a leadership position, you can’t just sit still. And so a big part of what we’re looking at is, ‘How do we continue to disrupt ourselves?’”

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