For beauty brands looking to establish themselves in the market, trying to break through the noise to find and reach the right customers can pose a major challenge. And on the flip side, for beauty shoppers, finding the right products can quickly become a costly heap of a situation given the plethora of options out there. So, what’s the solution? Meet Sircle Samples, the online matchmaking service for brands and beauty shoppers.
Sircle Samples is a sampling website that connects beauty brands with online shoppers, and gives users the opportunity to discover new products and brands without forking over a monthly subscription fee. Through its patent-pending SIRCLE model, Sircle Samples eliminates inefficiencies of the “candy bowl-style sampling” present in the traditional subscription business model.
By utilizing a comprehensive, highly targeted system, the Seattle beauty startup is able to develop an in-depth understanding of its user’s needs and create a customized sampling program that enables it to get the right products to the right customers.
For example, a user who has indicated dry skin as a major area of concern, will have mostly products addressing that particular need listed in their sample shop. As a result of this highly personalized program, there is reduced waste and increased conversion to full size sales, which for brands could mean a higher rate of return on their investment.
The Seattle beauty startup was founded under the umbrella of Sircle Advertising, and CEO, Cindy Engstrom, set out to develop a cutting edge program that created a win-win situation for everyone. We catch up with Cindy for an in-depth look into the startup.
Cindy Engstrom, CEO of Seattle beauty startup, Sircle Samples
What was the inspiration behind the Sircle Samples?
The inspiration behind the website was to create a place where beauty brands can meet the consumers they should be “wooing.” As shoppers are spending more and more time online and not in physical stores, we wanted to launch a targeted new way for consumers to discover products. Beauty is one of the larger online sales categories coming in at 8% of total online sales in 2012.
When was Sircle Samples launched and how many subscribers and brands do you have signed up so far?
SircleSamples.com launched about one year ago. We have tried to be very paced in our growth because while we are very popular, we do not want to disappoint anyone.
We have had to maintain a waiting list. We currently have 25,000 members but we are about to start letting more people in thanks to our mobile partner ScanLife which is present on 60 million handsets in the U.S. ScanLife handles millions of scans of beauty products every month so we will very soon start engaging with those consumers. We’ve worked with about twenty brands so far.
What type of beauty brands do you go after?
It is kind of the reverse. We have a starting baseline of 50 data points on each member so we can perform very targeted efforts for the brand in very visible ways. We constantly communicate with all of the beauty brands.
Brands that have been more aggressive with social media tend to get the value on online engagement more readily. By category we tend to see a lot of interest from skin care brands especially since those products tend to be more expensive and trial aids awareness and purchase greatly.
Has it been difficult approaching beauty brands to provide the samples, and how do you pitch to them?
It has been difficult because of the flux in the industry, well frankly in all industries around advertising. Every company is questioning what is working for them. So it opens doors for us to highlight that metric-driven advertising should be a top priority.
Like all new approaches, you have to figure out the right person to connect with and also the right individual whose performance review depends on sales. Often the person in charge of samples is not accountable for sales.
For me that has been challenging. But I’m used to that from every startup I have done. It is really exciting when you connect with the right individual who gets the vision and sees the future.
What is the cost to provide this matchmaking service for brands?
So just as companies pay to run ads, ours are interactive with products and rich in user behavior. We provide a very measurable and dynamic return on investment, plus loads of psychographic insights we find the brands are eager to have.
With our program, brands can expect new customer acquisition costs as low as $10 versus the traditional $100+. We make money by providing this service and then save beauty brands money at the same time.”
What are some strategies you utilize to attract new subscribers?
Free and fun! We offer our virtual currency, called Sircle Coins, for everything you do on the site and that arms you to “shop” for samples. It shows we respect you, we respect your opinion and your time. Plus from the brand perspective, they can see how much the consumer shared to qualify for a sample.
When members bring friends into the site we reward them with Sircle Coins. Again, we have a waiting list so our recipe works very well!
I noticed on the website, subscribers have to request an invite to register, is registration exclusive?
We do have an invitation feature because products are in high demand so we utilize a waiting list to control the flow of people joining to avoid overloading the Sample Shop. This allows us to stock the Shop accordingly so that our members will have a better user experience.
How has your business impacted shopper’s habits and what percentage of customers who try product samples actually go on to purchase full size products?
I think we have impacted shopper’s habits! The data definitely shows that we have. Efficiency, product discovery, VIP treatment with promotions. We see over 50% conversion rates from samplers to shoppers. Well-targeted sample campaigns are extremely effective.
What is your goal and vision for the company?
I want consumers to feel doted on and catered to by brands. We want to enable that. And on the business side, I want to raise the bar on marketing metrics. I want to deliver marketing programs that satisfy our curiosities. I can’t wait until we can unveil graph database insights for the beauty industry!
All in all, I intend to make sampling the future of online advertising. We want to have a strong play in mobile. We will also have an innovative play in distribution which I am not yet ready to unveil.
What piece of advice would you share with aspiring beauty entrepreneurs?
My advice is to stick together! This is an exciting and welcoming industry filled with lots of movement and so much room to grow.
What are your thoughts on this beauty startup? Please share in the comment box below?