Finding the right skincare product is challenging, especially if you have an underlying condition. Given the thousands of products to choose from, it’s hard to select the skincare treatment that’s right for you. Even if you do, there’s the danger that the product could have unanticipated side effects due to the ingredients in it reacting adversely with your skin. Christine Hong has gone through the struggle of researching and spending hours in department store cosmetic aisles to find what works for her. She’s created Apothecary to make it is easier to discover the right skincare products. Apothecary is a “data-driven skincare consultation service that streamlines your product discovery experience.”
Frederick Daso: What drives customer confusion on skincare products?
Christine Hong: I’ve had eczema and acne for as long as I can remember. I was so itchy, pimply, and insecure. My incredible mother and in-house dermatologist guided me through my clinical-grade options, including two rounds of Accutane. When I couldn’t bear the side effects any longer, I turned to over-the-counter solutions. That was the beginning of a very frustrating several year-long journey.
I later learned that my experience was not an isolated one. With tens of thousands of options in the market and tons of misinformation on the internet, nearly 87% of women are left feeling confused about what will work for them. Skincare consumers are left looking for advice from sources that are costly, sponsored, or inevitably biased.
Daso: Why is it so expensive to try on these products?
Hong: Today, the two sizes that are most widely commercially available are traditional samples and full-sized products. The problem with samples is that while they’re free, it’s hard to get your hands on an example of the exact product you’re curious about trying. Even if you do, it will last you 1-3 uses. With skincare, you need at least 2-3 weeks of use before seeing any effect on your skin. This leaves consumers with no choice but to purchase the full-sized product ($20-$200) before they even know if it works for them or not. If it doesn’t, the entire bottle goes to waste. That’s why we offer trial minis of products, which offers customers a month-long trial for a fraction of the cost. On the other side of the marketplace, brands also benefit by making immediate ROI on trial sizes. Qualified sampling also leads to more loyal customers & increased LTV.
Daso: How does Apothecary’s community work as a core differentiator among competitors? What would keep users coming back?
Hong: When you look at the most prominent social networks — Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat — you see that users come due to strong network effects, but are left feeling disconnected, unfulfilled, and sometimes even depressed. Those connections are often superficial and aren’t rooted in keen common interest. This is where we can offer something different — a strong vertical social network (check out Olivia & Justine Moore’s brilliant essay on this) that will revolutionize how consumers discover products and, ultimately, how they engage in & shape the conversation around beauty.
There are so many approaches to personalizing the skincare experience. Our defensibility lies at the intersection between dominant social commerce trends — data-enabled personalization and influencer networks. We’ve scraped 160K+ reviews to drive the most informed recommendations on the internet — we’re the only company that demonstrates that level of commitment to objectivity. While that’s what customers initially come to us for, they stay because our community is exclusive. Strangers instantly connect over their shared passion for skincare — from their collective distaste for St. Ive’s Apricot Scrub to sharing all the intimate details of their skincare journeys — and it creates a strong sense of identity and belonging. You can’t find a space for both data-driven recommendations and honest, skin-positive conversation anywhere else on the internet.
If you’re still not convinced, think about this — content creators own 97% of all beauty-related video content on the web. They’re expanding these markets worth tens of billions of dollars up to 20% yearly and have reached in every corner of the world from personal networks to global audiences. Skinfluencers have become product experts, and consumers are hungry for content that exists to educate and to inform their product decisions. The next billion-dollar company will empower creators to empower their audiences and shape the future of social commerce.
Daso: How does apothecary improve an influencer’s relationship with individual brands for affiliate marketing? Is apothecary more of a middleman or a facilitator of a connection via a platform approach?
Hong: Yes! We’re always looking for ways to best support our skinfluencer community. Many consider this a part-time job as they post high-quality content and respond to a high volume of DMs. They drive a ton of value for brands but aren’t getting their deserved share of the pie. Some are affiliated, but it’s a tedious process requiring an individual application to every brand. We make it easier than ever to capture this value through a curated storefront with instant affiliate access to our brand partners. We also include them in PR opportunities and targeted sampling campaigns (who doesn’t like free skincare!).
Daso: How has apothecary optimized the digital product discovery experience? How closely do you work with brands to fine-tune a user’s search in your marketplace to convert into actual purchases?
Hong: On the consumer side, the discovery experience goes like this: 1) you take our 2-minute skin quiz to tell us more about your skin and your goals 2) you can choose your discovery experience, whether you prefer to discover via on-the-spot product recommendations, chatting with an in-house skin expert, or seeing products through our community review archive. Once you find a product you’re interested in, you can try before you buy with trial minis, which give you a month-long trial for roughly 10% of the full-sized price. The whole process is designed to be efficient and unique to your skin needs and goals. The days when you had to research products and ingredients for hours and then spend way too much money on products that may or may not work are finally behind you.
On the brand side, we’ve demonstrated some new metrics to show that our personalized approach will directly translate into increased ROI. In our beta, we converted 9.5% of users who took the survey through personalized recommendations, which is 2X the average conversion rates for skincare e-commerce. We also showed that of those who purchased trial minis of recommended products, 42% upgraded to a full-sized product. That’s ~40X more than just 1.1% of traditional unqualified samples that convert into full-sized purchases today. As we collect data around a user’s skin profile and product preferences, we offer brands a qualified base of potential new customers. Still, we can also provide white labeled personalization down the road.
Daso: What opportunities are there for brands and influencers to cultivate their micro-communities on apothecary?
Hong: There already are so many pockets of skincare enthusiasts who connect over social platforms such as Reddit, Instagram, and Facebook. However, none of these platforms were designed to facilitate conversations about skincare. We’ve been working closely with skinfluencers to develop the most user-friendly features around organized discovery, such as review archives by product type and concern.
Daso: Given the early stage of your company, between the B2B2C and B2B revenue streams of the business, which are you focusing first on, and why?
Hong: We are focusing on building out the B2C side of our marketplace first. Once we can prove out the business model through affiliate and dropshipping sales and build out the community on our platform, we can move to B2B partnerships. We’re thinking of piloting those in two phases — first with product seeding and qualified sampling services. Once we reach our second inflection point with user growth, it can unlock a third revenue stream for white labeling personalization and offering data subscriptions.
Daso: What’s personally driving you to succeed in this industry?
Hong: As I mentioned earlier, I struggled with my skin early on in life. I was massively insecure, and I didn’t feel beautiful. It may seem superficial, but it did significantly affect my personal development and confidence back then. I felt discouraged to speak up if I had a big pimple on my nose because I didn’t want to draw attention. For years, I felt stuck in this seemingly endless cycle of buying a product that I really thought would be the magic solution to all my problems, then getting down when it ended up not working. I don’t want anyone to have to live through the years of frustration that I did. The skincare community is hands down the most supportive online community I’ve ever been a part of — people are so delighted to help and raise each other. You very likely might just end up genuinely becoming friends with people you meet here.
I also believe that these days consumers have a growing amount of power to set standards for brands. Especially in a category as competitive as beauty, brands are continually looking to be aligned with their customers. A notable example of this has been the “canceling” of brands who have failed to demonstrate character in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. As consumers, we can shape the future of beauty by choosing to support brands who take accountability, whether it’s by advocating for a fundamental humanitarian issue or by formulating with only the safest and most productive ingredients.
By sharing honest experiences with a brand and its products, we can finally push for transparency in a historically opaque industry. I am so motivated to create a future where consumers will finally have access to data and a community that empowers them to make the most informed decisions for their skin health. To create a future where the next person won’t have to spend several years searching for products that make them feel confident again. Can you imagine a world where our beauty products, and the infrastructure of this industry, are fundamentally designed to make us feel beautiful? That’s where we’re headed.
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