The psychological principles underpinning the success of Beauty Pie

Aug 12, 2020 |5 min read

Beauty Pie, the luxury beauty subscription service, is one of the beauty industry’s best-kept secrets. Established in 2016, by Marcia Kilgore (creator of brands such as Bliss and Soap & Glory), it offers products with the ingredients and quality of luxury brands at high street prices. In their own words, they’re a ‘disruptive, direct-to-consumer luxury beauty brand that is giving the mainstream luxury beauty brands a run for their money’. It’s unsurprising this is a successful proposition that many buy into. But great products at great prices are not the only thing keeping women (and men) coming back.

Beauty Pie is one of a number of brands (think Peloton, Oddbox, Airbnb) that use psychology and behaviour science thinking to inform their business model and customer experience to great effect. In fact, psychological hooks underpin the customer journey end-to-end.

Long before you’re fully committed and signed up to the “club”, social influence is used as an encouragement; browsers are greeted with the message that “thousands of people have already joined”. This helps to reassure that subscribing is a good idea: there’s safety in the fact thousands of others already signed up. Just like people queue for one restaurant while another next door is full of empty tables, it’s the same principle that Beauty Pie is smart enough to make explicit.

Despite using social influence, Beauty Pie also successfully manage to play on the idea that this is a beauty insiders subscription service. Beauty Pie is a new(ish) concept, and using the principle of Illusory superiority, they help you feel that you are ahead of the curve. Each product is presented with the cost to you and the cost it would be if you were to buy this product from a traditional or mainstream luxury retailer, which is typically ~5 times higher.  By anchoring the product price to what you would typically pay for a similar product, the product is positioned as fantastic value, making the decision to purchase a no brainer.

With Beauty Pie you sign up and pay a monthly fee for a minimum of three months (ranging from £10 – £50 per month). The amount you choose determines your spend limit for that month. This invokes the sunk cost fallacy  – you’ve already spent your subscription fee that month, so it makes sense to get the most value out of it and spend your monthly allowance on beauty products too. Their mission statement explains why this tactic works:

“At BEAUTY PIE, our mission is to make you feel like a kid in a cosmetics candy store. To bring you the fairy tale. To deliver the absolute best in beauty nonstop, at prices so amazing, even a splurge is a steal.”

It’s a powerful feeling that you can buy multiple products, including items you may not need. Even if you end up spending £50 on top of your membership, you’ve made the initial outlay and need to spend more to make it worthwhile. There’s an interesting tension between needing and wanting with every Beauty Pie purchase, in a way that might not happen in Boots… you need to spend all that remaining allowance, but do you actually need that Lip Colour Balm Stick in another shade? Beauty Pie prompts and encourages you to actually want to buy more products again.

Beauty Pie also use the principle of Loss Aversion:  products regularly become out of stock, which means that when you see a product you like, you want to buy it right there and then. This clearly works well for Beauty Pie as a business model, as they don’t end up with additional stock they can’t sell. But it also has the added benefit of creating a desire to purchase as soon as you see a product you like the look of, rather than holding off until later.

Next up is the trigger or prompt, an important part of habit formation. For those who regularly check their bank accounts, you get a reminder each month when that month’s payment has gone out to Beauty Pie, telling you that a month has passed, and your next month’s spend allowance is now available. This works as a pretty ingenious reminder to go online and shop. The beauty of this is that it doesn’t cost a penny in advertising, and it keeps people coming back month after month (and, yes, when I say ‘people’ I mean me!)

Finally, when your purchase arrives, it comes beautifully packaged, ensuring that the association with Beauty Pie is a very positive one, reinforcing the brand’s luxury credentials, ensuring the customer feels appropriately rewarded for their purchase. This moment of reward plays an important role in forming habits. The pink packaging is also incredibly memorable, helping to strengthen the positive association further. And more often than not, you’ve got a few products, not just one, to look forward to trying out. The packaging feels more worth it for what’s inside.

Beauty Pie have designed the purchase journey using psychology to influence consumers decisions at every touchpoint. But they also use it reactively to inform their own decision making. When Lockdown happened across the UK, Beauty Pie were quick to change everyone’s subscription to a reduced 1p per month, instead of the fee they had signed up to in pre-Covid times. This showed empathy for the challenging circumstances their customers might be in, but it also helped to create reciprocity, where one positive action can often lead to another in return. They were able to demonstrate a high degree of sensitivity, at the same time ensuring people did not cancel their subscription when they might otherwise have done. In short, they treat their customers like smart adults and let them in (or make them feel they’re being let in) on the reason things might be one way or another. Can you think of another beauty company that might ever say the following as a reason for why products aren’t in stock yet: “An order just for new jars can take up to 6 months to be delivered. Bottle pumps just went from a 12 to a 22 week lead time.”

After a freeze on the website back in May, they said “Sorry” quite simply, (and crucially, quickly) on their various channels, and explained what was going on. Essentially, they treated their customers like normal people (and treating people like the adults they are helps to build connection). Don’t we all find ourselves more forgiving in the face of genuine vulnerability and honesty?

Of course, none of this would matter if Beauty Pie’s products didn’t deliver on their promises. But they do; they offer quality, luxury products at great prices. On the surface, it seems to be an incredibly simple formula. Look a little deeper and you’ll find their success is down to more than that: they know how to harness psychology and behaviour science to create powerful purchase habits, and it keeps their customers coming back, month after month.

2CV Beauty Pie favourites:

Jess Boize, Associate Director:  “For me it’s all about the skincare, it’s just so good. I can see the difference on my skin when I’m keeping up a good routine. Japanfusion cleanser is my latest love – gets all my makeup off, no double cleanse, no faffy face cloth. Actually removes eye makeup and doesn’t sting unlike most cleansers (not joking). Over the last couple of months, I’ve been alternating between Retinol and Dr Glycolic at night, and I love the Essential Ceramides capsules too”.

Jane Goldthorpe, Group Research Director: “I love the Fruitizyme 5 minute facial. My skin feels fresh and rejuvenated after I’ve used it. It’s really quick to use, so easy to fit in. I am also working my way through the different serums they offer.”

So, if you are looking to improve the customer journey to make it more sticky, you might find it useful to look to psychology and behaviour science. How can you leverage human behaviour and decision making to help your brand?