This week, I eagerly await a small ribboned box that will arrive in the mail, resplendent with bangles and pendants. It’s not my birthday for another six months, and I’m not expecting a care package from a friend.
This is my first monthly shipment from Rocks Box, a recently launched subscription service for high-end jewelry. To get started, simply fill out an online form outlining your style predilections, whether it’s chunky beads, vintage-inspired cuffs, or dainty pearls. In a matter of weeks, you’ll receive gems suited to your taste, all sourced from independent designers.
San Francisco-based Rocks Box is often described as the Birchbox for jewelry. If you’re not familiar with Birchbox, it’s a startup that sends beauty samples in the mail to subscribers for $10 a month. The site has already built a fierce (almost cult) following in the fashion world. Rocks Box works in a similar way: For $19 per month, you’ll receive curated packages of designer goodies. Enjoy and return, or buy anything out of the box at a discounted rate.
The Birchbox model has proven a palpable hit with both users and investors and has spawned a dozen imitators in the digital commerce space. But Rocks Box founder, Meaghan Rose (pictured above) told me that unlike clothes or shoes, jewelry is a natural fit.
“Jewelry is easy to ship and return, it’s one size fits all (with the exception of rings), and women are willing to experiment with new boutique and designer pieces,” she said.
Above: Rocksbox uses a survey to determine style preferences
The startup only has a handful of employees but is gaining momentum with San Francisco’s young, female and professional set. Rose, a jewelry enthusiast, formed the idea for the company while working in management consulting.
“I left my job with McKinsey and moved to the Bay Area not really knowing how I was going to get this thing off the ground,” said Rose. “I went to dozens of hackathons and meetups, and had coffee with anyone that would meet with me.” In short order, she secured investment from friends, family, and a few angel investors and launched the site three months ago.
Rocks Box is currently facing strong competition from Jewelmint and Lucid Box, but Rose told me that her customer-base is growing thanks to Pinterest, a social sharing site popular with millions of web denizens.
The perpetual challenge for subscription-based sites like these is to turn ‘sample-and-send-back’ users into buyers. Most women are extremely particular about jewelry. Before launching, Rose said the team spent months designing the survey to determine users’ style preferences. In its current form, the survey contains street-style photographs and images of necklaces, rings, and bangles.
Rocks Box users typically buy one or more of the items about 15 percent of the time. With a bit of machine learning magic to build a model of taste, this number is set to increase. The challenge is to develop an algorithm that can recommend similar items to those bought and adapt with users’ evolving personal style.
Subscription services are all the rage, with venture capital firms betting big on Shoedazzle, Beachmint, and Birchbox. For this category to succeed, these startups will need to develop a strong enough recommendations engine to help women consistently find new looks and convince them to make that habitual monthly purchase.