Subscription Boxes: Worth the Hype or More Trouble Than They’re Worth?
Look around and you’ll realize that subscription boxes are everywhere right now. A quick online search reveals a multitude of specialized subscription offers curated just for your preferences. From personal care boxes loaded with health and beauty products, to monthly clothing delivery programs, to frozen pasture-raised meat memberships, there’s a subscription box out there to suit your needs.
Most recently, retail giant Amazon introduced Prime Wardrobe, a clothing subscription service in which subscribers will not be charged for each box until they determine which items they want to keep. Subscription boxes are popular because they seem like such an easy, smart way for consumers to try out niche products, but business consultant and Membership Economy expert Robbie Kellman Baxter offers a word of caution to would-be subscribers everywhere: Get the facts about subscription boxes before you sign up for a membership.
“Subscription boxes aren’t always the no-fail solution they’re cracked up to be,” says Baxter, author of The Membership Economy: Find Your Superusers, Master the Forever Transaction, and Build Recurring Revenue (McGraw-Hill Education, www.membershipeconomy.com). “In theory, they’re a great way to get the supplies you need and want. But often they’re not a perfect fit for every consumer. So before you sign up for that razor subscription, nail polish club, or monthly dog food sampler for your pet, be sure you’re making the right choice.”
Baxter points out that with more than 9,000 subscription boxes promising curated selections optimized for specific interests, more and more people are prone to subscription fatigue. Consumers may struggle to keep track of all their memberships while bemoaning the fact that many businesses are now forcing them to subscribe instead of buy. After a while, managing all those subscriptions starts to feel exhausting, overwhelming, and unnecessary.
“You could very well be delighted with the right subscription box membership,” continues Baxter. “But be sure to think carefully about which subscriptions you end up choosing, because there are a lot of options available, and, unfortunately, they are not all created equally.”
Before signing up to receive a subscription box, ask these important questions to decide if it’s the right choice for you:
Are you going to appreciate the subscription box model?
Do you enjoy frequently getting new stuff, or will the novelty of receiving new products each month eventually wear off?
“Subscription boxes are always exciting in the beginning, but they could lose their luster once you start accumulating too much ‘stuff’ you don’t really want or need,” says Baxter. “Do you really need a new scent of the month each month? Or a series of new pocket squares? Probably not. Don’t get sucked into the appeal of getting a surprise each month. You could always just buy exactly what you need, when you need it, instead.”
Is it a product and community you really care about (and will use)?
First of all, make sure that the items in the box are the kinds of things you will actually use, advises Baxter. If you love milk chocolate, but the box contains chocolates of all varieties as well as chocolate-themed t-shirts, posters, and socks, you might not end up enjoying it as much. At that point, it’s just more junk in your house that you don’t want or need. But if the box contains new varieties of milk chocolate, you might hit a bull’s-eye and continue to be thrilled with your subscription.
Do you really want another monthly bill?
Think twice about whether it makes sense for you to pay a fixed rate for an unknown quantity month after month. Most subscription boxes are reasonably priced for the content they deliver, observes Baxter. But once you add multiple subscriptions each month, you could be looking at a hefty bill—for items that you may or may not really find useful or appealing. Just two or three subscription box memberships could easily add up to $100 a month or more. Figure out whether that really equals value for you, or not.
Do the quantities make sense?
One shortfall among some subscription services is that they force you to receive more product than you can use in a month’s time. Certain companies have made a (bad) name for themselves by sending products faster than their customers can use up their previous shipments. Don’t ever sign up for boxes that can’t be customized to suit your specific needs.
Does the company hide the cancel button?
Many subscription box services make it difficult to unsubscribe by hiding the cancel button or the customer service contact information. Be sure to choose a highly rated service that makes it easy for you to manage your subscription or cancel outright when the time comes.
“Companies should never build brand loyalty by making it hard for customers to manage their relationships or end those relationships when they aren’t working,” says Baxter. “Before signing yourself up for a new subscription box, check out their cancellation policy. It should be very easy to unsubscribe or get in touch with customer service whenever there’s a problem. But if you can’t find the cancel button, steer clear!”
Is the company committed to keeping you, the customer, at the center of its business?
Baxter observes that many subscription boxes fall short on providing a well-curated product. A good subscription company has a forever promise—that the company will “help you achieve your goal” and “treat you fairly and like a friend” in exchange for recurring revenue commitment. But too many of these companies either serve a goal you don’t really have or take advantage of your trust—and that gives memberships a bad name.
“Subscription boxes look like a win-win solution at first blush, but the reality can be much trickier,” concludes Baxter. “Make sure that the subscription you choose for yourself really does suit your needs and lifestyle, and will continue to do so month after month. And remember that in the case of subscription boxes, a seemingly great forever subscription could end up being a big headache that you don’t want or need.”