Whether you’re a beauty junkie, foodie or DIY addict, chances are there’s a subscription box service out there to scratch your itch.
If you’re not familiar with this relatively new retail trend, subscription boxes are a fast-growing business model in which companies like Blue Apron, JewelMint and ShoeDazzle curate and send everything from prepackaged dinner ingredients to baubles or shoes straight to your doorstep.
Most companies require new users to complete a profile survey to determine their personal styles or tastes. Some surveys can be completed on a commercial break; others are as in-depth as an eHarmony profile.
Once your profile is complete, you’ll receive monthly boxes in the mail with specialty products “handpicked” just for you. Today the boxes you can get delivered straight to your doorstep number at least in the hundreds, and are tailored to everyone from new moms to Francophiles to fishing enthusiasts.
The monthly subscription price ranges from $10 per month at beauty-centric Birchbox to upwards of $100 for more indulgent, high-end items, like luxury body oils and spa-quality anti-aging serums from MonthlyExpress.
All you have to do is scroll through your Facebook feed for pictures of your friends’ latest deliveries (or see a targeted ad or two) to find evidence of how popular these services have become.
Why a flurry of subscription boxes now—and what is their secret sauce? To find out whether this new trend is worth the monthly expenditure, we turned to consumer behavior pros and real-life subscribers to share their insights.
Box Pop: A New Industry Is Born
Birchbox, arguably the most recognizable service today, put the subscription box retail trend in motion with its 2010 launch. Specializing in beauty, grooming and lifestyle products, subscribers pay $10 (for women) or $20 (for men) per month to receive goodies like skin rejuvenators, fragrances and makeup. Now the company has 800,000 active global subscribers, according to company rep Brittany Tomkiewicz—which translates to $96 million in annual sales.
In just four years since its inception, the industry has exploded. “[Subscriptions] represent a significant retail trend,” says Virginia Lee, senior research analyst with market intelligence firm Euromonitor International. “With the glut of products available in stores, many shoppers like the curation factor of these subscription boxes.”
As the trend spills over into countless retail categories, the opportunity for expansion only gets stronger. Lee expects the U.S. subscription box businesses to continue growing—but at a slower rate than what we’ve seen so far. As the industry becomes more solidified, larger players are crowding out some newcomers.
To stand out from the competition, Lee says new entrants need to offer cheaper products, à la Dollar Shave Club, or tout a celebrity affiliation. (Kate Hudson, Food Network chef Tyler Florence and style guru Giuliana Rancic have all jumped on the bandwagon, launching subscription services of their own.)
Even big-box retailer Target is getting into the game, incentivizing customers to join its relatively new subscription program by offering a 5% discount on all purchases, from printer ink to baby formula. (Just last month, the product assortment was expanded nearly tenfold to approximately 1,500 items.)
Need paper towels delivered twice a month? Vitamins every other month? The auto-delivery feature allows customers to personalize their orders according to their needs, with flexibility to modify the shipping schedule and quantities whenever necessary.
But if you’re looking for a service that does the shopping for you, there’s Stitch Fix, a popular subscription company that serves as your own personal shopper.
For roughly $65 per item, subscribers receive monthly clothing deliveries selected for them by professional stylists. First you fill out a style profile, which helps the company understand your size, style, shape, budget and lifestyle. After choosing a delivery date, you’ll be charged a $20 styling fee that’s applied as a credit toward anything you wind up buying from your shipment.