Subscription Boxes: Bigger than Beauty

Birchbox x Vogue Subscription Boxes | emmaelsewhere Give it to me straight - how many subscription boxes are you signed up for right now? How many of them are beauty-related? Were you subscribed to as many a year ago at this time?

Subscription boxes have recently become a major part of consumer culture. Even five years ago, subscription boxes weren't as prolific as they are now. With subscription boxes popping up in every industry from beauty, to food and wine, and to pet-specific boxes it's a wonder that we even shop in traditional retail spaces anymore.

These custom curated boxes are a guilty pleasure for any shopping junkie. Having an expert put together your "perfect box" of beauty must-have and fashion favorites every month is a dream come true. These boxes allow you to find your favorites and to discover new products. Even better - it takes minimal time and effort on the shopper's part. You simply go through the registration process and - ta da! - a box of perfect items will show up on your doorstep month after month.

Where Did Subscription Boxes Start?

The first subscription box to enter the market was Birchbox in 2010. This beauty-based sample box quickly became a favorite among beauty bloggers and now has thousands of customers in the general population. As leaders in other industries tuned into Birchbox's success, they started to replicate it with their own twists.

In the fashion industry, Stitch Fix burst onto the scene with a clothing-specific subscription box. Customers input their height, weight and take a quiz to determine their ideal style. Stitch Fix will then send a box (one time only, or monthly) with curated clothing items for the subscriber. GQ recently launched a limited edition box specifically for those interested in men's grooming. Rachel Zoe's "Box of Style" sold out within days of launching.

Barkbox was one of the first companies outside of beauty and fashion to commit to subscription boxes. This box is curated for pets and their owners and includes a monthly delivery of toys and treats. Celebrities have even begun to curate one-off boxes for brands like Quarterly.

How Do Subscription Boxes Work?

So why subscription boxes? Why do brands want to get involved in the market, outside of the obvious success of Birchbox and other fashion/luxury boxes? How do they do so when they decide to try it out?

Starting a subscription box isn't complicated. In the beginning, the founder of a burgeoning subscription box will identify their niche. It's best if a box is targeted to a very specific group of people, as the market has already become flooded with generic boxes.

The next step is to figure out what products to include in the box. Unless the founder is hand-creating each item in the box, they will have to reach out to other brands for inclusion. Any products that come from other brands are paid for by the subscription box company. Products are not included for free, or without careful consideration. Subscription boxes that include products from outside sources tend to be more expensive to balance out that investment.

Finally, subscription boxes are packaged and shipped out to subscribers. It's as simple as that - from the outside anyway.

If you're interested in starting a subscription box and fear that the above description seems too simplified (it is), there are services that exist to help you create your company. Cratejoy is one of those services that promises everything you need to run, scale and promote your business.

How to Choose a Subscription Box

So, now that you know how subscription boxes are created, what differentiates a good subscription box from a poor one? Let me break it down for you.

Good subscription boxes....

  • Feel customized.
  • Are timely and relevant. Read my friend Natalie's post on the latest Sephora Play! box. Natalie's box had a dark, autumnal brown lipstick in May - which makes absolutely no sense. Beauty products should be seasonally determined. Book selections should be specific to the subscriber's preferences in a literature subscription box. Clothing items should correlate to past favorites.
  • Have beautiful packaging. That's half the fun, isn't it?
  • Include new and innovative products. We're here for the latest and greatest - not the same old, same old.

Bad subscription boxes:

  • Repeat products. As a subscriber, you want to be introduced to new products. Repeating is a no-no.
  • Give everyone the same thing. The whole point of a subscription box is to deliver customized products to subscribers. Without the curated function, subscription boxes lose their luster.
  • Have no theme. There should be some overall connection between the products in a box. Whether it is a specific holiday, genre or color scheme, a box's products should be cohesive.