Business

Your subscription socks are a stinky sign that things have gone too far

By Oliver Smith 6 January 2017
Summary

I smell trouble ahead.

Food boxes from HelloFresh, coffee from Pact, flowers delivered to your door from Bloom & Wild, razor blades from Shavekit, makeup from Birchbox, vitamins from VITL, snack boxes from Graze, craft beer from Beer52.

Yes in 2017 you can buy just about anything via a subscription, monthly or quarterly payments in return for products delivered directly to your door.

Some of these businesses make a lot of sense. It’s understandable why someone might want to subscribe to receive disposable or consumable products that have to be bought regularly.

A bad smell

While listening to one of my favourite podcasts over Christmas I heard an advert for yet another subscription service, this time for socks by subscription which made me sit up in my seat (the advert was for US-based Wesell Socks).

Hang on, I thought, how many new socks do I need each month?

Socks aren’t exactly disposable… unless your feet are making an extraordinary number of holes in them.

I actually considered signing up, maybe I’d like a few more novelty socks in my life? But how long would I remain a customer for?

Six months later, when my drawer is full with half a dozen colourful pairs of fun socks, I’d probably get sick and tired with the £15 a month I’ve been paying, I’d do the obvious thing and quit.

How would I feel when I quit, or when I forget to quit and Wesell Socks gets one last £15 from my bank account? I’d feel duped, my feelings towards Wesell Socks would be terrible, and I’d be a little poorer.

That’s a shame, because if I’d just bought one pair of novelty socks for £15 and been delighted by them… maybe I’d buy another pair, then a pair as a Christmas present for someone, I might even promote Wesell Socks to my friends as a great no-obligation impulse buy.

But none of that would happen, because Wesell Socks only wants to sell me socks with a subscription attached – the same can be said for the many other subscription sock groups like The London Sock Exchange and Henry J Socks.

How can so many of these companies exists?

The shift away from subscription

It’s exactly this reason why smart subscription businesses have been ditching the ‘subscription’ bit.

Bloom & Wild has subtly shifted its focus away from the dream that everyone will subscribe to a flower delivery service, and instead targeted the market for beautiful one-off presents by post and last-minute bouquets for loved ones – no strings attached.

Likewise Pact has moved away from roping people into onerous weekly or fortnightly caffeine deliveries, and instead promotes their coffee with the option of a recurring order – in fact they’ve always shied away from even being described as a subscription service.

Many new businesses – like Craft & Crumb’s DIY cake kits – are even starting out with repeat one-off postal sales in mind.

Mature businesses know that the churn rate (the number of us who quickly quit a subscription service after the cheap trial runs out) and the cost of acquiring a new subscriber for a premium priced service just don’t add up.