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.
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?
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.