Today, there are over 3500 subscription box services like Birchbox running in the United States alone, and even retail giants like Walmart, CVS Pharmacy, Amazon, and Lancome have entered the market.
A recent study from McKinsey & Company found that the subscription e-commerce market has grown by more than 100% percent a year since 2013, with the largest retailers generating more than $2.6 billion in sales today. That's way up from just $57 million in 2011.
With the market clearly ripe for the picking, let’s take a minute to unbox the secrets behind their success and talk about 23 we can’t resist.
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First, how do subscription boxes work?
The concept of most subscription boxes/services is quite simple.
A new user signs up for a monthly fee (could range anywhere from $10 to hundreds depending on the service) and usually completes a short survey about their tastes and preferences.
After that, they get a box of curated goodies (or perhaps a recurring shipment of the same items) automatically delivered right to their doorstep at a chosen frequency.
The creators of these boxes usually include their own products or partner with larger brands looking for exposure.
Overall, subscription boxes are like the holiday gift that keeps on giving — at least for a few months.
Why are subscription boxes so popular (and profitable)?
So why is the subscription box market expanding so quickly? There are a few reasons.
Targeting & personalization
Whether you’re a chocolate lover, a wine connoisseur, or even a comic book geek, there’s likely a subscription box for you.
Most subscriptions (with a few, rare exceptions) are catered specifically to very distinct interests. These distinctions allow brands to curate products as well as create content and overall experiences that will truly resonate and delight their buyer personas.
Even niches aside, the companies behind these boxes usually go above-and-beyond in terms of catering to their subscribers' personal preferences and needs.
In fact, McKinsey & Company found that 28% subscribers to curated boxes say having an excellent personalized experience is the most important reason to continue their subscriptions.
Aside from providing the brand with their tastes and preferences, many subscribers have no say in the products they receive in their boxes each month.
In 2018, 55% of all subscriptions were curation-based, making this model the most prominent in the subscription world. That means also most boxes being shipped out each day are a complete surprise — and people love it.
Psychologically, the anticipation and suspense created by this “curiosity gap"makes receiving the box each month that much more satisfying.
Yes, the success of the curation can be extremely hit-or-miss (which is also why most subscription boxes have a high churn rate), but that certainly hasn't stopped consumers from taking the bait.
Value & convenience
While this depends on the brand, a large part of the consumer appeal of subscription boxes comes from value and convenience.
Last year, replenishment-based subscriptions (or services that deliver the same, often lower cost products to you automatically like Dollar Shave Club) accounted for 32% of boxes, while curated boxes like Birchbox allow subscribers to sample five high-end products for just $10 a month for women ($20 for men) and buy full-sizes at a discount if they like them.
The average subscription box consumer is young, affluent, and living in an urban area and subscription boxes like these help them free up time and even save money.
Overall, like every consumer business venture, the secret to subscription box success is customer delight.
If you can wrap a usually ordinary task (like shopping for your grooming products) in a unique, easy, and overall “delightful” experience, people will not only pay for it, but spread the word.
23 Subscription Boxes We Can’t Resist
While McKinsey's study found that Amazon Subscribe & Save, Dollar Shave Club, Ipsy, Blue Apron, and Birchbox were the five most popular subscription sites in 2018, there are thousands available and new ones popping up everyday (just check out the selection on CrateJoy if you don't believe me).
That being said, here are 23 that really caught our eye with their unique offerings and delightful experiences.
You may have seen this one pop up on Pinterest more than once.
For the foodies or jet-setters in your life, TryTheWorld is a God send.
Offering Snack Boxes for $19 per month and individual country boxes starting at $29 per box (with 7-8 products), this mouth-watering subscription delivers gourmet snacks, drinks, and ingredients to your doorstep so you can truly "discover the world" through your tastebuds.
Speaking of international treats, why not try a taste of Japan?
In this unique, family-created subscription box (available for as little as $14.99) you'll get a mix of authentic Japanese candies and snacks delivered right to your home.
Including both a savory and sweet selection (not to mention some of the most intriguing flavors we've ever seen, i.e. chicken curry and pizza) as well as an English key, Freedom Japanese Market ships free worldwide and includes many limited edition varieties.
I'd highly recommend it to anyone with an adventurous appetite!
This article feature was sponsored by Frank And Oak.
So here's one for my environmentally-conscious friends! Based in Montreal, Frank And Oak is a brand dedicated to creating environmentally-friendly clothing and accessories that are stylish but, yes, also sustainable. Today, that means about 50% of their clothing is produced using recycled materials and eco-friendly methods, but that number has been steadily increasing since 2017.
Similar to competitors like Stitch Fix, with Frank and Oak's new monthly Style Plan box (which they asked, you complete a style quiz, then pieces from their line are handpicked based on your preferences and delivered to your doorstep for a small styling fee. (Make sure to hit the next button in my Instagram post above to get a peek at the box and the styles I was sent!)
You then have seven days to try and keep the items and/or return what you don’t like for a full refund.
However, here's where the box sets itself apart. When your recommendations are made, you get to preview the box, and actually select the items you want to be shipped.
For anyone who's done a subscription style box before, you know that sometimes the boxes can be a swing-and-a-miss, but with Frank And Oak, that risk is minimized.
Being extremely picky, I loved that I didn’t have to leave it completely up to chance and end up disappointed. Plus, once I made my choices, I got the box next day! Super impressive. I also loved the little French Canadian touches throughout the box and experience, keeping the brand’s roots front and center. The handwritten label even let me know I owe Alexis a merci for preparing my box! Love that extra human touch.
If you're looking for a convenient, on-trend, and environmentally sound style box, Frank and Oak is a great choice.
FirstLeaf is a wine subscription that a few ladies in the IMPACT office swear. For $90 a month (which includes free shipping), you'll have six hand-selected bottles of wine shipped to your doorstep and your satisfaction is guaranteed.
If, for some reason, you don't like one of the bottles, you can reach out to customer service and they'll swap it out.
It all starts with a brief quiz using what the company claims is "patent pending technology" that pairs you with wines perfect for your palate.
One of the top five most popular subscription boxes available (and a pioneer in the meal kit niche), Blue Apron ships you recipes for up to four meals a week along with the fresh ingredients to make them.
Offered in either a two-person or family-sized four-person plan (can be as low as $7.49 per serving), over 750,000 home chefs are enjoying Blue Apron every week.
I can’t go any further without mentioning the one that started it all! As we shared earlier, Birchbox offers both a monthly women’s beauty box (five beauty samples) as well as a men’s box (four samples and a lifestyle product) for an affordable $10 and $20, respectively.
One of our former teammates, Erica Dube, is a huge fan of the company as well as its approach to re-engagement, email marketing, and video marketing. Check out her full testimonial from a few years ago in this article.
With a subscription to Barkbox, the company will ship you and your canine best friend a themed-box of goodies including toys and healthy treats once a month.
Past themes have included "New York City" and the wonderfully punny "Chewrassic Bark" and "The Knights of Hound Table."
All you have to do is tell them your dog's size and its breed, choose your plan (starts at $29 for a single month, then goes down with the six an 12-month plans), and it’ll be delivered to your doorstep on the 15th of the month.
For $14.99 each (the first box is usually half price or even free if you find a code), you’ll get eight, “hand-picked” healthy snacks like nuts, dried fruits, chips, and bars delivered to your home, based on your tastes.
The packaging is 100% recyclable and sustainable, and when you use a reward code, a portion of the proceeds can go towards the Graze School of Farming in Uganda, which teaches the community to grow, maintain, harvest fruit from their orchards.
Know a self-declared choco-holic? Jackie's Chocolate promises to send them (or you) a half-pound of assorted, extraordinary chocolate truffles (approximately 15 pieces).
Boxes include "crunchy nuts, chewy caramels, fluffy marshmallows and creamy, fruit filled centers enrobed in silky milk chocolate, decadent dark chocolate and velvety white chocolate" and are available in one, three, six, and 12-month plans.
With a subscription to The Cravory, the gourmet cookie company will ship you a sampling of their newest flavors once a month. Available as a six-cookie teaser, dozen, or two-dozen box, this indulgent treat starts at just $12.95. You can also subscribe to a "best sellers" monthly box for $25.95.
Fresh-baked cookies, delivered right to my door? Yes, please.
Starting at $142 for three months (approximately $47 per month), Taste Trunk will send you four to five gourmet and artisans treats from the category of your choice (gourmet, sweet, or BBQ) that you can't find in big stores.
While this may seem a bit of an indulgent price for each month, the brand stresses that it makes a wonderful corporate gift.
Introduced to me by our Director of Partnerships & Sponsorships, Vin, as a "gentlemen's box," Bespoke Post sends subscribers thoughtful, themed, small-batch goods once a month for $45.
Like Frank and Oak, Bespoke Post gives you the opportunity to preview each month's box before committing to it, giving you five days to customize styles and colors, swap into another box, or skip the month altogether.
Once described as “Comic-Con in a box," Loot Crate offers a wide variety of monthly pop culture-oriented boxes to feed your fandom. The curated boxes may include collectibles, clothing, tech gadgets, art, and/or unique accessories.
While the price of the subscription depends on your fandom of choice (Marvel, WWE, Anime, Lord of the Rings, just to name a few), you can also purchase past boxes at a discounted rate.
Created by bakery ma-ka-rohn, Macaron of the Month is available in 12, 24, and 35-piece deliveries every two or four weeks. The team at ma-ka-rohn tries to release 2-3 new flavors a month and if they do, they make their way into these boxes. You can cancel any time after your second shipment — but why would you?
Made with parents in mind, Kiwi Crate designs fun, creative activities for kids ages 0-16+.
For as low as $24.95 for a single month, they’ll ship you all of the materials for a variety of projects centered around art, geography, culture, science, and engineering, depending on which box/age-range you select.
DSC will ship you high-quality razors and blades (choose from three) along with their quirky monthly newsletter and the occasional product sample. The brand also recently expanded to shower and oral care versions of its subscription program.
While their prices have dramatically increased from their original $3 flat rate, the service still remains simple, fun, and reasonably affordable.
Featured by Vogue, True Religion, Interview Magazine, and many other high-profile brands, Ozone Socks' Sock of the Month Club is available in six-month (seven pairs for $75) and full-year subscription (13 pairs for $150) plans — and they give you a bonus pair no matter which plan you sign up for.
The company ships a fun new design to your doorstop to each month — and having tried a pair myself, I assure you, they're worth signing up for!
Last, but certainly not least, Ipsy sends subscribers four to five high-end beauty samples in a collectible glam bag for only $10 a month, shipping included. On average, the retail value of the assortment is around $50 and each bag is tailored to you.