July 11, 2015

Your New Obsession: Subscription Box Services

Welcome to the future of retail.

An unexpected combination of old-timey snail mail, marketing algorithms, and social media, subscription boxes are taking over the internet. If you're on Facebook or Instagram a bunch, you probably already know what I'm talking about even if you haven't participated in the phenomenon; if you're not on Facebook, you should be.

Of course, subscribing to get things in the mail you don't necessarily want is nothing new–if you're of a certain generation, you probably remember those Book of the Month or EMI "clubs," which lured you into getting free books or CDs if you promised to buy a certain amount in the coming year.

Modern subscription box services are much different from those mailings, though. First of all, those were kind of a scam. You had to actively opt-out of getting a box every month, or you'd  wind up paying more than you needed to for things you didn't want; most subscription boxes today allow you to cancel anytime, offer free shipping, and are up-front about how much you're going to pay.

Secondly, those "clubs" were selling (or off-loading, as the case might have been) product. Even though today's subscriptions boxes do contain STUFF, the most successful recognize that they're not retailers. As Zach Frechette, the founder of Quarterly–a quarterly box service that offers curated boxes from experts and celebs like Nina Garcia and Wil Wheaton–puts it, "We’re really nothing like a store... What we’re offering is an experience."

This is what's essential to understand about subscription box services and their appeal: you're not buying a product. You can buy product on Amazon. What you're buying is the chance to expand your interests and try something new by letting other people pick out stuff for you. It's like Christmas morning meets Facebook personality quizzes.

Social media plays a big role, too: posting pics of your #unboxing to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is part of the deal, and many subscription box services work Instagram into their company in creative ways. Ipsy offers the chance to win a year's worth of mailings if you post pictures of your monthly bag with the hashtags #ipsy and #glambag, and Rocks Box lets you #wishlist any item they post with a simple IG comment.

Today there are thousands of subscription boxes out there, most focusing on either fashion or food, though there are several catering to specific hobbies and interests. If you're curious about which ones to try, Subscription Vixen is here to help! We post reviews of subscription boxes and tell you which ones are winners and which one are duds.

Have your own subscription box experience you'd like to share? We post guest reviews. Find out how under our Review Policy.

Portions of this post originally appeared in "Unboxing Subscription Boxes" in the April 2015 edition of The Pueblo PULP.

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