These days, companies with monthly subscription boxes are popping up everywhere serving those who like to try new products but don’t necessarily have the time to go to the mall to find those things themselves. NatureBox sends a monthly shipment of healthy, family-friendly snacks; BirchBox has men’s accessories, cologne, and shaving cream; BarkBox specializes in new dogs treats and toys; and PopSugar, a blog for busy, fitness-minded women, just launched its “MustHave” program that ships out jewelry, cookware, perfume, and more. It seems that if you are a fan of anything, it isn’t too difficult to find a monthly box that appeals to you.
Being a consultant who travels semi-frequently but is also a self-proclaimed shopaholic, online shopping has become a very attractive way of feeding my vices. When I don’t have the time to think about what I actually want or need, these monthly box subscription services take several steps out of the process for me. To start my subscription, I clicked on a link to get my first box free (oh, the savings!); I took a quick quiz to set my preferences (e.g., my favorite colors, favorite or least favorite foods, scents I like, etc.); I entered my payment information once; and the rest of it was handled for me. I don’t have to shop around anymore, grappling over the items in my e-cart, debating “Do I really need this?”! By signing up for these quasi-loyalty boxes, I go down to my apartment building’s mailroom once a month and am “surprised and delighted” with a new hand lotion, bracelet, and snack. What’s not to like?
Well… after a while, I notice that I have received too much stuff and have spent too much money. I start disliking the monthly boxes, because while whatever I’m getting is nice stuff, a few items that arrive in my box every month cause the reaction, “Well, I’ll never use that… ever.” So then, after about four months, I have lost interest and gained an overflowing junk drawer. After four boxes, it becomes progressively less surprising and delighting; my bank account is depleting and I’m cringing. I also notice that beyond a few emails I receive to announce that a box was sent, I rarely interact with the company. Instead of exciting me with an announcement about the next great thing they plan to reward me with, the companies spam my email inbox with “invitations” to share a link on my social networks in order to receive referral bonuses from my friends if they sign up. Finally, when I’m tired enough with the monthly boxes, it’s not nearly as easy to cancel online as it was to sign up. I have to call the company to have my subscription canceled. I’ve become so jaded from calling customer support lines and being left on hold for the good part of an hour that I’d rather suffer and stay subscribed to the monthly box than to actually go through the trouble. But is that any way to keep a customer?
Despite my subscription to the service, I’m no longer subscribed to the brand. I no longer have many positive things to say about the service past the initial delivery and none of my friends will ever subscribe to the service if that’s how I describe my experience. Furthermore, eventually, I will call customer support and swear the brand out of my life forever and more than likely tell my friends to avoid it, too. Well, that’s a lose-lose.
So what does it take for these companies to keep me engaged as a customer and promoter? Something that has surprised me by so many of these companies is that only a few have adopted some of the key ingredients for success with busy consumers like me:
- An easy-to-use customer dashboard, so that customers can check their payment and order histories, make changes to customize their orders, and allow them to view and update their customer profile preferences. The best dashboards I have seen make it easy to tell when the next monthly box is coming, what extra points you might have earned with a subscription, and allow you to easily contact representatives from these companies’ teams through an online portal about any support issues. Also, although this should already be table stakes for any website in today’s market, the online dashboard needs to work as well on a PC as it does on mobile. Monthly box subscribers, by nature of signing up for these programs, are already telling the world they don’t have time to waste with the trivial tasks of interacting with a retailer; therefore, it’s even more important that they can quickly make changes from their phones if they’re on the road, commuting to and from work, in line at a coffee shop, etc.
- Listen to your customers then release timely news about how you’re addressing their needs and wants. The most successful PR campaigns make the customer feel that by being a dedicated and loyal customer, they’re adding value to the company or the community. For example, Julep, a company that sells DIY manicure basics recently sent out emails to their Maven monthly box subscribers, asking them to help crowd-fund a new tool that helps their consumers paint their nails more easily and with better technique, regardless of the consumer’s dominant hand. The video to release the news of this tool showed the company’s CEO demonstrating how to use the tool, with ergonomic reasons for why the product is great, and in what ways their “Mavens” can help release the product to the public through different levels of funding. Following Kickstarter’s model, by agreeing to fund the project Mavens also receive the product once it’s released.
- Connect to the customer’s social networking profiles, and track the customer’s interests and trending topics to surprise the customer with a product relevant to their life. For example, a customer frequently talks about the Seattle Seahawks and their favorite hobby, running, on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Monthly box companies should notice these trends and respond by sending that customer items relevant to their hobbies: a snack box company could send treats that are great to share when watching a football game or with great nutritional value for after a longer run; a lifestyle company could send Seahawks-inspired blue and green fashion accessories leading up to the next big game. Using this knowledge would result in a far more delighted customer, ensuring that they get use out of the products they receive, and lessening the risk of the customer never looking at the product again.
- Reward the customer for being a loyal subscriber with the occasional gift relevant to their buying history. These monthly box programs are like dating – you have to say thank you with a grand gesture once in a while to make your partner really understand how grateful you are for their commitment to you. These gestures mean more, too, if they have been personalized to that person’s interests. In the case of a monthly snack box company, if they have noticed that the customer often orders zesty, sometimes spicy snacks, then an extra, limited edition version of that type of snack could be appropriate. Another way to show thanks is to invite the customer to pick an extra gift to be included in their next monthly box. This gesture not only says thank you, but it keeps the customer engaged with the brand that they don’t think about most days.
Many have tried, but few are succeeding at creating an engaging customer experience. The key is to reduce customer effort as much as possible, while continually surprising the customer with products they didn’t know they wanted or needed. Once the key ingredients are in place, then the monthly subscription box service will become a strong, long-term relationship.