shutterstock_144352681I have a hard time buying gifts for my niece. She isn’t a typical 4-year-old girl; she’s not super into princesses, she’s too energetic to be glued to a TV (but she does sing-along to Frozen), and she likes robots more than I expected.

But she loves crafts; any kind really.

So as her birthday rolled around, and I was trying to figure out what to get such a unique kid (in my opinion), I came across KiwiCrate on Pinterest. It’s a subscription service, similar to BirchBox, Loot Crate or Blue Apron, but it delivers a box of craft supplies, science experiments and games with different themes, like Pirate Adventure or Fun With Bugs. I talked to my sister about it, and she said that Izzy would love it; that she’s super excited to get cards, so a package would blow her mind.

And that made me think: When was the last time you really anticipated a package or letter with the same excitement as my niece?

Over the past few years, there have been a lot of services like KiwiCrate trying to box up a personalized experience. They’re all taking advantage of the fact that we’re growing more comfortable ordering online, but now miss that in-store experience of physically discovering a product.

These services, then, are succeeding because of their attempts to bring the surprise and delight back to the customer experience, and they are doing it through really creative merchandising. They are employing the same techniques of product recommendations and merchandising sets used by online retailers to carve out a clearly identified target audience—in the list above, we’re looking at beauty & grooming, geeks & gamers, and foodies—and are delivering a highly personalized set of goods on a monthly basis.

So how are these companies winning with their subscribers?

They’ve asked some cursory questions to get to know you, probably your age, gender, interests as they relate to the service—to get to some understanding of your tastes and preferences.

In digital marketing, this is the equivalent of targeting by demographic profile, and maybe some on-site behavior to match your customers up with products that similar subscribers have enjoyed.

They learn from you over time. Some of these services ask you to send back what you don’t want, so they know what to avoid next time, building a more complex customer profile.

This helps target the experience based on purchase behavior or content consumed (literally in the case of Blue Apron), and you begin to notice affinities for brands, categories, or topics. For online shopping, this translates into visual search, letting you evaluate the product earlier in the process; or using badges to call out relevant attributes you enjoy, like “organic” or “top seller.”

They keep you coming back. It’s true that, with a subscription model, you’ve already opted in for a certain amount of time, but these companies are making a coordinated effort to learn more about you and hone in on a truly customized box of products.

The digital marketing lesson here is no different: We need to re-engage customers over time. Merchandisers accomplish this with email marketing, making sure messages tie relevant recommendations with personalized offers or promotions. The consistent flow of things you like will eventually bring you back to the site.

As digital marketing moves to being truly omnichannel and truly one-to-one communication, every digital experience should deliver the same amount of joy as my niece tearing into a KiwiCrate and pretending to be a superhero.

Superhero image courtesy of Shutterstock.