Five years ago, the subscription model still seemed niche and unfamiliar to most consumers. A decade ago, subscription boxes like Birchbox didn’t exist.
Now, almost every type of product is offered through a subscription box. From 2014 to 2017, subscription box sales grew 800%.
For the top subscription boxes, greater sales boil down to solid e-commerce practices. Unique branding, curated customer experiences and more features have attracted consumers and driven more and more purchases.
12 E-commerce Lessons From Subscription Boxes
Gaining buyers’ trust takes persistence as an online seller. You’re not meeting your customers in person, so you have to creatively use digital methods to communicate your brand, build buyers’ trust, and encourage purchases.
Subscription box companies tackle these online selling hurdles head-on. Offering curated product experiences, these services attract buyers by providing them exactly what they want. They don’t need to meet with customers to increase sales—their digital ways of delighting buyers and crafting their brand already encourages purchases.
To learn from the best, we’re breaking down twelve e-commerce lessons from subscription boxes that can help sellers improve their customer experience and boost their profits.
1. Define the niche you’re filling.
You can’t expect to win every customer. Make a value proposition that’s too broad, and you’ll leave buyers confused and unmotivated to check out your business.
Subscription boxes win buyers by defining the niche they’re filling. These companies carefully research their market to determine the exact problem their box is solving. With this understanding, they craft their messaging around the box’s purpose, so customers realize why they should subscribe to it.
The grocery delivery service Farm to People, for example, states exactly what makes their Fresh Box unique on its landing page. Key phrases— “farmer’s market,” “sourced from local farms”—indicate that the Fresh Box is oriented around locally sourced ingredients.
Like subscription boxes, your online store should clearly state your business’ value to attract buyers. State this value as specifically as possible and target customers will immediately understand your product’s benefits and be driven to purchase it.
2. Product presentation matters.
The experience of shopping online can sometimes feel impersonal. Without any merchants or employees to meet, a poorly curated online store will seem cold and uninviting to shoppers.
To compensate, subscription box services delight customers with stunning presentation. Thoughtfully and professionally designed, these boxes give buyers the warm feeling of opening a gift when they receive them. Plus, the packaging often comes in bold colors and fonts that leave customers energized and feeling happy.
The Candy Club subscription box delights customers with a bright, happy teal color and pink tissue paper that makes it feel more like a present.
You can delight customers in the same way by rethinking your product presentation. Emulate the aesthetic of what your target buyer loves in your product’s visual elements, such as its landing page or its packaging. Crafting this presentation around buyers’ interests will make them eager to purchase.
3. Personalize your product offering.
According to SaleCycle, 34% of online shoppers abandon their carts because they’re “just looking.” In other words, they don’t feel ready to buy.
To ease these hesitant customers into purchasing, many subscription boxes offer multiple options, allowing customers to customize their box to fit their needs.
The meal kit box Blue Apron, for example, asks subscribers to choose between two-person or four-person plans and list their dietary preferences. Based on this input, the service develops personalized weekly menus for customers.
As an e-commerce seller, find ways to personalize orders from your business, and shoppers will feel ready and excited to buy from you.
4. Let customers try out products.
Unable to see products in person, online shoppers can question whether they should buy an item. If they feel especially unsure, they won’t commit to making a purchase.
Subscription box companies build buyers’ confidence in their purchase by not making the order feel like a commitment. Through a variety of tactics—such as generous return policies or offering products in sample form—these businesses encourage purchases by making a box order feel like a minor investment or easily reversible.
Birchbox, for example, eases customers into subscribing by letting them try a few samples of beauty products at an affordable monthly price of $10.
Make customers feel more comfortable purchasing by framing an order as a non-risky investment. Offering generous return policies, selling products in smaller sizes, and more, can all help shoppers feel ready to buy from your store.
5. Survey customers about their interests.
In any type of business, e-commerce or not, knowing what your customers want is a competitive advantage. The more closely you understand and can meet buyers’ needs, the more you’ll stand out from other merchants.
Subscription box services ensure that they understand their shoppers by asking them about their unique product preferences. Many of these subscriptions start with a customer questionnaire about their product, collecting valuable information that helps companies to meet their customers’ needs early in the relationship.
The clothing subscription box Trunk Club asks shoppers to complete a style questionnaire when signing up so they can pick clothing that the user would want.
Understand what customers want from your product, and you can adjust your items to meet their needs and encourage more sales. Alternatively, you can drive more orders by making product suggestions to customers through targeted ads, product page sidebars, and more.
6. Ask for feedback on orders.
Surveying buyers about product preferences is just step one. If you don’t follow up with customers after they make a purchase, you won’t know whether they enjoyed your product or were dissatisfied. Without that knowledge, you lose control of whether the buyer stays or goes.
Subscription box companies preserve their customer relationship by consistently requesting feedback from subscribers. Knowing whether buyers liked or disliked the products that they receive, these companies can improve their offering in the future to keep customers happy.
By consistently for post-order feedback, you can always improve your business with customers to keep them satisfied and loyal.
7. Wow buyers with stunning product photos.
From their screens, online shoppers can’t lay their own eyes on the actual products they’re browsing—they only have item photos. If these pictures are low-quality, buyers are going to be discouraged from making a purchase.
Subscription box services push customers towards subscribing with clear, gorgeous product photos. These images boost buyers’ confidence in the box’s quality since they can clearly see the item details. Beyond clarity, the lighting and staging of these photos can also improve buyers’ perception of products.
The vegan meal kit service Purple Carrot features beautiful photos of the meals that can be created with their boxes to motivate shoppers to subscribe.
Every e-commerce seller, not just subscription box services, should use high-quality product photos to attract more buyers. Nail down the lighting, staging, image size and more, and shoppers will be drawn to your items and feel ready to buy them.
8. Launch UGC campaigns.
A major motivator in online purchases is social proof, the psychological phenomenon of people ascribing correctness to what they see others doing. If a shopper sees that many other buyers enjoyed a product through reviews and ratings, they’re going to be much more likely to purchase the item.
Subscription box services use the power of social proof by launching UGC campaigns on Instagram. They know that potential buyers are interested in seeing what’s in their boxes, so they encourage shoppers to share pictures of their orders through hashtags and giveaways. Seeing other shoppers share their love for these boxes gets people ready and excited to become subscribers.
Like these box companies, you can launch a UGC campaign to help your buyers build trust in your products. To learn more about this tactic, check out our guide on e-commerce UGC campaigns.
9. Partner with social media influencers.
Along with friends and family, shoppers tend to trust industry experts for advice about products in their field. If a notable person recommends a product in their industry, buyers assume that the item must be worthwhile.
Box companies have capitalized on this social proof by partnering with social media influencers. Getting social media users with tons of followers who are well respected in their industry to praise their products is a way for these services to reach more people and gain new subscribers.
Partner with influencers to get your product in front of new audiences, and you’ll be able to spread brand awareness further and gain more subscribers.
10. Encourage product gifting.
Depending on the type of product you sell, shoppers might not immediately think of your items as potential gifts. If your product is especially practical or utilitarian, buyers could easily pass it off as a possible present for someone.
The key to winning more sales through gifts is to frame your products as presents, like subscription box services do. Almost all of these companies have a section of their website dedicated to gift packages that’s easily visible. Beyond accessibility, these gift pages offer simple, clear options for sending the box as a present. With visible and understandable gift options, these companies encourage shoppers to buy their box as a present.
The shaving box Dollar Shave Club prominently features ways to send their product as a gift.
To encourage more orders, show shoppers how your product could easily be sent as a present. You could create a gift guide with your products or offer a present wrapping option. Giving shoppers these options will boost sales as more people see how they could order your products as gifts.
11. Embrace content marketing.
Your relationship with online buyers doesn’t need to be limited to placing orders. Beyond selling your products, find other ways to provide value to your shoppers.
Many subscription boxes provide extra value to their shoppers through content marketing. Whether it’s an article or video, they post content that their customers care about to not only delight returning buyers, but also spark new interest in the brand.
The subscription box Causebox, for example, hosts a blog called Good News. It focuses on positive stories about wellness, charity, and more to attract their key buyers who appreciate ethically sourced goods.
Provide extra value to shoppers through content marketing, and they’ll appreciate and stay interested in your brand.
12. Buyers appreciate transparency in value.
Online shoppers often don’t know the precise value of the items they’re shopping for, so they may feel unsure about whether they’re worth purchasing. According to Forbes, buyers are more likely to be attracted to brands and products if businesses disclose the value of products.
Understanding this trend, subscription boxes often share the full value of their boxes to buyers. The total cost of the products is typically higher than the box price. Realizing how much of a deal the box is, buyers are motivated to subscribe.
The beauty company Allure, for example, clearly states on their site the full value of the box to show shoppers how much they save by paying only $15 per month.
Build confidence in your shoppers by being transparent about your products’ value. Showing how much items have been marked down or even disclosing the cost breakdown of products, like Everlane does, helps buyers realize why your items are worth purchasing.
Look to Boxes for Exemplary E-commerce Practices
It’s easy to think that subscription box sales have soared in the past few years because the business model is relatively new and exciting to consumers. While that’s true to some extent, the majority of subscription box success is due to companies following tried-and-true e-commerce practices.
Having clear brand missions, pleasing product presentation, and customization are just a few of the ways subscription companies continuously delight buyers and drive more business. Reviewing the subscription box strategies with this guide, e-commerce sellers can improve their own businesses to create a more engaging customer experience and win more sales.