How to Create Sensational Subscription Boxes

Long before the pandemic drove most shoppers online, I was eagerly checking my mailbox for deliveries. Makeup samples, meal prep boxes, clothing chosen by my own personal stylist, lifestyle goodies… I had them coming every month. After a while, once the novelty wore off and I started taking a good look at what I was getting versus what I was using, some services stopped making the cut.

Here’s what defines a really great subscription box: The experience consistently lives up to expectations - maybe even pleasantly surprises me - and offers flexibility and convenience. When I open the box, I feel like someone chose the contents just for me, based on my input and needs. While I know other subscribers may be receiving the same items, the contents of each box feel customized. Those are the boxes that keep me coming back. Let’s explore what goes into a standout subscription box.

What sets great subscription boxes apart:

1. They meet or exceed expectations.
Deliver on what’s been promised. For example, one of the meal prep services I tried claimed to offer great variety and new menu options each week. I was looking forward to exploring dishes I hadn’t tasted before.

While several menu choices did change each week, new meals weren’t added as frequently as I’d anticipated — meal options rotated in a fairly consistent cycle. The service’s limited variety and novelty simply didn’t match what I expected. When customer feedback surveys asked how the service could improve, I requested more new meals and greater variety… but nothing changed. After a few months of eating the same things over and over, I gave up and discontinued the service.

Acting on customer feedback is crucial for brands looking to stand out in crowded marketplaces. The subscription box market exploded over the last decade, growing from $57 million USD per year in 2011 to over $10 billion annually in 2019. Exploratory testing enables organizations to better understand customer behavior and expectations around your offerings so you can adapt to stay ahead of market shifts.

2. They offer flexibility.
Consistency is great — but change is constant. Does your subscription box allow customers to easily adjust to accommodate change? Press pause while on vacation? Change delivery days to accommodate schedule changes? Do meal subscription boxes allow customers to adjust as their circumstances and households change, such as moving in a parent with special dietary needs, or hosting guests for extended stays during summer vacation? Does a fashion box give consumers the option to adjust preferences based on weight fluctuations or moving to a new city with different weather patterns? For beauty and personal care boxes, can users add data such as sensitivity to certain ingredients or changing skincare needs?

A McKinsey survey found that customers appreciated price flexibility and services that “accommodate changes in subscriber’s lives.” To reduce churn, subscription services must not only offer flexibility, they must make it easy for users to exercise that flexibility. If users can’t easily make the changes they want, they’re likely to cancel — and seek another service that better meets their needs.

While functional testing assesses whether users can make changes, user experience testing validates whether the process works smoothly. Make sure you’ve got both aspects covered to keep your subscribers coming back.

3. They provide convenience.
Subscription boxes appeal because they make life easier: they save time and ensure users have a consistent supply of the things they use regularly. To deliver on the promise of convenience, the full omnichannel experience must delight. Your app may function beautifully, but no one wants a meal prep box that’s damaged during delivery, or to get stuck keeping clothes that don’t fit. Is it easy for customers to get a refund or return damaged items via website, app or phone call? Evaluate scenarios beyond the happy path to ensure you can efficiently respond when things go wrong. In some cases, you may be able to build in resolution, like one of my favorite fashion boxes, which offers a prepaid return box and the option to exchange items for different sizes via its app.

Ensure that your entire customer journey flows smoothly and that customers can resolve issues quickly via their chosen channels. Customer journey testing reveals friction points and opportunities for improvement.

To effectively compete in the subscription box market, you need to deliver consistent quality, flexibility and convenience. Learn how Applause can help.

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Jennifer Waltner
Global Content Marketing Manager
Reading time: 5 min

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