retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Washington Post has a story about what it describes as the "nascent" subscription business that seems to be growing around the country, in which stores sell access to curated boxes of product to groups of shoppers.

The story says that "subscribers can choose from boxes of pet food, baby products, fishing tackle, video games, adult toys and even marijuana-smoking accessories. The subscription can cost as little as $10 or top $100 a month for luxury items. The collective value of the products — if you buy them at full price — is often higher than the monthly cost. Subscribers, a vocal and social-media-savvy bunch, have set up blogs and online forums to review the best boxes or swap goodies to fit their tastes."

The Post goes on to point out that "there is little data on this nascent industry, but by some estimates there are 400 to 600 kinds of box services in the United States and even more overseas. Many are start-ups that have yet to turn a profit, industry experts say, though they receive products at a discount or free from companies hoping to be introduced to new customers."

And, it goes on: "Subscribers share tons of personal data to customize their boxes. They also provide retailers valuable feedback on products before they hit store shelves. For retailers nervous about the growing popularity of online shopping, the boxes can be a way to reach consumers who have disappeared from the shopping aisles."
KC's View:
I'm a little less enchanted with the side of the subscription business that sends people product that they haven't ordered, though clearly there is an opportunity here to gather consumer intelligence and get input about new products. As I've often written, I'm a bigger fan of the "Subscribe and Save" service developed by Amazon, which allows customers to sign up for automatic replenishment in a vast number of categories.

Either way, the point of such services is developing a sustainable relationship between retailers and shoppers … the kind of relationship that, if nurtured consistently, can help transcend the challenge of new competition.