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Marketers Use Subscription Boxes Strategically

Sarah Steimer

​The fad of subscription boxes is waning, but some shrewd brands have a plan to thrive. Their secret: Each box is not just a widget, but an insight-generating emissary.

Consumers are flinging open their doors and welcoming brands into their lives through the subscrition box model. All marketers have to do is box up a few products, reproducing the excitement of a gift that arrives quarterly, monthly or even weekly.

Consumers’ willingness to roll out the welcome mat for such brands as Birchbox, Barkbox and Blue Apron—and cough up quite a bit of data—stems from the trendy desire for a bespoke customer experience. They want the sophistication of a personal shopper without the human interaction. They want a curated collection of products without stepping foot in a store. They want to showcase it all on social media, sometimes for fans they’ve never met. Subscription boxes satisfy this appetite for a detached yet customized shopper experience, and they do so with the climactic bonus of “unboxing.”

Eager to satisfy these desires, companies are wrapping whatever they can in tissue paper: jewelry, pet toys, exercise equipment, socks, bacon, fishing gear and so forth. If it can be boxed and themed, it ships. Working off of the self-gratifying, “treat yo’self” mentality many customers embrace, the subscription box industry has taken off, and marketers have enjoyed a tantalizing spread of customer data.

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Sarah Steimer

Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.