Subscription box services are popular among consumers today. Hellosubscription.com lists more than 5,000 subscription services selling everything from sneakers to vaping supplies. It’s no surprise. These services are convenient, cost-saving, and personalized. Here are some quick subscription box stats from a 2018 McKinsey study:
- 15% of online shoppers have signed up for a subscription box service
- Most popular among younger, affluent urbanites
- Sales in 2016 were $2.6 billion, up from $57.0 million in 2011
- Women make up 60% of all subscribers
- Nearly 35% of subscribers have 3 or more subscriptions
What Is a Subscription Box Service?
Subscription box services ship their subscribers products, services, or exclusive content at specified intervals (usually monthly) in exchange for a recurring payment. Subscription services fall into three broad categories: replenishment, curation, and access.
- Replenishment subscriptions ship products that customers need to replace on a recurring basis (e.g., beauty products, razors).
- Curation subscriptions offer customers more than just products. They strive to surprise and delight them with new offerings personalized for them. (e.g., fashion, dog toys, tea).
- Access subscriptions give customers low prices, membership, perks, and special access. (e.g., Walmart’s Beauty Box and Amazon’s Subscribe & Save)
Some eCommerce platforms let you easily spin up a subscription box service for a monthly fee, but they don’t give you the flexibility to customize your site.
Other subscription services like Patreon are popular among artists and influencers who offer exclusive content to channel subscribers, but they quickly eat away at your profits with high transaction fees and monthly charges.
However, if you already have a WordPress site, the WooCommerce plugin is flexible, free, and easy to install. Here are the steps to starting your own subscription box service with WooCommerce.
Step 1: Choose a WordPress Theme
If you don’t have a WordPress site yet, find one with WooCommerce integration like Astra, which is a free theme. Of course, you can pick any theme you want, just make sure your theme has these features:
- Responsive design
- WooCommerce integration
- Layout and color customization
- Clean, simple interface
- Loads quickly
Step 2: Download the WooCommerce Plugin
WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin that transforms your site into a powerful eCommerce platform. Like WordPress itself, WooCommerce is open-source, which means it’s flexible and customizable. No matter what subscription box product you’re selling, you can use WooCommerce extensions to suit your marketing and sales. Follow these steps on how to add a WooCommerce store to your WordPress blog.
Of course, if you use our Managed WooCommerce hosting plans, you don’t need to do this step; you can skip it completely.
Step 3: Add Subscription Functionality
You need a way to manage your subscriptions and collect recurring payments. I highly recommend using the Subscription extension from Prospress to set up automatic payments through multiple payment gateways like PayPal or Stripe. You need a subscription manager with features like these:
- Offers both automatic and manual renewals
- Offers a billing schedule to fit your subscription model (weekly, monthly, yearly)
- Automated emails reminding customers when their payment will process
- Customers can upgrade or downgrade their subscriptions
Your monthly revenue is more accurate and predictable when you automate renewals and streamline your subscription management. For this reason, we highly recommend defaulting to automatic renewals.
Subscription Box Pros and Cons
The market for subscription box services has grown by more than 100 percent every year for the past five years. So, it’s a proven profitable eCommerce model. But it’s not an online model without challenges. Here are few to keep in mind.
As with any subscription service, revenue is fairly predictable. Customers sign up for a contracted period of time for a specific amount. Predictable revenue helps you confidently plan other parts of your business like shipping, space rental, and hiring employees.
However, subscription box services are notorious for their high customer churn. More than a third of customers cancel their subscriptions in less than three months and more than half cancel within six.
So while subscription models are predictable, subscribers are not. Cut down on customer churn by offering discounts to those who sign up for a long-term subscription (e.g., yearly instead of monthly).
Subscription box services like Tinker Crate lower their shipping costs by standardizing box sizes and shipping times. Unless you’re shipping dumbbells one month and silk flowers the next, you can use the same type of box every time. This will help you estimate shipping costs more accurately.
But standardizing your box size also means you’re limited to what products you can offer. If your customers get a different selection of products each month, then you’re limited to the size and number of products that will fit in your box. You may need to change your box size as your business grows.
Profitable subscription box services like the men’s shaving supply merchant Harry’s are convenient and cost-effective. Customers get to skip the cramped aisles at brick-and-mortar stores and save money. It’s an attractive value proposition.
However, when perceived value drops or convenience lags, customers are quick to drop your service. They demand a superior end-to-end customer experience, which means keeping costs low while delivering quality products on time.
For curated services offering different products every month, part of your customers’ perceived value will be in how often you surprise and delight them. That means sourcing unique products and personalizing shipments with surveys and questionnaires. The less personalized the service, the more cancellations you’ll have.
Your customers want to feel like they’re getting a gift each month that surprises them. If your box contents aren’t that “fun,” try including original content like a magazine about your products (e.g., wine subscription pamphlet) or something fun and educational (e.g., a “bathroom reader” for your men’s shaving supply service). The anticipation of what’s in the box delivers joy and delight—don’t forget to pack that value into your boxes, too.
WooCommerce Subscription Box Examples
Here are a few subscription box companies that bring personalization, flexibility, and convenience to their subscribers.
Subscription Model: CineCrate is a curated subscription box for kids interested in filmmaking. A subscription costs $39 per month, and subscribers get a themed CineCrate with a costume, prop, and other movie-making materials. The CineCrate WordPress site runs on WooCommerce and WooCommerce Subscriptions.
Personalization. Like other subscription box services aimed at children, CineCrate founders Stephanie Brogan and Lizzy Montana have to find unique and creative ways to personalize their customers’ experiences.
Brogan explains, “We have to make sure that the products we include are unique and inspire creativity. We have to find clever ways to fit each item together within the box.” To build a theme for their various items, CineCrates uses movie genres like superhero movies.
But to push personalization further, CineCrate owners include a customized workbook for brainstorming character development, storyboarding, and writing their scripts. “By including the workbook and activities to pair with our box items, it helps our subscribers use their creativity to make their movie making more personalized,” Brogan says.
The workbook balances the guidance a child needs with the freedom of expression to personalize the experience.
Brogan says the biggest challenge the company has faced so far is keeping costs low while ensuring quality products. CineCrate uses standard box sizing (12x9x2 inches) to lower shipping fees and bulk-buying to lower product costs.
Subscription Model: Driftaway Coffee is a curated subscription box service for coffee connoisseurs. The subscription works on a “bean-to-cup” marketing approach where subscribers can leave coffee bean farmers feedback on the taste and quality of their coffee.
Order Flexibility. Driftaway offers an impressive level of order flexibility. Customers can choose among four subscription plans based on the weight, three different delivery preferences (weekly, 2 weeks, or monthly), and two different billing frequencies (per shipment or 6 months).
By giving customers this level of cost customization, Driftaway maximizes customer retention. Customers can order as much as they want or can afford. As such, customers are less likely to feel locked into their monthly order—compared to a service with the same shipping weights or number of products each month.
Making Customers Part of Something Bigger. Driftaway excels at giving customers a complete end-to-end experience. Subscribers can participate in a Farmer Feedback Program that connects customers to the people who grow the beans for their coffee. But the program is more than just a feel-good marketing ploy. It creates a feedback loop moving through the entire supply chain that ultimately raises the quality of the coffee.
Customers can also support bean farmers and their families through the company’s “Bean for Bean Program.” For every pound of coffee sold, Driftaway donates 5 cents to the World Coffee Research organization. The WCR helps research and develop hardier strains of coffee beans, helping local farmers avoid financial losses from diseases, pests, and drought.
Driftaway’s feedback and researching funding programs place their customers within the entire ecosystem of bean production. The company sells more than coffee to its customers. It sells the idea of community—a notion that makes customers feel like they’re part of something larger.
Subscribe to Your Own Ideas
It may feel like the subscription box market is saturated, but there’s plenty of room for creative entrepreneurs who find niche markets or unique opportunities. If you’ve already got a website, think about how you can use your resources and connections to reach an untapped market.
- Are you a musician with a website? Then start a subscription box service for your music. Offer it in downloadable MP3s or CDs every month for a small subscription. It’s a great way to promote your art and connect with current fans.
- Are you a fashion influencer? Start a curated box service filled with hand-picked selections of your sponsors’ products.
- Are you a music blogger? Then start a record-of-the-month club where you ship new musical experiences to your subscribers.
- Are you a hiker with a social following? Create a monthly “Hiker’s Snack Box” filled with nutritional goodies for high-energy sports.
- Are you a YouTube makeup artist? Then work with brands you love to assemble sample palates for a monthly subscription box.
- Are you a podcaster? Create a “box” with access to exclusive content and fun swag related to your podcast, like shirts, stickers, patches, and sponsor products.
- Are you a mom blogger? Put together a kit with crafts for keeping kids busy, recipe cards that feature your sponsors, and samples of your favorite products.
When it comes to subscription box services, there are still plenty of creative ways to start a business. The real challenge is maintaining value for your customers. If you can personalize their experience while keeping selections surprising and fresh, you’ll be more than halfway to building a profitable subscription box service.