Most ecommerce business models revolve around offering customers what they want, but there’s one in which you guess what they want. In the subscription box model, which has carved itself a niche in ecommerce over the last few years, the customers don’t choose what products you send them, you do. It’s that element of surprise, and convenience, that makes customers willingly hand over their money on faith alone.
Of course, consistent disappointments will lose you subscribers fast. Which products you include in your box will make or break your entire business, as well as incentivize new customers to subscribe. So, make the most of your subscription box product sourcing by following these tips.
What Are Subscription Boxes?
Subscription boxes are surprise gifts people buy themselves. Customers sign up for a recurring (often monthly) payments, so they usually forget about them until they arrive. When they do arrive, there’s usually no telling what’s inside, so there’s the excitement of surprise and anticipation in the opening.
That feeling — the joy of opening a gift — is just as much a commodity of the subscription box model as whatever products are inside. But don’t be fooled; if the products inside are lackluster, that excitement is gone the second-time around.
Your task as a subscription box curator is not knowing which products will sell, but which will impress. The difference is often in discovering new products and brands — you give people products they wouldn’t buy on their own, and if they enjoy it, they’re grateful and the loyalty to your subscription box increases.
While choosing what your customers buy sounds like an ecommerce dream come true, there are plenty of downsides that can turn that dream into a nightmare. For one thing, if your products don’t live up to expectations, customers won’t hesitate to cancel their subscription.
But even more pressing is having enough markup to turn a profit. Subscription box prices are set every month, even when the products therein change. That means, to run a successful subscription box company, you have to be meticulous about the pricing of the products you source.
As we mention below, starting off with a favorable deal or partnership with at least one supplier is the backbone of most subscription boxes. This means you’ll be able to fill your subscription boxes with at least some profitable products, and you can use the extra wiggle-room in your budget to experiment or offer incentive gifts. Of course, that’s not the only way to come out ahead, having a good product sourcing strategy can give you the right push.
The Best Product Sourcing Strategies for Subscription Boxes
Here are some guidelines to get you started on filling your subscription boxes with the best products.
1. Develop Partnerships with Other Brands
Subscription box companies often partner with brands for exclusive deals or price cuts. Big brands and manufacturers know how it works — subscription boxes are a great way to get their products into the hands of people who wouldn’t normally buy them. It’s essentially an alternative form of advertising for them, so they’re willing to cut deals.
Speak with brands about exclusive access to their products, or at least discounts, in exchange for featuring them in your subscription boxes. If it fits your business goals, you can offer subscription boxes with only products from one brand, like Brick Loot , which boxes only LEGO products, although legally speaking “is not associated with The LEGO Group.”
See if any of your suppliers would be willing to give you early or exclusive access to certain products. Sometimes manufacturers will even give you free samples so they can taste a product’s effectiveness in the market. This makes your customers feel like they’re receiving special treatment, ensuring a continued subscription for months to come.
2. Hone in on Your Niche
Casting a wide net doesn’t work with subscription boxes. You have to find that perfect balance between getting your subscribers something they’ll want and getting them something they wouldn’t expect. Rather than shooting in the dark, it’s best to target niche markets. If you can narrow down a person’s tastes to a specific niche, it’s easier to guess what they’ll like.
For example, beauty products are one of the most popular categories of subscription boxes. If people subscribe under the promise of receiving lip balm and skin cream, throwing in a face mask is hardly a stretch.
One of the greatest strengths of subscription boxes is that you target very specific niches. To further the example above, instead of just beauty products, you could offer “organic beauty products.” Honing in your niche may limit your potential customer base, but it will create stronger customer loyalty.
This goes double for hard-to-find-product niches — the subscription box fee is more or less compensation for you digging around for a particular type of product so they don’t have to.
3. Think Outside the Box to Fill the Box
Again, because discovery is so important to subscription boxes, you’ll have to look under rocks your customers never checked. If you’re sourcing your products from the same places your customers shop at, you lose that crucial aspect of discovery, leaving shoppers to wonder “why don’t I just order these products myself?”
Rather, you want to check out places and stores your customers wouldn’t think to try. If you can find “the next big thing” before anyone else, your customers will appreciate it. So be creative about where you find your products.
Artisans and local vendors are great targets. Visit crafts fairs and trade exhibitions to find undiscovered products that only need publicity. If there are no such shows in your area, you can always check Etsy, the platform for artisanal and homemade goods. See if you can partner with an Etsy seller to deliver their products to a wider range of customers.
For even more options, you can search out vendors online. Using the right keywords in a search engine can reveal the perfect products were right under your nose the whole time.
4. Let Vendors Come to You
As we mentioned above, there are plenty of benefits for suppliers to get their goods into your subscription boxes, too. So why should you do all the work finding them? Include a vendor request option on your website to let them know you’re open to collaborating.
You can also find online communities on social media. Facebook groups, Instagram and Twitter hashtags, and online directories are all worth checking out to meet new vendors.
Keep in mind, the subscription box model follows its own set of rules compared to other business models. The criteria for a successful product is significantly different. Traditional ecommerce stores have to worry more about competitive pricing and popular demand, whereas subscription boxes have more room to experiment with new products, but have to focus more on customer loyalty and keeping subscribers happy.
It helps to understand the mindset of the subscription box customer, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before taking the plunge. Still on the fence? Check out these pros and cons of selling subscription boxes.