The Creative Liberation Lab Notes

An official publication of Limeadestand Works

Subscription boxes: power of curation in the sea of choices

September 18, 2018 | Branding and brand communications

Back in the early 1990s, I used to subscribe to the Columbia House (for those who are too young to remember, they would send you a music CD every month and you'd either mail it back or pay for it) and the Book of the Month Club (ditto, except it's for hard-cover books). Those days, there was no Amazon and buying a book or a CD meant a trip to a retail store or a shopping mall.

These subscription-based "clubs" provided a window to otherwise hard-to-find titles (especially if your interest was niche, such as world music or Christian books) when most stores did not provide lots of choices.

When Amazon.com began, billed itself as the "Earth's Biggest Bookstore" (and got sued by Barnes and Noble for it), the landscape had changed dramatically. I began buying books on Amazon instead of having to take a day trip from Seattle to Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon (but ultimately decided to move to Portland in no small part because of Powell's). Increasingly, subscription clubs lost their usefulness, and eventually, most of them went out of business into obscurity.

But subscription boxes are now back. There's now FabFitFun, BirchBox, Graze, HomeChef, Blue Apron, and more and the list is growing. These companies (now collectively called "subcom" or "subscription commerce" genre) have a cult-like following.

These businesses are growing because an increasing number of consumers are getting tired of the overload: information overload and constant urgency of choices after choices. People are spending more time in front of screens and their lives are getting busier. They want the quality of life and simple enjoyment back.

This is where subscription boxes stepped in. These boxes create a sense of anticipation and fun, as well as the strength of curated contents. You wouldn't know what's in the box until you get it in the mail. It's like the Christmas morning every month.

The future of commerce is about delivering a curated experience since people can now do and buy pretty much everything online. The curation is the premium service that takes some burdens and time out of the consumers who are bombarded with choices and information every waking moment.