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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: “Unboxing” the Subscription Box

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

Marketers are geniuses. They have tapped into our innate desire to open pretty boxes. What subscription box (in fact, what opportunity to open any box) doesn’t bring back memories of Christmas morning, Chanukah, birthdays, and weddings? Something deep in the human brain just flips. Marketers understand. Now they own this experience.

Let’s unpack this, so to speak.

“Inside the Box: Unpacking the Subscription Box Phenomenon” (Chris McReady, 08/12/21, Ironmarkusa.com), notes the different kinds of boxes that arrive at subscribers’ doors on a regular basis (physical deliveries; anything online doesn’t apply). These include themed grooming, dog toy, hobby, arts and crafts, and plants boxes (all of which involve commercial printing). “The average US consumer purchases two or three subscription services currently,” according to McReady’s article.

Wikipedia notes the same phenomenon, mentioning “400 to 600 different kinds of subscription boxes in the United States alone, and more overseas.” “Subscription boxes tend to range from $10 to $100” [per delivery] (Wikipedia).

But What Is a Subscription Box?

A subscription box is a recurring delivery (in a company branded box produced by a commercial printing vendor) of products (usually based on a theme) requested and paid for by the consumer. Based on my reading, it’s not quite shopping at home. After all, you don’t pick a few items and send the rest back. Rather it is an opportunity to try out related products you might not have known about. That is, the products (let’s say grooming products) come in smaller than regular-sized containers. If you like something (and are pleased to have found something you didn’t know about), you might choose to order a full-size bottle.

There’s a lot to consider here, in terms of benefits for both the consumer and the brand (the originating company). You might want to read “What Is a Subscription Box,” by James Morris.com, 11/07/16. He describes the benefits:

  1. The client receives products she/he may not know about, chosen by people who presumably understand the available products better than they do (i.e., experts in the field). So there’s a sense of discovery and surprise (James Morris.com, 11/07/16) when the box arrives.
  2. Presumably, if you add up the retail cost of the products in a subscription box, the total is more than the client is paying as a subscription price. So the customer wins. Morris’s article calls this “savings” (James Morris.com, 11/07/16).
  3. Morris also talks about “thoughtful presentation” with regards to subscription boxes. This pertains to how a company packages the products. An unbranded box won’t work. The goal is brand recognition coupled with a positive experience after the sale. Thoughtful presentation might involve the custom printing on the box, how the products are packed in the box, whether print brochures are included, and whether cardboard dividers (or other special packing material like shredded paper or tissue paper) are used to organize the products.
  4. Morris’ article also mentions convenience. Once the client sets up the service, it proceeds uninterrupted at a regular interval. Granted, this is not specifically a way to order products on a recurring basis. From my research I think it is more of a marketing tool to introduce clients to new products related to their stated interests. But it seems to me (as a buyer of Chewy products for my fiancee’s and my cat) that subscription boxes and recurring deliveries are related and share some similar benefits. In this case, you don’t have to do more than pay by credit card and have the product box show up at your door.
  5. Finally, Morris’ article notes the “curation” value of subscription boxes. Experts collect the products for you. So presumably this adds value by educating you and introducing you to products you would otherwise not know about.

What About the Marketer’s Benefits?

  1. When you’re a subscriber, you’re a consistent audience. The brand can show you what it values (as reflected in the box contents and the product and graphic design of all components). Branding broadcasts core company values with which you will hopefully resonate.
  2. As a consistent audience, subscribers can give a company feedback, which will be reflected in future product selections. This, along with other specific market research, benefits the brand.
  3. By the time you receive the subscriber box, you have already paid for the product. So the company (or companies, since some boxes include products from numerous companies) has the opportunity to make a great final impression. Companies can provide a positive experience (good products, good presentation), and hopefully you will remember this and buy again (perhaps a larger bottle of the beauty products you like). This is based on the fact that it’s much easier for a company to keep you happy by giving you exactly what you want than it is to find new customers (i.e., customer retention).
  4. If you do a really spectacular job of preparing subscriber boxes that wow customers, chances are that influencers (the current term for “word-of-mouth” advertisers, or just plain regular people) will speak highly about your brand in online blogs, and perhaps even make and upload “unboxing” videos that might go viral. (This works in the printing realm as well. Every so often I check out the FoldFactory.com videos showing creative folds in marketing materials.) YouTube is a great advertising medium, and people tend to trust regular consumers more than marketers when they speak highly of a product. The gold standard for a subscription box is when people take the experience online and share it.

Here are some statistics:

  1. “According to Dotcom Distribution, 35.3% of consumers had seen an unboxing video in 2015. In 2017 this had risen to 36.8%” (as quoted in “The Unboxing Experience Goes from Differentiator to Must-Have: What Ecommerce Brands Need to Know,” Beth Owens, www.bigcommerce.com/blog, no date given).
  2. From the same article by Beth Owens, “according to a study by Bain & Company, between 60% and 80% of customers don’t return to the same company [for] a product or service, even if they were previously satisfied” (“The Unboxing Experience Goes from Differentiator to Must-Have: What Ecommerce Brands Need to Know,” Beth Owens, www.bigcommerce.com/blog, no date given). So the takeaway from this is that if you provide an unforgettable experience after the sale, showing that you have listened to the needs of the customer and care about her/his satisfaction, you will be more likely to be remembered when it comes time for the customer to buy again. Subscription boxes make this just a little bit easier.

The Takeaway

To understand the real reason the subscription box works so well, let’s revisit “What Is a Subscription Box” by JamesMorris.com.

Morris notes that the ecommerce experience can be somewhat impersonal. The internet is not a tactile medium. But you can touch the products in a subscription box. This makes the experience more tangible and more personal. It’s a personal connection with a brand. What this means is that marketers have started hearing people say things like, “Finally, checking the mail is fun again” (“What Is a Subscription Box” by JamesMorris.com).

Since a lot of the fun has gone out of everyday life with Covid-19 and such, fun is a good selling proposition, a win-win for both the customer and the brand.

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