What Makes Us Sign Up to Subscription Boxes
Louise Grimmer, Gary Mortimer, 7 Dec 17

The rush of dopamine upon opening a subscription box is similar to the one experienced by gamblers. hectore/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Everyone can relate to that excitement of ripping open a present or the anticipation before discovering what a package in the post contains. In fact, the rush of good feeling is very similar to what gamblers experience and it’s this type of psychological effect that retailers are now banking on.

Subscription box retailing is a recurring delivery of various products, grouped according to a theme or product type, and ordered online through a subscription retailer.

While customers select the type of box, and there are literally hundreds of different genres and retailers to choose from. Prices for boxes vary depending on the type of box, with costs ranging from A$10 per month (like beauty retailer Birchbox) to over A$100 (like luxury retailer Monthly Express).

Retailers know that most customers want to see, touch and “experience” products before they buy them, so subscription boxes, often filled with smaller sample sizes of new products, give customers a chance to try before they buy.

Although the delivery of subscription boxes is recurring (and that is also part of their appeal) there is a great deal of difference between a subscription box and a recurring subscription.

Recurring subscriptions are the automatic and regular delivery of everyday items such as toilet paper (Who Gives a Crap), men’s grooming products (Man Perfected) and soap and cleaning products (Bondi Wash).

Even large retailers such as Target in the United States are offering recurring subscription services on hundreds of everyday items such as baby formula and printer ink. These services provide discounts for regular subscribers as well as free returns or easy rescheduling of delivery dates.

But it’s subscription box retailing that appeals to consumers on a number of emotional and behavioural levels.

Why we want to know what’s in the box

We go through a number of emotions with subscription boxes. There’s anticipation (eagerly awaiting the delivery of the box), curiosity (what will the box contain?), surprise (upon opening the box) and joy, delight, satisfaction and sometimes disappointment upon discovering the array of products contained within the box.

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