Subscription Commerce (#SUBCOM) Matrix

There’s a big trend right now with these monthly boxes or subscription based businesses. Basically these services have members who pay a monthly fee to receive some type of box each month. This can be a wide range of things from samples to full-on products. In most cases the contents are highly targeted and curated by an authority on the vertical they serve.

Personally I love the model so I’m bullish on the opportunity here. I’m going to both build and invest into the space, so lately I’ve been doing a lot of research on it.

To start with, some people have been calling this different things. For me it’s easiest to describe the model as subscription commerce or subcom for short. I’ve also heard things like “lazy boxes”, “sample boxes” and “replenishment” but subcom is probably sufficient for industry insider talk and blogging. It’s also nice and short for platforms of brevity like Twitter.

In terms of what’s out there let’s first take a look at the subcom brands already launched or in beta. Below I’ve laid that out in one of those matrix grids. To keep things simple let’s start with some basics about the businesses and organize them by rough scale and whether they target males or females (or both).

clicky to enlarge

As you can see these businesses are leaning female-focused right now. That makes sense but means there is likely a lot more opportunities for male-focused subcom. It’s also important to note that Amazon is already part of this space and while they don’t push subscription very hard they could at any time. Any of these businesses that reach large-scale are likely acquisition targets from Amazon as well.

Here’s a more extensive link directory of the various players. Click around and see if any of them excite you enough to sign up. If you have experience with some of these brands already, please let me know in the comments.

Clothes and Fashion

Health and Beauty
Baby and Parenting
Food


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28 Comments about “Subscription Commerce (#SUBCOM) Matrix”

  1. Marshall Says:

    I want more options!! I subbed to a mushroom CSA once. Sky has got to be the limit!

  2. Jay Cuthrell Says:

    Nice directory. My use has trended towards legacy “[insert something] of the Month Club” offers but I’m going to be updating my wish lists to reflect the ones you have listed.

    Do any of these cater to minimal packaging or eco-packaging as a differentiator?

  3. Sean Percival Says:

    @Jay

    Some of them are actually heavy on the packaging but that’s mostly the female ones. Jewelmint for example has very elaborate packaging but that’s jewelry so it makes some sense.

    Healthy Surprises is new and I believe trying to be very low impact.

    I use manpacks and they go for very minimal packaging. Also they do quarterly shipments so it’s less packages overall.

  4. Robin Says:

    I’m a huge craft coffee fan. I’ve been a member for 4 months and would pay for a bimonthly subscription if available.

  5. David Cole Says:

    I work at Memberly, which powers Steepster Select and PaleoPax. We’re building a tool that will make running businesses like these a snap. It’s nice to see so much enthusiasm for the model, it’s got us super excited.

    A few more for your list would be Quarterly (quarterly.co) and The Thing (thethingquarterly.com). Another interesting variant is local delivery subscriptions like Milk Maid Ice Cream, certainly on the bottom end of the “At Scale” axis. :)

  6. Gordon Mattey Says:

    Another term used in the industry is continuity. Yeah it’s a horrible word.

    I’d question the scale of some of these, but it’s your scale :)

    I use an organic veg service called farmfreshtoyou.com

    I’ve seen the shoedazzle shoes and in a word they are cheap. But for $30, I guess that’s what you get, a $30 pair of shoes.

  7. Sean Percival Says:

    @David

    Thanks for the comment. Sorry for not better representing Memberly here. I think it’s a great platform and look forward to seeing it grow.

    I’ll add those links to the list. THE THING is totally interesting and new to me.

  8. Sean Percival Says:

    @Gordon

    Ya I meant to add a note about the scale. It’s totally made up :)

  9. Matt Collins Says:

    Fascinating list, Sean.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what is driving this trend. Is it simply people seeing the apparent success of companies like JewelMint and ShoeDazzle and realising what a good model it is? Or is there some fundamental shift that has made the model more effective than before?

    I’m personally also very bullish about the subscription ecommerce model and have been for a few years. I recently set up a company in the UK called Boudoir Privé and we’re offering luxury beauty product samples by subscription (similar to BirchBox).

    I have no doubt we’ll be seeing plenty of other niches explored in a similar way by new businesses over the next year or two, both in the US and elsewhere.

  10. Sean Percival Says:

    @Matt

    ShoeDazzle certainly helped to prove the model to a certain extent.

    Social media referring is also now to a point where it can drive signification sales.

    Also in a down economy little delights go a long way. These boxes can help enhance life ongoing without too much expense.

  11. hendrik Says:

    @Sean

    A great post on a growing industry within ecommerce. I have seen one of these with an international twist. Candy Japan (http://www.candyjapan.com/) sends candy from Japan to their paying users.

    What I really like about this niche is that you can use it to introduce users to new products or take the pain away for stuff that is bought every few months. The opportunities are endless with subcom…

  12. Ricardo Bueno Says:

    Hey Sean,

    I have my own subscription site set up here: http://www.realestateblogtopics.com

    Basically, writing advice (topics, lessons, actions steps) delivered weekly to Real Estate Pro’s. I’ve used http://www.letterly.net to run the subscription and am now using Mailchimp + Amazon Payments.

    So far, the model works really well. Someone once told me it’s better to have a model you can scale rather than working with clients individually. It was good advice.

    For me, the next step is refining the subscription process.

  13. Sundeep Ahuja Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post Sean; am surprised more folks haven’t covered the burgeoning “subscription commerce” space.

    @Jay, at blissmo our mission is to introduce you to products better for you & your planet, and each month we are working to improve our packaging to make it more eco-friendly.

    @Sean, happy to chat more if you’re interested in learning about how we’re thinking about the space.

  14. Jessie B Says:

    @Sean – my thought on this is that it’s gaining traction in these economic times as it makes it easy to “budget” in a little luxury spending, so it should just continue to grow and really is a nice model & scales well.

    In the 90′s http://www.faithpopcorn.com hinted at this by defining trends of “Cocooning” and “Small Indulgences” and revisiting one of her older books may help develop your ideas. Combination of times & access to internet makes this a ripe opportunity.

    @Ricardo – the advice on a scaling business model sounds familiar.

  15. Ricardo Bueno Says:

    @Jessie B. – how’s it going man? Yes, it was good advice… See, I was listening.

  16. john ocean Says:

    Great post.
    Loving boudoir prive specially. great quality product.
    http://chocalo.com – a monthly chocolate box also pretty cool

  17. Ella Dyer Says:

    Glad to see such an abundance of activity in the ever-creative area of e-commerce.

    We too participate in this space but, by helping retailers retain margins. Our first application http://www.fashion-ade.com/, engages consumers (now available retailer’s sites) by showing how relevant an item is because it matches what she already owns, thus increasing her permission to purchase (or, as we say, garment/accessory ROI).

  18. matrixs thefinalmatrix Says:

    Extraordinarily entertaining thank you, I presume your readers would certainly want a lot more items similar to this keep up the great effort.

  19. Shannon Clark Says:

    Sean,

    An example which is a bit on the male end but in a different category from what you have discussed is the many subscriptions which Paizo Publishing (see http://paizo.com/paizo/about/subscriptions) offers to their lines of gaming books and accessories. They have recently become the number 1 (by some metrics) RPG publisher (topping Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons at least in retail sales) and they fit many of the elements you mention. They offer physical goods (books and other products) via subscription with bundled digital versions (usually sold for an additional cost) and from all reports offer great service and have many subscribers (I’m not yet one but may sign up for a few of their subscriptions in the near future). Great topic and definitely a business model that bears exploring.

  20. I will validate a list of proxies Says:

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  21. Stu Cubbon Says:

    This is a really great article, I agree that the subcom space is starting to open up more and will turn out to be a nice direction for both consumers & merchants in the aftermath of the “daily deal” era.

    I work with a company called monthlygifter.com that has been examining the subcom industry, and have noticed that as a lot of these companies focus on having a national presence with their distribution, I also think that there will be a rise in “hyperlocal” memberships where local merchants (for example, wine shops) will begin offering consumers monthly membership programs that won’t require the added element of shipping (ie. walk in to pick up monthly product, possibly paired with additional perks/discounts/etc.) It will definitely be interesting to see the direction the subcom industry takes over the next year or two.

    Thanks again to Sean for this great article

  22. Sebastian Says:

    Hi Sean,

    great piece! In case the infographics are being updated, please feel free to add http://www.bluum.com to the list.

    Thanks! :)

  23. Beth Clay Says:

    Sean;

    Thanks so much for including Just the Right Book on your list. The comments are interesting. With regard to Stu’s comment, Just the Right Book grew out of what he refers to as “hyperlocal” memberships. RJJulia, an award-winning local bookstore in Madison, CT, is a sister-company. We were both founded by Roxanne Coady, who quickly realized that JusttheRightBook.com would be an amazing way to offer the small indie experience online to people whose local bookstores might be disappearing.

    And, yes, I see this as a natural extension of Faith Popcorn’s trend forecasting from a decade or more ago. In fact, our newest offering is called Indulge Yourself, a book subscription you give yourself to enjoy whilst cocooning!

    Thanks again – really enjoyed hearing everyone’s input!

  24. Cristopher Cargile Says:

    Hope to see more posts like this… you are a good blogger!

  25. Lauren Thorp Says:

    Hi Sean,

    This is fascinating. I frankly didn’t realize what a huge trend this is becoming until the last few weeks.

    I’ve just launched Umba Box (www.umbabox.com), a subcom business focusing on handmade goods for women (jewelry, accessories, stationery, bath products, and home decor). Etsy and similar sites are becoming cluttered and saturated, making it harder for consumers to find the truly amazing products. We help cut through the clutter by curating the boxes each month. We also include a story of the artist, helping to connect the consumer with the manufacturer, which is nearly non-existent in a world of Big Box chains.

    While the actual subscription is aimed at women, we’re finding that a big proportion of the buyers are actually men using this as a gift for their wives, girlfriends, sisters, and moms. One guy is actually shipping to this office and (trying) to pass it off as if he picked it out himself! As we grow, we’ll be launching a men’s line, as well.

    We’re using Memberly as our subscription platform; they’re fantastic.

    Thanks for great insight!

  26. John Says:

    I really agree with you.

  27. John Says:

    I quite enjoyed reading it, you are a great author

  28. Serdar Says:

    A useful post, plus wonderful links.
    Thanks.

Published: August 27th, 2011 | 21,850 views