Tied Up With a Bow

Whether you’re a beauty junkie, foodie or even a dog, chances are there’s a subscription box service out there to scratch your itch. Birchbox, generating $125 million in 2014, was one of the companies that started the widespread box revolution with its generously sized beauty products. Today, you can barely scroll through your Facebook feed without seeing an ad or a like for a new, super-niche offering. 

What makes subscription boxes so popular is the element of mystery and value. From just $10, you can treat yourself to a little gift each month. You may not love every item you receive, but considering many boxes often contain values that are 2 or 3 times what you actually paid, it makes up for the risk. And, most boxes are curated based on your profile so more likely than not you’re going to be happy with the items.

There’s nothing particularly novel about this model; wine-, book-, and fruit-of-the-month clubs have existed for years. But, instead of sending people something they already know they like — say, romance novels or peaches — the newer services tend to introduce people to products that they’ve never heard of, might not think to buy otherwise or overlook on the shelf. More than nearly any other industry, subscription boxes rely on the goodwill of bloggers, a small army of fashion, beauty, fitness and food writers who review each month’s offering.

The surprise is definitely part of the draw — the curiosity of what’s going to come next. The chemical reaction our bodies have when we’re excited and waiting for that box each month — creates an adrenaline rush,” says Amanda Doman, site manager at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. (Dr. Drew, help!) “And, when something’s being handpicked for someone, it’s feeding their self-esteem. It makes them feel unique and keeps them continuing to purchase.

Boxes from Blue Apron turn something people may resent or hate (e.g., grocery shopping and cooking) into something exciting and practical. “It made our lives a whole lot better because we don’t have to worry about what to do for dinner,” says customer Kent Bennett about the subscription which costs $60 per week (plus shipping) for all of the ingredients needed to make three home-cooked meals for two, such as blackened drum fish with cheddar cheese grits and a parsley salad. You’ll find the same ingredients in your favorite supermarket for much less, and the same (or similar) recipes online, but are you really gonna make blackened drum fish with cheddar cheese grits and a parsley salad? Exactly. What Blue Apron offers is the chance to spend a premium to simplify your life and make you feel like a real cook, albeit, a couple of times a week.

Sure, you’ve probably heard about BarkBox treats for dogs, but what about these:

So what does this mean to marketers?
Never underestimate the value of a happy surprise.

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