Subscription retail has exploded onto the marketplace over the past few years – even as long ago as 2014, subscription boxes were being hailed as the new face of shopping, and the industry has only grown more popular since with close to 22 million visits to subscription websites per month. Birchbox, Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s, and Glossybox are just a handful of examples (these happen to sell skincare, hair care, grooming products, and lifestyle products). One of the special aspects of subscription retail that distinguishes it from per-purchase ecommerce is the element of surprise – customers love that there’s an air of mystery to each purchase from a subscription service. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that the majority of the decision-making is handled by the brand, customers are paying for time saved as well as for a curated monthly box of products.
But no amount of mystery changes the fact that, at the end of the day, customers still want to receive products that are relevant to their needs. For this reason, the customer’s first steps with a subscription brand are often spent filling out lengthy personalization questionnaires – the retailer is trying to learn as much as possible as early as possible, in the interest of delivering an experience the customer will be happy with. We created an account with a beauty subscription box, and spent a significant amount of time answering questions about hair/skin type, trend/color preferences, and level of comfort using certain beauty products. This quickly led to “survey fatigue” and we very nearly considered exiting the sign-up process before we’d finished it.
While leveraging what you know about your customers is critical to their satisfaction – and to retaining them long-term – asking a ton of questions up front doesn’t create a good shopping experience. There are much more effective ways to learn about your customers’ needs and preferences in ways that aren’t a turnoff to the customer and that don’t allow for any missed signals or irrelevant messages.
To effectively personalize the monthly subscription box experience:
Ask just enough in the beginning to gain insight into customer preferences
Where the beauty box asked too many granular questions in a way as to cause frustration on our end, several retailers had the opposite problem and asked few or no questions about our preferences. Both the companies that asked too much and the companies that asked too little had the same thing in common – they were unable to effectively create a high-quality experience that was customer-centric and contextually-relevant. Striking a happy medium with the right number of intelligent questions will let your customers move forward with their purchase while still letting you paint an accurate picture of who they are.
Collect real-time data over the course of the customer relationship
While the nature of the subscription industry is inherently more passive than per-purchase retail, customers still demonstrate signs of disengagement or disinterest (like not opening emails, ignoring coupons on future boxes, etc.) that marketers need to pay attention to. If you’re not regularly checking in on the health of the customer relationship “between boxes,” you’ll potentially miss warning signs of dropoff that require your attention. Check in frequently and ask your customers if they’re happy with the items they’re receiving, so you can jump in and iterate on future product deliveries in the event that they’re not 100% satisfied.
Deliver tailored campaigns that drive subscriber loyalty
If you’re collecting data on subscriber preferences over the course of their relationship with you, you become empowered to send the kinds of messages that are personalized at an individual level. This includes special welcome offers for new customers, birthday campaigns once a year, and – when possible – recommendations for add-on or full-sized products that match their demonstrated preferences. By sending campaigns that speak to what your customers want, you can better personalize the entire experience in ways that go beyond the products they receive from you.
The key to personalizing the subscription experience is actively and passively gathering data about your customers’ needs, and then reaching out with campaigns and products that speak to those needs at an individual level. You can impress your customers with your attention to their preferences, which will only add to each subscription’s “element of surprise”.