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Thinking Outside the Beauty Box: The Evolution of Subscriptions

First it was beauty boxes, then razors, then diapers, then tampons. Now it seems you can get almost everything delivered to your doorstep on a monthly basis. The subscription commerce world just continues to grow, and we’re noticing some evolutions in the space. Back in April, we wrote about subscriptions beyond the beauty box being one of the five things you should know to prep for the future of e-commerce, and the year has proved that opportunity in subscription businesses only continues to increase. Experts are touting the shift from The Demand Economy to The Subscription Economy, and even subscription commerce doubters have had a change of heart. Shoedazzle, a subscription model original, faltered after abandoning their sub-commerce format (which they have since returned to). Newbies like Hello Flo have seen sudden and significant bumps in their bottom line thanks to innovative marketing. Now that it has been established that subscription commerce is more than just a fad, the market is beginning to see more innovation and experimentation. Here are three ways that the subscription game is continuing to evolve, and the directions it could grow even further: 

1. Curated Commerce

The success of the subscription model has previously non-e-commerce sites exploring their subscription potential. Pinterest competitor The Fancy launched a curated subscription offering, sending “the most fancy’d items” to consumers. Meanwhile, subscription service Quarterly Co. allows multiple sites and celebrities (both niche and mainstream) to curate goods to send to interested consumers. “Influential contributors”—sites like Cool Hunting, Food52 and Laughing Squid and celebrities like Nina Garcia and Coco—choose the items that are sent out every three months in their boxes. The mix of exclusive and consumer items are all uniquely hand-picked, and the allure of the service is all about the curation: the taste of person or people choosing products is what consumers are really subscribing to. In June, Quarterly purchased 12Society, another celebrity curated subscription box service, growing their list and showing they could be here to stay. 


2. Subscriptions IRL
Birchbox is one of the subscription market’s success stories. They’ve steadily grown, and have helped to boost the sales of the brands they sample in their boxes as well. Now, much as Warby Parker before them, Birchbox is making their way offline, bringing their brand and offerings to consumers IRL (in real life). During New York fashion week this September, Birchbox Local made their debut with a pop-up shop at Chelsea Market. The shop offered makeovers and manicures to shoppers, who could also purchase full-sized versions of Birchbox’s top products. Hair, makeup and nail services appointments each cost just $15, and visitors received a $15 shopping credit upon entering, so the first Birchbox Local effort was as much marketing for the site as anything else. However, Birchbox could continue to make moves into the offline world, and if the leader in subscription box innovation becomes a permanent IRL presence, it won’t be long before others follow. 


3. The Gift of Subscriptions
Plenty of subscription services allow you to send boxes as gifts, but a new player in the sub-commerce game is banking on a full-gifting model. Pijon allows parents of college kids to send them monthly care packages, without any of the work. Starting at $25 a month, parents can send boxes filled with five or six products that their hard-working scholars might need, from food, to health and beauty items, to gadgets. Boxes are curated for girls and guys, and students can also request to receive a box through the site.  Of course if it involves college-aged Millennials, there needs to be a charitable aspect: Pijon is a partner of Project Night Night, a social good company that delivers childhood essentials and comfort items to homeless and needy kids, and every “Pijonbox” sold contributes to the cause. Pijon’s competitor Co-Ed Supply works under a similar concept, but Pijon’s gifting angle means they will appeal to parents who want to pamper their college kids, in a turnkey way.