Subscription Commerce

Skip, Switch Or Cancel: Why Giving Customers More Control Can Help Subscription Services

For the 11 million subscription businesses in the U.S., success hinges on more than offering an easy way to pay. Consumers want control and they want the right mix of products and personalization, says Bespoke Post CEO, Rishi Prabhu. In our first ever Subscription Commerce Tracker, he describes how merchants can use that formula to fight subscription fatigue while staying top of mind. Find this along with a deep dive into the state of box-of-the-month services and analysis of why some thrive while others falter.


People wish they could control plenty of things that they cannot, like the fates of their favorite sports teams, traffic on their daily commutes or even the weather. But they really want to control things when it comes to products for which they are paying – especially the ones they receive through new subscription services.

As such, some subscription service providers are now working to give them that much-desired power.

It turns out that handing customers that oversight could be the difference between building a successful subscription empire and toiling in vain, according to PYMNTS research. As of January 2018, the Top 20 subscription services tracked in the PYMNTS Subscription Commerce Conversion Index (SCCI) gave consumers the ability to cancel their subscriptions at any time, compared to just 20 percent of the bottom 20.

It’s a trend that Rishi Prabhu, co-founder of men’s lifestyle subscription service Bespoke Post, sees firsthand. The box-of-the-month, which costs approximately $45 per box, contains fashion, cocktail, coffee and travel-themed products, among others.

In a recent interview, Prabhu explained how the company worked to give its consumers as much control over their experience as possible – from what’s inside their boxes to how frequently they receive one – and why he believes that has paid dividends for Bespoke Post and its more than 100,000 subscribers across the U.S. and Canada.

“We think we’ve figured out how to speak to that customer in that key male demo[graphic], and get him to purchase from us and stick around with us,” he said.

Skip or Switch

For subscription services, it takes more than just offering easy cancellation to keep customers happy. They also want to be able to change their plan options at the click of a button. According to the SCCI, flexible plan options are offered by 90 percent of top subscription services and just 10 percent of those at the bottom.

For Bespoke Post, offering flexible plan options isn’t a choice, but a necessity, Prabhu said. The bulk of its subscriber base is comprised of young men, a demographic that can be particularly picky. This has motivated the company to go the extra mile in terms of extending more options to its customers – including letting them choose whether they receive a delivery at all.

Subscribers receive an email on the first of each month teasing the products in an upcoming shipment. They then have five days to decide if they want to receive the box. If yes, they do nothing and the box will be shipped after the waiting period.

If they do not want the shipment, they have two more options: Customers can either select one of seven curated boxes offered by the company or skip that month altogether, avoiding a charge for a shipment they’d rather not receive.

“We give them the option to skip, send multiple emails to customers to remind them that it’s about to ship and they only have so much time to make a decision,” he said. “So, once you actually receive [your subscription box], we have a pretty good idea you’re going to like it, because you haven’t said no. You’ve taken a look at what we’re offering this month and decided to take it. That helps us build trust with customers.”

Getting and Keeping Guys on Board

But offering customers that control has more benefits than simply preventing them from being turned off by a box that doesn’t suit their tastes. It also helps turn first-time customers into loyal subscribers.

Many of Bespoke Post’s competing subscription companies receive a portion of their business as gifts from a significant other, Prabhu said, but most Bespoke Post customers sign themselves up for a subscription after learning about the company’s offerings.

For Bespoke Post, then, customer retention is less of a struggle. Because subscribers are given the option to not pay for products they don’t want, they instead feel more affinity for the company and trust it to continue to provide quality service.

“Guys are creatures of habit, and if they try something and like it, they’re pretty likely to continue with it,” Prabhu said. “Part of what we offer is our promise to our customers that we want to help them discover this great product or brand, so they’re coming to us for something unexpected. We have to be able to deliver that, and when we do, we start to build a relationship.”

The company’s success with subscription services has led to offering its products a-la-carte. The online store now sells the same individual products offered in subscription boxes, along with product line extensions and, ultimately, “everything from a $1,000 watch to a $5 comb,” according to Prabhu.

The company has found that when subscribers receive products they like, they are often interested in revisiting a particular brand online and viewing its other offerings.

“The interesting thing that we see in the store is once we introduce a brand to customers via a subscription, they tend to buy a lot more products from that brand,” he added. “We’ve also found that our customers get products from across a range of categories, which is really interesting, because it means they’re exploring our recommendations in different areas.”

Subscription Successes in the Future

Nailing the right mix of features and offering customers the perfect amount of control only solves part of the subscription puzzle, though. To truly keep customers engaged and subscribed, merchants need to offer meaningful and well-made products, Prabhu said.

“Guys care a lot more about their lifestyle,” he explained. “They care a lot more about the clothes on their back, [or] the way their house or apartment is decorated. We thought there was an opportunity to help guide and work with that customer.”

As the subscription commerce industry continues to expand, Prabhu expects men to continue to become more invested in these attributes, thus leading to more opportunities for subscription companies.

But new players must be willing to relinquish some power to their subscribers if they want to find success. After all, in subscription commerce, the subscriber is always right.



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