Using Data To ‘Take The Handcuffs’ Off Auto-Refill Subscriptions For Consumers

Six, 20-pound bags of food stacked up in the corner don’t have to mean that the owner has a lot of dogs. More likely, it’s the casualty of auto-refill pileup gone awry. Repeat CEO and Co-founder Kim Stiefel told Karen Webster that there’s a better way to manage the replenishment of the items that consumers use and refill – and data is at the center of it.

“The subscription problem is not the brand’s fault. It’s a technology problem,” Stiefel explained. “That’s why most of us as consumers view subscription as a bad word. We want to change that, by first meeting the demands of the consumer.”

Set It And Forget It 

The perfect set-it-and-forget-it scenario has the items that a consumer uses and replenishes regularly perfectly timed to show up just a little bit before the existing supply runs out. The consumer never has to be without or find room to stockpile the overflowing supply when auto-refill reorders keep coming and pile up.

The problem, Stiefel said, is that when it comes to CPG products, it is virtually impossible to consistently strike that perfect balance. What happens instead is that the product pileup, or worse yet, running out of an essential item.

That can annoy the consumer as they try to find places to shove their extra products or run out at the last minute to pick up something they unexpectedly need because it did not arrive on time. Time tables are static and unyielding; human lives are dynamic and ever-changing. When it comes to products, she said, no brand has quite figured out how to get the timing just right so that the set-it-and-forget-it dream is achievable on a predictable timetable.

This, she noted, is the problem Repeat was founded to solve for brands — to make repeat purchases easier for consumers without locking themselves into a regular delivery schedule that may or may not work for their specific needs. The goal, she said, is to “take the handcuffs off subscription” and build a repeat buying experience that works for consumers.

How It Works 

Repeat uses data to better understand the ordering and replenishment patterns of consumers. When a brand signs on, Stiefel explained, Repeat studies its historical order data to get a closer look at individual product SKUs and their relationship to one another in terms of order frequency and pairings.

What comes out of that analysis is replenishment intervals that are generalized across the product category and then tailored over time to a particular consumer’s consumption patterns, based on actual purchase history. An opt-in program prompts the consumer to refill the item in a customized shopping cart. The customer can then buy or snooze for 15 days.

The consumer also has the option to buy the same product but a different variation. Stiefel said they have learned that a consumer may like a particular deodorant brand but prefer a different scent or formulation. The shopping cart provides that option.

‘It turns out we crave variety. We don’t always want to get the same exact thing,” she said.

Or, a consumer might want something else to add to the basket. She said that using Repeat, merchants have boosted their average order value in some cases by as much as 15 percent.

Building Subscription Better

Steifel said that Repeat’s role is not to kill subscriptions — many of the CPG brands they work with offer subscriptions — but to make them better. She contends that trying to force an ordering timetable on consumers that doesn’t fit their consumption patterns is leaving money on the table. The consumers who churn out four months into a subscription, she said, are worth a lot less than the one who participates in a more customer-curated arrangement, even if the frequency is 10 orders in a year instead of the 12 that would be part of an annual subscription. Stiefel said many of those customers wouldn’t have stuck with the subscription for the entire 12 months.

That’s why Repeat’s goal is to “make subscriptions work better” in a future where the standard for subscription is something far more flexible and dynamic than it is today.

When we enter the store to shop, she noted, we’re all locked in on a journey and deep into buying mode. The solution that offers us the fastest path to purchase with the least amount of friction will win us over in the end.

“You would think subscriptions would solve that problem, but it doesn’t,” she said, adding it can actually make it worse by adding complexity and friction into the buying process for the consumer instead of taking it out. There just aren’t any perfect subscription products out there today, she noted.

But instead of trying to build perfect subscription programs on timetables that fundamentally will never work for consumers, she said, Repeat is trying hard to prove that there’s more than one way to do recurring purchases, and the variation that puts the consumers in the driver seat, in a data-driven manner, is the one most likely to work for their actual needs.