Birchbox sample subscription box

Subscription Box Businesses:
7 Brands Dominating their Category

Whether you’re a manscaper, foodie or video game addict, chances are there’s a subscription box service out there to scratch (or shave) your itch.

The ecommerce world’s hottest new trend is exploding with a wide selection on offer across all kinds of retail categories.

The product sampling and subscription business models are also delivering sizeable returns to entrepreneurs at relatively low costs as they deliver cool, new stuff to subscribers.

So popular is the trend that specialist subscription box ecommerce platforms have emerged like Cratejoy and Subbly to help aspiring merchants box up their wares.

Dollar Shave Club YouTube Screenshot

Remember this guy? Watch this piece of marketing genius here.


The Subscription Box Model:

There are two typical subscription box models, each type satisfying different subscriber emotions…

Recurring subscription services, like the well marketed Dollar Shave Club (screenshot above) deliver subscribers piece of mind that every month their razor needs are covered.

Curated subscription services, like the popular Birchbox send a bundle of new and surprising products to highly engaged consumers each delivery.
Aptly coined ‘discovery commerce‘, this type of box gives brands a way to get their new products in the hands of a targeted audience, in the hope they really love the product and want to buy it again once the sample has been consumed.
 This model often leverages celebrity endorsers and industry influencers to curate boxes they feel their fanbase will love, and in turn feel a stronger connection to them.

(Author’s note: Having been subscribed to Tim Ferriss’ Quarterly Box since May 2013, this has absolutely achieved the desired result!)


Here’s 7 curated subscription box brands dominating their category:

Quarterly – Niche Categories (US Based)

As the name suggests, Quarterly is a quarterly subscription service, where the curator you are subscribed to sends you a new package every 3 months. What the brand have tapped into well is the ‘niche famous’ curators they feature like Dave Asprey, Tim Ferriss and Arianna Huffington, who already own a highly engaged audience and therefore regularly sell their full quota of boxes each quarter. One unique aspect to the ‘unboxing process’ Quarterly does well is to have their curators share an exclusive video link with every box sent, to show the curator describing the story behind each product and why they’ve selected it. It’s all in the details.

Quarterly Subscription Box Business


Birchbox – Beauty (US Based)

The most well known and current leader in the curated category, Birchbox has over 800,000 subscribers (Figures from 2012). The service sends subscribers a carefully chosen box of high-end and emerging cosmetics brands each month suited to their subscriber preferences. Since its launch in 2010, Birchbox has expanded from targeting just women to include men’s boxes and an online shop. The company’s success has evolved into launching its first brick-and-mortar store in Birchbox SoHo to provide a physical touchpoint for consumers and allow them to play the role of curator for their own box.

Birchbox Screenshot


Kent & Lime – Fashion (Australian based)

Created out of the hassle and pain that many men associate with clothes shopping (note: I’m not one of them!), Kent and Lime provides their subscribers their own personal shopper to recommend clothes just for them. After an assessment, the stylist will send items they feel will look ‘incredible’ on their subscriber, and is in their budget, size, style and personal preferences. With currently over 30 premium brands to choose from including Levi’s, The Academy Brand and Scotch & Soda, they will mix and match items to match your personal needs.


Kent and Lime subscription box


BirdieBox – Golf (US Based)

A novel and previously untapped concept in the golf-lifestyle segment, BirdieBox offer subscribers a unique and personalised way to discover the best golf products on the market. Every month, subscribers receive a mix of the latest golf, lifestyle and nutritional items curated to match their subscription profile. A category with a ton of potential and subscribers with a typically high disposable income, the brand has complimented their subscription boxes well with clever one-off gift & event boxes to expand their reach and awareness.

BirdieBox Subscription Box Screenshot


Nerd Block – Comics & Collectables (Canadian Based)

Nerd Block describes itself as ‘just like comic con in a box!’ by delivering monthly mystery geek packages filled with a custom, limited edition t-shirt along with toys and collectables from brands including Star Wars, Adventure Time, Doctor Who and Marvel. Every box is geared to a nerd genre to appeal to everyone from video game and movie fanatics, to toy and comic collectors. Smartly, they feature the count down timer to the next subscription block closing in large, bold copy on their homepage to encourage urgency and action for potential subscribers, a proven tactic to increase ecommerce conversions.

Nerd Block Subscription Box Screenshot


ipsy – Beauty (US Based)

YouTube megastar Michelle Phan has inspired countless women around the world through her beauty video tutorials on YouTube, amassing at time of writing nearly 8 million subscribers! The question Michelle was asked the most was: “What are the right products for me?”, so with some smart brand collaborations Michelle created ipsy to provide new products they recommend for your beauty needs.

ipsy has made online influencers the centerpiece of its business model, with the company working with over 500 YouTubers and Instagrammers in the beauty space and even helps facilitate them in their newly launched production house in Los Angeles, which serves as a filming and editing hub. For good measure, the company also hosts 2-day conventions in both LA & NYC called Generation Beauty for their booming community, allowing them some ‘real life’ exposure to Michelle and her beauty artist team.

ipsy subscription box


Market Lane – Coffee (Australian based)

Market Lane’s Coffee Club satisfies both typical subscription subscriber motives of predictability and mystery by sending it’s members a different coffee roast every 2 weeks. A smart way to build recurring revenue to compliment their physical store locations, the subscription options are smartly articulated on their site for use, frequency and brew type, making for an educated, yet easy sign-up process for new coffee discoveries.

Market Lane Subscription Box Screenshot

Market Lane Subscription Box Screenshot2


The Future of Subscription Boxes:

With the subscription box market already saturated in major general categories like beauty, fashion and health, new entrants are going to need find and market a different angle—whether that’s locally made products, eco-friendly clothing or high-priced luxe homewares.

The behavioural tendency of subscribers wanting to share their ‘discoveries’ on social media with their friends means subscription box businesses will need well crafted social commerce strategies to engage and attract new members.

Here’s a look at Bellabox‘s Homepage Instagram feed:

Bellabox Subscription Box Instagram Screenshot


If you’re interested in starting your own subscription business, here’s 9 tips to help.

If you currently subscribe to a subscription box service or have in the past, share your experience in the comments below (good or bad!).
I’m keen to hear them.

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One Response to Subscription Box Businesses:
7 Brands Dominating their Category

  1. james sykes November 24, 2016 at 1:47 pm #


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