Many retail subscription companies are still trying to figure out how to succeed in an overcrowded industry — these 9 services rise above the rest

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Goby/Instagram

The subscription service industry is complicated. On the one hand, millennials are more interested in subscription services than any other generation. On the other, most US internet users have never signed up for a retail subscription service, preferring instead to spend their monthly subscription dollars on streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

People still seem hesitant to bite the bullet on retail subscriptions, and it might be because the market, where you’ll find a subscription for everything, is so overwhelming. Browse subscription marketplace Cratejoy and you can shop monthly boxes for kids toys, healing crystals, and coloring books. The big question is: which ones are actually useful and which ones seem interesting on the outset but only waste money and packaging?

The services that people actually subscribe to – and stay subscribed to – share some common features, despite the wide range of interests they serve (from food to personal care to clothing). The potential for discovery, straightforward convenience, and customer communication turn out to be the not-so-secret secrets.

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Trade Coffee Co/Instagram

A report by McKinsey & Company divides retail subscriptions into three types: replenishment, curation, and access.

Replenishment services, which automate an annoying part of a ritual (e.g. buying new razor heads, getting your next supply of vitamins), and curation services, which make it convenient and exciting to discover something new (e.g. coffee, beauty products) provide the most value for customers.

According to the report, “Consumers do not have an inherent love of subscriptions. If anything, the requirement to sign up for a recurring one dampens demand and makes it harder to acquire customers. Rather, they want a great end-to-end experience.”

A unique combination of factors must come together to create an end-to-end experience worth subscribing to.

Bokksu is a Japanese snack subscription that sends monthly themed boxes of snacks to its subscribers. Founder Danny Taing attributes the worldwide appeal and success of his company to the rich and creative culinary culture of Japan, which constantly puts forth new flavor combinations and attracts experimental palates.

This strong and consistent promise of discovery, plus the practical fact that these packaged snacks are shelf-stable (“Unlike non-consumable goods that can clutter or meal kits that require work and expire quickly,” Taing says), keeps hungry subscribers coming back.

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Bokksu

There is also value in the simple consistency and automation of a subscription design.

The product itself doesn’t need to be creative as a box of chocolate azuki beans and cheese curry rice crackers, but it should make the subscriber’s life easier, not harder. Electric toothbrush startup Goby says 80% of its total customer base chooses its subscription option. Consumers, on average, replace their brush heads every nine months, which is three times longer than the dentist-recommended period of every three months. Goby delivers a new brush head for $6 every three months, so subscribers are always brushing with the most effective bristles and have one less personal-care chore to think about.

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Dailylook/Instagram

Surprisingly, the biggest challenge to many subscription-based businesses isn’t managing logistics – it’s managing customer expectations and focusing on the customer experience.

Fulfillment and shipping operations aren’t insignificant, of course. For companies like beauty and grooming company Birchbox, shipping out boxes to its 1 million subscribers every month becomes a huge matter of managing costs and achieving “operational efficiencies” because each box is personalized to a member’s profile.

Dailylook, a personal styling subscription service, decides a precise merchandise buying budget based on how many clients are scheduled to get styled each month and minimizes inventory risk by pre-testing 100 units of a new style. While traditional clothing retailers can get hurt by under-performing inventory, founder Brian Ree says the company is able to sell 96% of all inventory at full price thanks to its down-to-a-science strategy.

But even as they acknowledged the difficulties of getting physical product to doorsteps nation- or worldwide, the subscription startups we spoke to were most concerned about keeping their customers happy and informed.

Katerina Schneider, the founder of women’s health startup Ritual, says, “Customer communication and trust are key to our subscription business.” The team at Goby agrees to taking this customer-first approach and says it tries to over-communicate with customers. Both companies build communication and customization tools into its site experience so that customers can control how often they receive shipments and get reminder shipment notifications with enough time to change their preferences or skip a shipment if they wanted.

The following nine subscription services rise above the rest by showing customers something new or automating a normally inconvenient chore every month.


Bokksu

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Bokksu/Instagram

Subscribe to Bokksu here

Read our review of Bokksu here

What you’re subscribing to: A box of either 10-14 Japanese snacks along with a tea pairing, or 20-25 Japanese snacks along with a tea pairing. Each month’s box revolves around a theme (such as Citrus Summer) and comes with a culture guide.

Cost per month:

  • From $22/month for the Tasting Box
  • From $33/month for the Classic Box
  • Free worldwide shipping

Managing your subscription: Skip a shipment, switch to a different plan, and deactivate your subscription at any time online.


Goby

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Goby/Facebook

Subscribe to Goby here

Read our review of Goby here

What you’re subscribing to: A new brush head every one, two, or three months. Start by choosing a brush kit, available in a variety of colors.

Cost per month:

  • After the one-time cost of the brush kit ($50-$80), $6 every one, two, or three months
  • Shipping is free on all subscription orders and orders with a value of $10 or more

Managing your subscription: Skip a shipment, switch to a different plan, and deactivate your subscription at any time online.


Dailylook

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Dailylook/Instagram

Subscribe to Dailylook here

What you’re subscribing to: A personal, stylist-curated selection of clothing and accessories that are personalized to your body shape, style, and other preferences.

Cost per month:

  • $40 styling fee/month, which turns into store credit if you purchase any of the box’s items
  • Whatever items you decide to keep, which start at $60
  • Free shipping

Managing your subscription: Skip a shipment, switch to a different plan, and deactivate your subscription at any time online.


Ritual

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Ritual/Instagram

Subscribe to Ritual here

What you’re subscribing to: A 30-day supply of women’s multivitamins or women’s prenatal vitamins that only contain the clean, essential nutrients that the body needs. They’re vegan-certified and they don’t contain gluten or sugar.

Cost per month:

  • $30/month for the Women’s Essential
  • $35/month for the Women’s Prenatal
  • Free shipping

Managing your subscription: Skip a shipment, switch to a different plan, and deactivate your subscription at any time online.


Birchbox

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Birchbox/Instagram

Subscribe to Birchbox here

What you’re subscribing to: Five beauty or grooming samples personalized to your skin and hair type. The products come from both prestige and startup brands.

Cost per month:

Managing your subscription: Skip a shipment, switch to a different plan, and deactivate your subscription at any time online.


Atlas Coffee Club

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Atlas Coffee Club/Instagram

Subscribe to Atlas Coffee Club here

Read our review of Atlas Coffee Club here

What you’re subscribing to: A bag (or two) of sustainably farmed, single origin coffee and a postcard from a new country every month. You can choose your roast preference and grind type.

Cost per month:

  • $9/month for a Half Bag (~15 cups)
  • $14/month for a Single Bag (~30 cups)
  • $28/month for a Double Bag (~60 cups)
  • $4.95 flat rate shipping

Managing your subscription: Skip a shipment, switch to a different plan, and deactivate your subscription at any time online.


Harry’s

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Harry’s/Instagram

Subscribe to Harry’s here

Read our review of Harry’s here

What you’re subscribing to: Eight blade cartridges featuring sharp, German-engineered blades and foaming gel (optional) refills every two, three, or five months.

Cost per month:

  • After the one-time cost of the shave starter set ($13), $15-$25 every two, three, or five months depending on which refill plan you choose
  • Free shipping on orders over $10

Managing your subscription: Skip a shipment, switch to a different plan, and deactivate your subscription at any time online.


Book of the Month

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Book of the Month/Instagram

Subscribe to Book of the Month here

What you’re subscribing to: One new hardcover book chosen from a selection of five judge-nominated books. The book options each month come from a variety of genres and include both fiction and nonfiction titles.

Cost per month:

  • $9.99 for the first month
  • $14.99/month afterwards
  • Free shipping

Managing your subscription: Skip a shipment at any time online, and call 1-888-784-2670 to cancel.


Vinyl Me, Please

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Vinyl Me, Please/Instagram

Subscribe to Vinyl Me, Please here

What you’re subscribing to: One exclusive, deluxe-edition record from an artist of one of three genres: Essentials, Classics, and Rap & Hip Hop.

Cost per month:

  • From $25/month
  • Free shipping

Managing your subscription: Skip a shipment, switch to a different plan, and deactivate your subscription at any time online.