In the past decade, subscription culture, or the rise of subscription boxes and services, has increased exponentially. Subscriptions used to be reserved for newspapers and museum admissions, but now you can subscribe to everything from clothes to food to online content and media to toys.
The question is, why?
One theory is that we are creatures of habit. In a world where there are so many decisions to make, “decision fatigue” is all too real. Instead of one clothing store to shop at, we have infinite retailers with millions of pieces to choose from. While in the past, women wore whatever makeup they could find in their local drugstore, new cosmetics brands are popping up all the time. Our constant connection to the internet makes decision fatigue even worse, as we’re bombarded with ads, sponsored content, and personal recommendations around the clock.
Subscriptions, whether they are boxes or access to content, relieve some of that anxiety by putting the decision-making process into someone else’s hands. While many subscriptions have an element of choice (such as choosing meal kit recipes or what videos to watch), others are more random. Even if you receive an item you don’t like, a subscription still feels like less of a hassle than, say, shopping for new clothes on your own.
Subscription boxes in particular are also on the rise because of the rush of positive feelings that come with them. Similar to the “high” an athlete or gambler feels when things go their way, receiving a fun treat in the mail (especially a pleasant surprise) releases dopamine. When you like what’s in your box, you are more likely to keep subscribing to feel the joy of opening the package again next month.
Alcohol and food boxes like Cocktail Courier, HelloFresh, and Mantry add convenience to the excitement of getting a package in the mail. Subscribers have access to novel products they may never have tried that coincide with hobbies like mixology or meat curing. Meal kits (e.g. Plated, Blue Apron) allow you to cook interesting, fresh meals at home without having to spend the time planning out what to eat or grocery shopping.
When it comes to online content, experts predict that by the end of 2020, half of all adults will pay for four or more digital media subscriptions. Affordable prices, not having to deal with ads, and access to exclusive content all make digital media subscriptions appealing. ConnectPal, a social media platform where users can subscribe to other users’ profiles, offers a closer connection to their favorite celebrities, influencers, and friends. This exclusivity is also present on services like Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix, as well as digital versions of periodicals.
Forbes believes that subscriptions of all types will continue to rise. As long as companies “can make a subscription box with pleasant surprises, they will continue to sell through as long as the customer maintains an interest in discovering new products,” they note. Individuals can find subscriptions for every need and interest these days. Whether subscribers are drawn in by the convenience, excitement, or exclusivity of a subscription product, it seems that subscription culture is here to stay.