How to Shop Like a Millennial

Ahh the art of subscription box retail services. What is a subscription box? Essentially, this concept is a boon for the terminally indecisive and perpetually lazy consumer. According to Bloomberg, a subscription box is…

A box of surprise stuff, typically keeping to a theme such as makeup, vices, or snacks, arrives at your doorstep once a month.

More formally, a subscription box is an eCommerce marketing trend/product distribution strategy that utilizes a monthly subscription service to send a customized selection of hand-picked items to your doorstep on a recurring basis. Speciality products range from shoes and beauty products to food samples, alcoholic beverages, and razors.


Subscription box services, dubbed by Forbes as “one of the fastest growing trends in the startup world”,  have been increasingly relevant since about 2010 with companies such as Birchbox, (discussed below) gaining rapid success. In fact, a 2014 Fortune article highlighted Birchbox as an industry leader, growing to nearly 800,000 subscribers with $96 million in annual sales in only 3.5 years. Today, according to a 2016 Recode article, Birchbox has climbed to about $200 million in annual revenue.

To better explain the box craze, I have highlighted a step-by-step guide to purchasing your very own customized subscription box–whether it is for you, a friend, family member, or…pet. As you will notice social media plays an integral part in fueling the success of the box business.

#1 Login to…

Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat.

Companies such as BarkBox, which specializes in monthly boxes of dog goodies like treats, chews and toys, constantly pay for ads to appear in between Snapchat stories or on Facebook and Instagram news feeds. For example, as you scroll through your friends posts you may notice an advertisement picturing a box full of “unique paw-picked toys and all-natural treats!” accompanied by “Get 50% Off Your 1st BarkBox.” Even if you may not know what this service/ product mix entails, the mere thought of your special furry friend at home will entice you to click on the “Learn More” tab. You will be instantly transferred to a video of the most adorable dachshund puppy you have ever seen happily chewing on his new BarkBox treat, tempting you to “surprise your dog with a monthly box of goodies.” At the end of the day you will be convinced that for  $20/ month, depending on your pet’s size, BarkBox will truly bring your dog “the joy of a thousand belly scratches.”


Additionally, social media influencers have jumped on the subscription box bandwagon. A box company can effectively leverage social media celebrity endorsers to curate boxes that align with their own interests as well as those of their fanbases to increase awareness and sales. Birchbox, which provides deliveries of personalized beauty samples, including makeup, hair, skincare, and bath products for $10/month, frequently utilizes Instagram stars and bloggers for pubbing. For example, the company partnered with lifestyle blogger Emily Schuman of ‘Cupcakes and Cashmere‘ to create her own customized Birchbox for the month of May 2015. According to the theme ‘Elevate Everyday,’ Schuman selected her favorite beauty products, an assortment of which was sent to subscribers based on their personal beauty profiles (see step 3).  As a result of Schuman’s 380k followers, the campaign resulted in 5 Instagram placements, 18,000 likes and 550,000 consumer impressions.



And you guessed it! BarkBox is also no stranger to the Instagram game. BarkBox’s social team connects with dog-owners by sending them BarkBoxes and, in return, requesting that they post pictures featuring their adorable pups with their new toys. Also popular are “Instagram Takeovers”, where companies pay social media influencers to essentially “take over” their social handles for a period of time and post curated content to generate buzz among their followers.


#2 Pick Your Poison

After your favorite social influencers and strategically placed advertisements prime you for purchase, you will most likely find yourself wanting to subscribe to one or multiple of these convenient services.

Interested in a Glossybox to fulfill your beauty needs? Or perhaps your an Ipsy ‘Glam Bag’ kind of girl? If you need a special something for his refined tastes check out Bespoke Post‘s latest themed box. Or, if you are a self-proclaimed ‘manscaper’ you may want to join the Dollar Shave Club cult. Whatever you are looking for, this completely saturated market space has it.

Once you subscribe for X number of months to a year, you will most likely be prompted to buy the service’s iPhone application. The app in itself creates another niche social community where users can interact with one another, share product reviews, and purchase full-sized items. For example, the Wantable app is a

“social network built around the products you share in common with other people”

Wantable is a subscription box dedicated to providing customized samples of style/fitness clothing, accessories, makeup, and intimates for $40-$50/ month. Its unique app encourages you to take photos of your Wantable products, automatically uploading them to a feed that also features other users’ product pictures. Through this forum, users can view, comment, like/love, and tag others’ photos that feature the Wantable products they share in common with others and those they do not. In effect, Wantable creates a miniature social media village within the larger, overarching social media landscape.


#3 Create your “Palate Profile”

Most services first ask users to create a distinct profile highlighting their taste buds, complexion, or hair type, etc. depending on the company’s genre. Bespoke Post, the service that provides “Themed boxes for guys who give a damn” offers various luxurious style, drinking, grooming, travel, food, home, and outdoor products for men at a discounted rate ($45/month). Its website contains a survey upon subscription that asks personality/ behavioral questions such as:

  • How often do you shave?
  • How often do you cook at home?
  • Do you enjoy entertaining people at your home?
  • What are your beverages of choice?

From these questions the site utilizes an algorithm that matches the customer to a selection of guilty pleasures that are guaranteed to fulfill his heart’s desire. Bespoke Post in particular takes consumer curation to a new level by granting users the option to opt-out of receiving the box as often as they want. In a 2013 TechCrunch article, company co-founder Rishi Prabhu notes:

“The cool thing is that we’re not sending overstock to people, we’re often custom-making these products with designers”

It’s no retail secret that the key to a millennial’s heart is customization…


#4 Return or Re-subscribe 

Whatever box suits your fancy, users are generally given the option to continue their subscription on a month-to-month basis. Some services also feature a keep-what-you-want, return-what-you-don’t policy or a replacements for certain products.

Ultimately, when deciding to purchase a subscription box, users are engaging in both a digital eCommerce platform and an interactive social network that is entrenched in shared product reviews and individual user experiences. One person’s positive experience has the ability to affect another’s purchasing decision and so ensues a domino network effect. Companies are simply jumping from one platform to the next, targeting certain audiences through advertising on high traffic social media platforms and then using their branded box to create yet another similar, niche community through eCommerce apps. These apps provide both a novel social experience tailored to a consumer’s personal interest(s) and a convenient means of purchase–what more could a millennial ask for?




  1. skuchma215 · ·

    I’m very interested in subscription box services but I didn’t know much about them, so I found your article very insightful. I had no idea some of these box services has such large revenues. Some of the box services seem very useful, mainly the ones that send tolietries or cosmetics like Dollar Shave Club and BirchBox. The box service that send dog treats and dog toys even seems like something I would definitely pay for if I had a dog myself. That being said, a lot of the box services seem like you don’t receive your money’s worth and/or receive products that are useless to you. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but I’d be reluctant to sign up for most of these boxes (although your post has definitely sparked my interest.)

  2. Nice post! I actually follow a few blogs that review subscription boxes and it is insane just how many types of boxes are out there. More than just beauty/personal care items, there are international food boxes, crafting boxes, 90’s nostalgia boxes, Totoro themed boxes, the list goes on and on. I even know of a YouTuber who even used her large following to start selling her own subscription box. You make a good point that social media is a great way to promote these, especially YouTube. People love watching unboxing videos, which makes it perfect for subscription boxes.

  3. dabettervetter · ·

    I find these subscription boxes to be really up and coming! I think they have really changed the beauty industry because people and bloggers love trying products out and this is a great way to get a multitude of products into the blogger’s hands where the market will follow! I’m curious to see what other kinds of products pick up this box set idea. I know food and clothing have dabbled in the boxed set industry and I cannot wait to see what else joins!

  4. cmackeenbc · ·

    Awesome post! I think the subscription box trend is a good indication of where retail is heading–creating more specialized and customized products that consumers tell the company they desire, instead of companies trying to predict the wants of their buyers and then mass-producing. Additionally, I think these subscription boxes fit perfectly with the “me” generation–as we want our products to feel personalized, and we want them quickly. The popularity of subscription boxes is already showing–I know that the Dollar Shave Club (and Harry’s Shave Club, if you are familiar), for example, has seriously disrupted the men’s razor industry previously dominated by Gillette. Though Gillette still maintains highest market share, they have had to increase marketing, change strategy, and even create their own “shave club” to compete. From a consumer perspective, it is certainly exciting to see the changes this competition brings about, as only the best products and services will survive.

  5. I’ve never signed up for one of these services but I’ve always really wanted to! When I first learned about these subscription box services I was only introduced to the fun ones like Birchbox or Glossybox; they offered trinkets or samples that were fun to receive and provided trail of products from larger brands. But today, the speed at which this trend is growing and the type of markets subscription boxes are tapping into seem overwhelming. From shaving, to food, to shoes, to wine, to a curated coffee selection, I wonder if there is any market in which these subscriptions won’t work. A recent success, and a personal favorite, was applying this to fashion. Trunk Club (bought by Nordstrom) basically provides you with a personal shopper who sends you monthly outfits based on your personal style and shape. A personal shopper and clothes at my doorstep every month… sign me up! I truly loved this blog post and didn’t want it to end as I wanted to know more about the industry.

  6. alinacasari · ·

    Cool post!! I’ve often heard of some of the $10 a month box options you mentioned, but Wantable is a really cool company. It’s interesting to consider getting more than just a small box of products, but clothes that aren’t every size fits all and that are picked specifically based on your quiz answers. Adding that layer of customization and the social aspect to it makes Wantable unique and different from some of the more standard box options. I’m actually super tempted to try it now. The sharing of what you receive with a community of others who like the same things as you is really appealing.

    I think it’s important to consider how popular some boxes are, seeing as how people don’t know what they will be getting every month (for some). I will say that sometimes stores will have mystery bags, and I always get them because I like the idea of a surprise product when the stakes are low (low-cost add-on type items). However, now that I see some of these box options have the ability to let you set personal preferences and styles I think I’m way more interested in trying out a box subscription. Great job on this post!!

  7. bishopkh1 · ·

    Great post! I’ve thought about signing up for one of these boxes but I’m nervous I won’t like what I get. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Birchbox, but have heard great things about various snack boxes like Nature Box. I think it’s definitely a great way to keep consumers buying your products on a monthly basis and I’m excited to see what’s in store for these subscription-based businesses.

  8. daniellep2153 · ·

    Awesome post! I definitely see the benefits of this new way of shopping. I personally receive an Ipsy Glam bag every month and it’s something I looked forward to. My favorite part is that they give you products specific to your preferences, as you mentioned. These types of subscriptions are a great way to try new products without having to do much research beyond what type of subscription you want or what you’re favorite influencer recommends.

  9. Nice post. I got my wife Birchbox for mothers day a few years ago, and they just keep coming!

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