From Apocabox to Zebrabox, have subscription services reached their peak?

It was a box of toys that started it. The pen knife whirred as it glided between the cardboard flaps, cleanly slicing the packing tape. My son sat beside me and eagerly awaited the goodies within. Once I’d opened the lid, he pulled himself up and peered over the top, his eyes just cleared the edge. ‘Na-na’, he said. His general word for approval, and a banana. Inside were three new toys for him to enjoy. A chair that sang the alphabet (which my son loved), a donut stacking pole, and a Melissa & Doug Roll & Ring Ramp Tower. As I pulled this mix of toys from the box, I started to think about the way I was living my life and perhaps how we all were.

My wife had signed us up for Whirli, a subscription for children’s toys, our household’s latest. I took stock of what we had: Xbox Game Pass, Netflix, Deliveroo Plus, Spotify, HelloFresh, Office 365, ZipCar and Who Gives a Crap (a cheeky toilet paper subscription service). Then I thought about the products I’d subscribed to but had quickly cancelled: underwear, shaving kits, cocktails, whiskey, wine clubs, book subscriptions, pet food, gym memberships, pea-based pasta, socks, tea towels, pickles, home brew, beauty boxes, meat boxes, hair care boxes, soap boxes, fruit boxes, veggie boxes, box boxes on and on and on it goes. So much so that thinking about it made my head spin. My DVDs, CDs, video games and records were gone, and my weekly shop had shifted. Then it hit me, I was renting my life!

The big business of monthly subscriptions

I wasn’t experiencing this in isolation: we’re living in a subscription economy and it’s gobbling up more customers every day:

Those are some hefty numbers, and when you think about it, it’s no surprise given subscription services offer convenience and lower prices for consumers (mostly).

Subscriptions are the Belle of the Ball, and everyone wants a dance…

After the success of Costco’s model and the dubious rise of Dollar Shave Club, businesses are keen to join the subscription economy. In fact, 67% of UK retailers plan to launch a subscription service soon and 18% of all global payments are recurring.

But what’s driving this shift? According to KPMG, only 22% of online shoppers care about the brands they buy, meaning a subscription model is a good way to retain fickle shoppers. Subscribers also represent a guaranteed revenue stream, and many start-ups use their subscriber base for their valuations.

So, it seems the subscription model is big business and I wondered whether we had reached peak subscription. But after seeing these numbers and watching video streaming services sprout up like so many heads on a Hydra, I feel we’ve only just begun. And the more you know about subscriptions the weirder it can get…

Some strangeness for your subscriptions

You can find some odd things on the internet, And the subscription economy is no exception. Here just a few of the whackiest services I uncovered while researching the topic:

  • Zebra meat box (for the adventurous carnivore)
  • Boxes of slime (any fans of Nickelodeon are sure to love this!)
  • Apocabox (a portmanteau of apocalypse and box, offering specialist survival gear and tips. Sadly, it includes no word on whether the subscription continues after the apocalypse)
  • Cannabox (a subscription to the devil’s lettuce)
  • CatLadybox (a monthly box for cat ladies and their cats)
  • Cryptidcrate (a clothing box for conspiracy theorists and lovers of the paranormal)
  • And my personal favourite, Letters from Dead People

Life beyond the subscription.

So, what’s next? Have we reached peak subscription? At what point will consumers become sick of renting their life and return to the good old days (Okay Boomer) of “I paid for it so now I own it.” I don’t know. But I do know that Whirli went into administration not long after we started our subscription with them. We’d not had a chance to use the service as it was intended – i.e. borrow toys and return them for new ones – so we ended up buying the toys.

My son still loves the singing chair, which is now his to have and to own for as long as he likes, without paying a monthly charge for the privilege.

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