LOS ANGELES — Signals about the economy are mixed. Predictions about the holiday sales season aren't jolly. But our embrace of subscription services, where we pay a fee for a monthly or quarterly package of cool stuff, seems to continue unabated.
Maybe it's the curiosity factor — the contents are often a surprise. Or the cool factor — in some instances the beauty creams or the necklaces or the scarves are available only to subscribers.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group, says subscription boxes "fulfill the need for a lot of people who used to be aspirational shoppers. Now they take care of the euphoria they are seeking with secret shopping."
The offerings have inspired websites and guides including subscriptionboxes.com and findsubscriptionboxes.com, musthaveboxes.com and mysubscriptionaddiction.com.
Cohen said many traditional shoppers don't know about the trend — but the word is getting out.
"People are going to critique each item and each box. Social media has created a family of communication about the products."
A few months ago, LA Times staff writer Adam Tschorn wrote about Svbscription (svbscription.com), a New York City-based program that sends subscribers a "luxe wooden box full of curated, cool curiosities." The quarterly service, aimed at men, is themed. The first box was a "Travel Edition," the second, a "Study Edition," with items including a Kaweco AL Sport fountain pen and a blue-suede document case by Loden Dager.
The "Home by the Selby" themed box — curated by photographer, illustrator and blogger Todd Selby and released earlier this year — included a Mast Brothers dark chocolate bar, a key chain from Los Angeles-based leather designer company Parabellum, a box with recipes from chefs such as Alice Waters and Eric Ripert, a scented candle from Coqui Coqui perfumes, a geometric money box from Italian furniture designer Martino Gamper (who partnered with New Zealand housewares store Everyday Needs) and a rather unusual set of stickers. (The "premium" version of the box included a bow tie and slippers.)
Svbscription is $330 quarterly and $1,150 a year (one-off boxes are $350). The service has about 400 subscribers, 50 of whom are "premium" members who pay more than $500 for their quarterly package
Not every subscription is so pricey. The "Umba Box" (umbabox.com) sends handmade jewelry, accessories, home goods, bath products and stationery to subscribers, starting at $23 a month. For $29 a month, a company called For the Makers (forthemakers.com) will send the materials to make home goods, jewelry and other goods. Birchbox (birchbox.com) sends a package of beauty product samples (travel size) for $10 a month. Subscribers to Conscious Box ($12 a month at consciousbox.com) receive a parcel of "pure and sustainable products."
Nina Garcia, creative director of Marie Claire and a "Project Runway" judge, is now part of Quarterly Co., a tri-monthly subscription service; for prices that range from $25 to $100 a pop, subscribers can receive curated mailings from Garcia or a variety of other "tastemakers."
San Francisco-based PopSugar, the fashion/beauty/celebrity/fitness blog and empire, launched its $35-a-month subscription service in July 2012. The company's "Must Have" boxes have included a foldable black hat with a wide brim, sweet potato tortilla chips, Pacifica Natural Color Quench Lip Tint, and a series of pre-measured cocktail mixers to make a "modern margarita." A box sent to subscribers in the spring included Buxom's Sculpted Lash Mascara, a "corkatoo" corkscrew, a Heather Belle signature tassel necklace and a box of yellow Peeps. The June box included a copy of "Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns" a package of FIT popcorn and a Gorjana & Griffin Zuma Scarf.
Kellan McNamara, senior manager, consumer commerce marketing at PopSugar, says the Must Have boxes "are selling out two months in advance."
PopSugar also curates a special edition, seasonal box for $100. The "fall style" offering included a Rachel Zoe gold knot ring, Stila Cosmetics "Luxe Eye Shadow Palette," a Cynthia Vincent lined shopping bag, Library of Flowers bubble bath, Christian Lacroix Papier Notebook and Goldfaden MD's microderm exfoliator. (Neither PopSugar nor Svbscription take returns.)
Even People magazine is getting into the act. For $200 a year, premium subscribers will receive special print and digital content and a series of gift boxes "designed by the editors." According to the New York Times, the first box includes "designer note cards inspired by this season's shirtdresses, an animal-print scarf influenced by the styles worn by Heidi Klum and vinyl nail wraps that give subscribers a glimpse at Rihanna's style."
Policies about subscription cancellations and returns or refunds vary. Svbscription and Pop Sugar, for instance, don't accept returns; BirchBox and Conscious Box will. Often the services encourage subscribers to just pass it on: give unwanted items to friends as gifts.