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Study: Apparel Subscription Boxes Achieve Mediocre Progress

Subscription boxes may be the latest consumer craze, but apparel seems to be falling in the middle stack for this type of retail model.

According to Hitwise data, U.S. subscription boxes overall surpassed 40 million visits in January and March 2017, an 831 percent increase over 2014. Despite this boost, apparel subscription boxes only secured 16 percent of site visits in April 2017, which was significantly less than other categories, including beauty (35 percent) and food (33 percent). What’s more, apparel subscription box visits only increased by 26 percent from 2014 to 2017, while other areas, including pets (301 percent) and lifestyle (31 percent) experienced more growth.

Stitch Fix was ranked as the top apparel subscription box, achieving more than 2.5 million visits in April 2017, an 86 percent increase. Bespoke Post, a men’s subscription box service, achieved a 65 percent increase in site visits (672,654) during the same month. Snapping up third place, plus-size business Dia & Co secured the biggest increase in April site visits (1,180 percent), with more than 500,000 visits. Although some apparel subscription boxes did considerably well in April, FiveFourClub only received 454,070 visits, while GwynnieBee’s visits dropped by 23 percent to 412,971.

The study pointed out four important traffic drivers—social media, affiliate relationships, email and search words. Of that list, social channels and email provide a bigger boost in traffic for these businesses than for traditional retailers. In social, Pinterest is king, driving nearly three times the traffic to subscription box sites than other social networks. Search is the biggest driver for box businesses at 30 percent but traditional retail gets 46 percent of its traffic this way. Further, one in every 266 searches includes the word “cancel.”

[Read more on Stitch Fix: Stitch Fix’s IPO Filing Tests the Value of Data in the Apparel Market]

America’s 5.7 million sub-box shoppers may also find apparel subscription boxes unfulfilling. The study found that these shoppers like when companies try to better understand their style needs and offer them unique apparel choices. Considering these shoppers also frequent other retailers, like Aerie and Nordstrom to name just two, apparel subscription boxes could do a better job of tapping into consumers’ wardrobe preferences, while providing a memorable shopping experience online. For example, apparel sub-boxes could offer more customized style quizzes and curated boxes that suit consumers’ lifestyles.

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Unlike other product categories, apparel yields the most returns online. According to National Retail Federation (NRF) data, the amount of online returns increased by 52 percent from $171 billion in 2015 to $260 million in 2015. Consumers are returning their clothes because they either don’t fit correctly or the item they received looked different. A lack of fitting rooms and universal sizing often leads consumers to purchase less apparel online and still frequent stores. Despite this drawback, some apparel subscription services, including Stitch Fix, are enabling consumers to buy, try on at home and seamlessly return unwanted items for a better shopping journey.