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Shoppers Love Subscription Services—But Is Apparel Too Risky for the Format?

The modern retail era may well be dubbed The Golden Age of the Subscription Box, with more than half of all online shoppers admitting to at least one membership.

According to data from market insight firm Clutch, which surveyed 528 admitted online shoppers, 54 percent are subscribed to a service that offers monthly razor replenishment, curated makeup selections, meal kits, toys or clothing.

Respondents were asked to rank 10 companies: Dollar Shave Club, Ipsy, Blue Apron, BarkBox, Hello Fresh, Birchbox, Sephora Play, Stitch Fix, Book of the Month, Trunk Club and Bespoke Post.

Of the grouping, the five most popular subscription box service brands are Dollar Shave Club (29 percent), Ipsy (21 percent), Blue Apron (17 percent), BarkBox (17 percent), and HelloFresh (16 percent).

Apparel subscription box Stitch Fix ranked No. 8, garnering just 11 percent of the consumer vote, while Trunk Club came in No. 10 with 5 percent.

According to Riley Panko, Clutch’s senior content developer and marketer, the brands that rank highest with consumers either replenish existing products (like Dollar Shave Club and its razor refills) or offer personalized collections of new items on a regular basis (a la Ipsy, which delivers makeup and skincare items based on a consumer’s profile and preferences).

When it comes to apparel subscription boxes, she said consumers may still have some reservations. Even though online shopping surpassed in-store commerce for the first time this year, Panko believes that there’s a reason that apparel subscription boxes have fallen behind services that provide other products.

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“I think there’s still some hesitation regarding clothes because they’re a much more personal experience,” she said. “There’s the extra step of trying things on that can present obstacles.”

For services trying to sell consumers on the value of a subscription, personalization is the only way in, she added. “It has to be a consumer who’s invested in having that curated try-on experience,” as opposed to just wanting to receive products that they’ve chosen themselves, she explained.

For some, paying for products sight unseen might seem like a risky bet. Stitch Fix, for example, charges a $20 styling fee, which goes toward the purchase of any items that the consumer decides to keep.

“They could be wondering, ‘What if I don’t like any of these items? Is the fee going to go to waste?'” Panko said.

In Panko’s opinion, the top services all share something in common. “Looking at the top brands, they all have a very niche focus. Dollar Shave Club started with just razors,” she asserted. “The idea of clothing is pretty broad, and a question for some is, ‘How much can these clothing services personalize?’”

Ensuring that the consumer becomes and remains invested in a service comes down to tailoring their experience, she added.

That means giving the consumer a greater role in providing input into what they’re getting out of the service, and harvesting as much information as possible about their expectations and their preferences at the outset.

“When it comes to clothing, it’s even more important. It’s something they’re going to be wearing in their daily lives,” she said.