More and More and More … Sample Boxes!

At Postconsumers, we’re always paying attention to the latest ways that the consumer media is working hard to ensure that people continue passionately wanting to buy, buy, buy. We were hoping that the concept of the “sample box” would be a short-lived marketing technique. But it turns out that the sample box technique has become quite ubiquitous. And the message of those boxes is clear — you need more, and you need it every month. Today, we take a look at this latest marketing technique and its consumer impact.

What Exactly is a Sample Box?

It’s possible that you don’t participate in any of the demographics that sample boxes are marketed to, so we’ll just take a moment to explain them and then give you some examples. A sample box is a monthly box that you get that (typically) has product samples in it. It may, however, be slightly more expensive and include full sized products. It comes every month and (of course) you are automatically billed for it every month. They’re most common in the health and beauty sector. For example, for skin care and makeup, you may have heard of Birchbox or Julep. But they’re not just for health and makeup. There are versions for men (Dollar Shave Club delivers monthly razor packs). There are versions for pets (Bark Box delivers monthly pet treats). These days, if there’s a way to put it into a box and send it to you monthly, there’s a box being created for it.

What’s the Revenue Model?

Sample boxes are technically called continuity marketing. That means that the basic premise for them is that the vendor or company usually loses money on the first (or even the first several) sends, but because you are unlikely to take the action of unsubscribing from the service over time, your actual dollar value to the company over the course of four, six or twelve months is actually quite large. Of course, in the case of most of these subscription or continuity box programs, the real purpose of the box is to incentivize you to want to buy additional, full-price products from the company’s main website.

And don’t forget, when you sign-up for any of these continuity sample boxes, you provide an email and typically opt-in to emails from the company. We’ve already talked about how effective email marketing is at engaging users in making purchases, so unless you’ve actively unsubscribed from the email list after you’ve joined, you’re likely to spend even more money buying even more products.

The Environmental Impact

For the most part, there’s nothing environmentally friendly about continuity sample box services. Even if you remove all of the carbon miles and wasteful packaging (it’s typically very decorative packaging) used to send small boxes to thousands of people every month, there’s still a huge carbon footprint associated with the types of packaging used to create sample-sized products. While buying in bulk isn’t always as consumer or eco-friendly as it may seem, creating tiny plastic containers of sample-sizes is even less eco-friendly. In many cases, the harder types of plastic used in those sample sizes isn’t even able to be recycled. But the basic laws of volume and surface (yes, we remember our high school science classes!) simply makes it a game of numbers in that the smaller the container, the lower the volume of product to packaging, the more wasteful it is.

The Consumer Impact

However, even beyond the environmental impact, the real issue with continuity sample boxes is the consumer impact. It’s certainly delightful to get to try new products or receive your monthly “gift box” in the mail. But the real message of these boxes is that what you bought last month isn’t relevant, up-to-date or good enough anymore. The only way that you can be “on-trend” is by making sure that you’re always receiving, trying and potentially buying the latest and greatest products. The true message behind these boxes is that last month’s merchandise isn’t cool enough anymore, and you need to be buying each month to make sure you have the best possible products that are newer, better and trendier.

What Can You Do?

The reality is that continuity marketing is incredibly lucrative (as long as the margin is high enough), and it’s now been proven that these programs have high revenue potential. What does that mean? It means that you won’t see them going away any time soon! How can you fight back? The simple answer is to be aware. Of course, the most effective way to do that is to not subscribe to any of them. But being a Postconsumer is about finding your own level of consumer comfort and satisfaction while still being aware of consumer addiction and the consumer machine. In fact, we even admit that there are members of the Postconsumers team who get some of these products! Like with anything, the answer is about being aware. You can enjoy your monthly subscription box (just know that there are more environmentally friendly ways to try products), but don’t opt-in to the email list or participate in the upsells. Be aware that you are being marketed to and make smart decisions about how to respond to that!

Did we miss anything about subscription boxes and their consumer impact? Share it with us. Comment below or tell us about it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

Photo Credit: 3rdfloorcloset via Flickr