by Brian Sheehan Brian Sheehan
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Subscription box fulfillment makes every month feel a little bit like Christmas. In 2010, Birchbox showed us all how it’s done. Unlike traditional ecommerce, which requires you to order the product you want online, subscription boxes send you assorted products on a regular basis — often month by month. Aside from the main difference between the business models, there are five significant ways in which ecommerce and subscription boxes differ.

Top-Quality Every Time

While order quality and accuracy are important for all companies, they are essential for subscription boxes because the products customers receive are random..

If customers don’t know what they’re getting for their money, whatever they do get better be good, or they will lose trust in the company. Establishing brand trust is crucial to maintaining customer membership, and consistently sending top-quality products — in addition to excellent customer service — is a great way to accomplish that.

Flawless Timing

Unlike ecommerce, which merely requires packages to arrive quickly one time, subscription boxes need to be sent out in consistent cycles. Subscribers expect orders to arrive at a certain time each month. Consistent on-time delivery is even more important with subscription box services such as Imperfect Produce, which delivers food at regular intervals. This and other food delivery services need to have their delivery window down to the hour to keep food fresh.

Subscription boxes are usually timed to ship out in waves. Companies service entire regions at once to ensure nothing spoils during delivery.

Personalized “Random” Orders

While customers may not be selecting specific products, they do often choose the type of products they want. This is a big part of the appeal of subscription box customers, but also makes packaging a very complex and labor-intensive activity. When every order is a little bit different, it takes some intense focus to make sure that everything is packaged correctly.

Presentation Is Everything

Perception is everything, and presentation controls perception. Aesthetics are another part of winning the customer’s trust over with each monthly order — and typical corrugated cardboard boxes just aren’t good enough. Subscription boxes must look professional and consistent, and are designed to do just that. This often involves decorating the packaging with stickers, ribbons, or even wrapping paper.

Inconsistent Work Periods

With a few exceptions for holidays, ecommerce orders are fairly consistent throughout the year. That is not the case for subscription box orders. These are sent out biweekly, monthly, or sometimes quarterly, depending on the service or consumer demand, and during these shipping periods, work spikes immensely. Because of how many packages can be customized, much of the picking and packing work is done manually. Riding out these highs and lows in work volume is a challenge, to say the least. Often, it requires paying for temporary staff and workspace to deal with the highest-volume work days.

Subscription box services are still too young for us to say how they will affect the market as a whole, but each time it seems that the market for them will burst, they keep pulling through. Whichever direction they do go, however, they still need some of the most deliberate logistics today to maintain their business model effectively.

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