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Thinking inside the box! Why subscription-based ecommerce models are the way forward.

Subscription services aren’t a new concept, however, they are a relatively new trend in the world of ecommerce and an increasingly popular way to purchase online. Back in 2018 it was reported that UK shoppers spent £2billion a year on retail subscriptions, and this figure has continued to see a consistent rise since this report was published. 

A convenient, personalised way to shop

Subscription services offer customers, (who are often young, affluent and from urban cities) a convenient, personalised and low-cost way of purchasing items that they want and need. These services seamlessly work alongside their busy lifestyles and take the hassle out of repeatedly having to purchase certain items. Of course for brands, the major benefit here is that when someone signs up for a subscription service, they are essentially confirming their brand loyalty and commitment to your products, as well as entering your database with information equipped to offer them a highly personalised experience.

According to a report from the Royal Mail, the value of the subscription market is forecast to grow 72% to a value of £1 billion by 2022! This report also noted that 27% of UK customers have already signed up to a subscription box service, with these models being most popular with under 35s. 

Replenishment, curation and access

Generally, there are three broad types of subscriptions, these being replenishment, curation and access.

Replenishment subscriptions give customers the ability to automate the purchase of ‘commodity’ items that they have a continuous need for. Often this can be influenced directly by their lifestyle, for example razor and hygiene products would fall into this category and the need for these products can vary from person to person, but generally there is a consistent need and demand for them. 

Curation-based subscription seeks to surprise and delight customers by exposing them to new and exciting products through a highly personalised experience, with the main types of subscriptions in this category falling into apparel, beauty and food. Two big players in this area are Birchbox and Glossybox who both curate boxes of beauty products for their customers each month depending on their unique needs and what is popular in the industry at that time. 

The final type of subscription, access, allows subscribers to pay a monthly fee to obtain lower prices to a product or service, as well as members-only perks. Often it will be apparel and food which falls into this category. 

Depending on your product, your consumers, and the relationship between the two, if you’re thinking about offering a subscription service you’ll need to consider which of the above is the most applicable and relevant for your customers before you move forward. 


Credit: Birchbox

Retaining customers with a subscription model

Creating a successful and profitable subscription service isn’t as easy as just asking your existing customers to tick a box! Customers do not have an automatic or inherent love of subscriptions, and it can actually be harder to acquire customers in this format.

There needs to be a real value to your service and it needs to be something which will benefit your customers and not just your customer return rate! Customers still demand and expect a superior end-to-end experience and are only willing to subscribe when automated purchasing gives them real tangible benefits, such as increased personalisation. And if the service isn’t good enough, you’ll find that they will cancel their subscription with no hesitation

If you’re thinking of adapting a subscription-based model into your existing ecommerce strategy, then give us a call today to explore which model would work for you and how we can adapt it into your business for 2020.

Read more of our predictions for this year by downloading our free innovations ebook:

Find our last blog post here.

Chris Thomas


Chris Thomas

CEO & Founder

Chris has been at the forefront of eCommerce and a pioneer of online retailing since the early 00s. A 5-time Drapers Award winner, Chris has extensive experience in developing fashion brands online.

Chris founded Cake in 2016. Based in Birmingham, with offices nationwide, Cake specialises in helping fashion brands understand their market online and then helps to develop appropriate strategical direction to achieve their plan, all backed by his 20 years of operating in the retail market.