Is Subscription Shopping the key to a well-ordered life?

Shopping behaviour is going through a metamorphosis – new priorities, new behaviours and an unpredictable field of play are putting traditional retail into a tailspin. One of the disruptors in this world is Subscription Shopping.

This new style of spending is changing the purpose of shopping from ‘product acquisition’ to ‘life hacking’. For consumers we spoke to recently, Subscription Shopping is the key to a well-ordered life.

Product Subscription as Life Hack

Digital-driven product subscriptions have become key tools for consumers to hack their day-to-day lives. Subscriptions to services like Subscribe and Save, Gousto, Graze and VITL allow them to meet their responsibilities and achieve personal health and wellbeing goals. When the products you need are automated, and arrive right at your doorstep, these subscriptions help some consumers feel that they’ve ‘got their life together’.

We’re quite familiar with digital-only subscriptions like Spotify or Netflix. They provide constant access anytime, anywhere. These types of commitments have spawned a new breed of shopping behaviours that is fundamentally changing the retail landscape. Amazon Subscribe and Save, Graze, Birchbox, Stitchfix, Hello Fresh and the like allow consumers to order what they want, and automate it on repeat. And it is this regularity that helps consumers feel like their clothes, meals and everyday household items are organised and in check. An efficient personal supply chain can feel like a personal reflection of a well-ordered life.

 

Our study identified three ways in which subscription buying enables this feeling:

1// Subscribe and Save means I will never be without life’s essentials – I no longer need to worry about being without the things I need for day-to-day life.

2// Platform subscriptions make it easy to buy what I want, and receive it when I want it – Services like Amazon prime and ASOS Premier take the friction out of buying, but also become an easy default space to buy anything and everything.

3//  Some subscription services free me from life’s administrative duties – Services like Hello Fresh, Graze and monthly kids craft kit ToucanBox do the work for me,  allowing me to focus on what is most important. Hello Fresh lets me enjoy cooking and it removes the drudgery of meal planning and grocery shopping.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Subscription Shopping

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on ‘life hacks’, optimisation and achieving personal productivity. Take the success of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a book about achieving wellness and happiness through re-organisation, which sold five million copies in 2016. With the rise of personal optimisation, it’s not surprise that subscription services are booming.

In an age where even them most mundane elements of life are fodder for sharing and comparing on social media, this focus on optimisation can often make consumers feel that they are too busy and/or running out of time each day. Subscriptions like Amazon Prime, ASOS Premier, Nespresso subscriptions, meal boxes and even services like Naked Wines allow consumers to get what they need, when they need it, where they need it. Rather than a buying platform, Amazon Prime is seen as a ‘life hack’, and leaves people with no excuse when they realise they have run out of toilet paper.

During our interviews we spoke to parents, artists, young city professionals and empty nesters – and they all shared this desire for personal optimisation. They perceived life as hectic, and were actively using subscription services to ‘have my house in order‘, to pull my life together’, to feel less stressed and to achieve a well-ordered life.

The Wellness Syndrome by Carl Cederström and André Spicer sheds some light on society’s obsession with wellness. It explores why living ‘well’ has acquired the meaning of being ‘morally good’. In their latest research project Optimised, Cederström and Spicer explore our obsession with ‘life hacks’ to optimise, and improve, various aspects of our lives.

The consumers we spoke to were clear about the benefit subscriptions were bringing to day-to-day life: A well-ordered life is not about being a hyper-productive machine, but instead about being more efficient with life’s necessities, in order to make more time for what is important or more enjoyable in life.

 

A Fine Balance

Subscription shopping is a ‘life hack’ that promises more time to focus on what matters. It allows people to feel that they made small steps towards ‘sorting out’ parts of their life. While some consumers only want to automate small things like vitamins, others want subscriptions to manage their household products, meals and even new product discovery for categories like beer, wine, clothing and cosmetics.

However, while they expressed the desire for a well-ordered life, consumers were clear: They do not want their lives to be governed by efficiency.  There was a clear sense that subscriptions were used as ‘spot treatment’ for life’s everyday frustrations, rather than as a way to organise every facet of life. Too much efficiency can breed predictability, which can create a life stripped of spontaneity. The risk of a too-well-ordered life is that consumers slip into monotony.

When striving for the balance between plans and monotony, between a hectic life and a well-ordered life, successful subscription brands deliver efficiency with a degree of surprise and variation. They tick the ‘Life’s Sorted’ box without making consumers feel that their lives are mundane.

As subscription shopping continues to aid those seeking the order of ‘life hacks’, the key question is: Have you struck the right balance?