The pros and cons of fashion subscription retail
From HelloFresh to Beauty Pie, subscription services have enjoyed exponential growth in the past few years. Offering all the convenience of online shopping in a handy weekly/ monthly/ bi-monthly delivery, it’s no surprise that customers have flocked to the subscription model. Fashion is no exception to this rule. With services such as Lookiero and Stitch Fix making waves on social media, fashion subscription retail is growing. Back in Q1 of 2020, Stitch Fix reported a 9% increase in its subscriber base, reflecting growing consumer trends toward online shopping and home deliveries. Since the digital retail revolution is showing no signs of slowing down, we thought we’d look into the role fashion subscription services play, as well as the challenges they face…
Customers are becoming more and more internet savvy, and thereby are much more comfortable shopping online; so much so, in fact, that they are comfortable buying an unseen object or selection and letting someone else select the specific pieces. Herein lies the most important advantage of the subscription model for businesses. By encouraging users to sign up for a, say, 6-monthly subscription, business receive a regular, recurring payment, rather than having to rely on a one-off purchase that might not amount to anything more.
For the consumer, the advantages are numerous. As we’ve already mentioned, there’s the convenience of having one’s very own “personal shopper” or stylist who will select pieces tailored to them and have them delivered direct to the customer’s home. Unlike regular online shopping, though, the convenience factor goes further than simple delivery. In subscription models, the experience is a personalised one, offering customers the opportunity to fill in their sizes, preferences, wardrobe needs and more, before delivering pieces chosen especially for them. And since this is now an expectation from brands, rather than a “nice to have”, the opportunities for personalisation are of paramount importance.
There’s also the element of “self-gifting” that comes into play here. Most consumers enjoy receiving something in the post; and if that something is a surprise, all the better. The excitement of receiving a selection of unseen items that have been personally chosen for that customer is a key selling point of the subscription model that should not be ignored.
Of course, with every retail solution there are good and bad points to consider. A key challenge for fashion subscriptions in particular is the issue of clutter. As consumers look to declutter their homes and reduce their consumption, a delivery of more “stuff” on a regular basis might just be too much.
Over-consumption fits neatly into this issue, as well, with many consumers asking themselves, “do I really need more clothes?” As questions surrounding fast fashion and sustainability become ever-more prevalent, the question of “too much” is a pertinent one, and one that must be addressed by these types of businesses.
Of course, the fashion rental market is ecommerce’s answer to this, offering consumers the opportunity to rent an outfit, which is new to their wardrobe, before sending it back for someone else to wear. In the Covid era, however, this comes with its own concerns about safety and hygiene.
The other major con to the subscription model is the issue around customer loyalty. Customers expect personalisation, and they expect brands to get this right every time. Just one wrong curation could lead a customer to unsubscribe for good. And since fashion is predicated on so many subjective categories, including preference, sizing, body shape and quality, getting it wrong is unfortunately all to easy to do.
When all is said and done, fashion subscription models do have their merits, especially in this post-pandemic era where convenience is well and truly king. However, to make it work, businesses have no choice but to make their ranges hyper personalised.
The sustainability question surrounding the subscription model is an interesting one, and one that likely needs to be explored in more detail. On the one hand, it could be argued that subscription services legitimise and encourage over-consumption. However, on the flip side, it could be that more personalised fashion choices help customers to build wardrobes that last more than one or two wears.
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