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US Understanding Consumer Usage and Attitudes Toward Subscription Services Market Report

Everything you need to make the right decisions

Providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information and analysis of the Understanding Consumer Usage and Attitudes Toward Subscription Services market, and the behaviours, preferences and habits of the consumer.

Mintel has the answers you’re looking for

What are the key challenges facing the industry? Who is the consumer and what do they want? Where are the opportunities, where are the risks and what lies ahead?

Covered in this report

This report examines usage and perceptions of online subscription services and automatic replenishment services across key categories (including Beauty, Food and Drink, Apparel, Household products).

The consumer-driven replacement subscription services covered in this Report span the consumer journey from consumers consider solutions through purchase and replenishment. Once established, successful subscription services sit firmly in Consumers Replenish (see graphic below), eliminating other purchase considerations from the purchase cycle.

What you need to know

The success of subscription box startups such as Dollar Shave Club, Birchbox, and Blue Apron has inspired a host of other companies including retail chains to launch their own subscription services. Offerings span industries from meal kits to pet products to intimate apparel. Models vary between recurring, allowing consumers to set standing orders for products they use regularly; on-demand, whereby consumers schedule deliveries as needed, and exploration, where consumers pay a set fee to receive a box of retailer-selected items.

Despite the fact one third of all adults report shopping online at least once a week and nearly three quarters do so at least once a month, adoption of online subscription services remains low. Many consumers still have negative perceptions about subscription services, including cost, general product usage concerns, or freshness, in the case of food products. Thus retailers need to take extra steps to overcome potential barriers to entry, such as guaranteeing freshness of food products or by better communicating why signing up for a subscription is a better value than ordering products one at a time.

Expert analysis from a specialist in the field

Written by Matt Lindner, a leading analyst in the eCommerce sector, his extensive knowledge delivers in-depth commentary and analysis to highlight current trends and add expert context to the numbers.

Subscription services are evolving as more companies across a variety of product categories are in or entering the market. Consumers have interest in signing up for product subscriptions; however such programs must be tailored in a way that makes the consumer’s life easier and adds value. Product quality and quantity are top concerns, as is cancellation. Companies looking to enter and continue in the subscription service/automatic replenishment market need to stress the convenience and cost savings of such services in order to better appeal to more consumers. Marketing should focus on how these services should be thought of as a “need to have” rather than a “nice to have. Matt Lindner
Senior eCommerce Analyst

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Table of contents

  1. Overview

    • What you need to know
      • Definition
      • Executive Summary

        • Overview
          • One third of online shoppers are “packaging conscious”
            • Packaging concerns hinder online sales growth
              • Online shoppers have three areas of concern with ecommerce packaging
                • Packaging integrity: Protect the product and the brand
                  • Environmental impact: Less can be more
                    • Appearance: It’s what’s on the inside that matters
                      • What it means
                      • The Market – What You Need to Know

                        • Online sales growth puts packaging in the spotlight
                          • More than one third consider delivery packaging when shopping online
                            • Half indicate a preference for the appearance of external packaging
                            • Market Drivers

                              • As ecommerce grows, so too does the need for packaging innovation
                                • Figure 1: Total US online retail sales and fan chart forecast with best- and worst-case scenarios, at current prices, 2013-23
                              • Consumer groups with increasing spending power drive online sales growth
                                • Figure 2: Change in online shopping compared to last year, by generation and Hispanic origin, November 2018
                              • Online shopping expands across nearly all product categories
                                • Figure 3: How consumers buy products (by category) – Any online, November 2018
                            • Market Factors

                              • Shoppers who have increased online purchasing are more engaged in packaging
                                • Figure 4: Impact of packaging, by change in online shopping compared to last year, November 2018
                              • Active online shoppers are more likely to be packaging conscious
                                  • Figure 5: Packaging conscious online shoppers, by key demographics, November 2018
                                • Packaging conscious shoppers consider how external packaging looks
                                  • Figure 6: Online order packaging preferences, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                              • Key Trends – What You Need to Know

                                • eCommerce-specific packaging and products draw attention
                                  • Reusable packaging startups and pilot programs set in motion
                                    • Don’t become a #PackagingFail
                                      • Amazon incentivizes retailers to pack better
                                        • Efficient packaging to become the standard – not the exception
                                        • Who’s Innovating

                                          • P&G and Unilever roll out ecommerce-specific pack designs
                                            • P&G: Tide Eco-Box
                                              • P&G: Air Assist liquid packaging technology
                                                • Unilever
                                                  • LimeLoop, RePack, Returnity compete to be the reusable package partner of choice
                                                  • What’s Working

                                                    • Seasonal packaging generates social media buzz
                                                      • It’s what’s on the inside that counts
                                                        • Mobile-friendly hero images
                                                        • What’s Struggling

                                                          • Damaged orders due to rough handling
                                                            • Branded shippers present a security concern
                                                              • When retailers get it wrong: #PackagingFail
                                                                • Packaging concerns hinder online grocery growth
                                                                  • Figure 7: Impact of packaging on online food and drink purchasing, by online shopping frequency, November 2018
                                                              • What’s Next

                                                                • Integrity: Amazon helps brands to adopt Frustration-Free Packaging
                                                                  • Specialization: More ecommerce-specific packaging
                                                                    • Sustainability: Greater emphasis on recycled and reusable materials
                                                                      • Reusable shipper startups race to gain a foothold in apparel
                                                                        • Major CPG brands sign up to participate in recyclable container program
                                                                          • Informative: Retailers will include more detailed packaging content on their websites
                                                                          • The Consumer – What You Need to Know

                                                                            • Package type, size are most important considerations
                                                                              • Packaging concerns hinder online sales growth
                                                                                • One bad packaging experience is enough to lose future business
                                                                                  • Show packaging materials, methods used to keep products safe
                                                                                    • Reduce waste, offer recyclable/reusable packaging materials
                                                                                      • Use standout packaging to appeal to younger online shoppers
                                                                                      • Packaging Considerations

                                                                                        • Packaging needs to fit the product – not the other way around
                                                                                          • Figure 8: Packaging considerations, November 2018
                                                                                        • Packaging conscious shoppers pay more attention to the details
                                                                                          • Figure 9: Packaging considerations – Type and appearance (important), by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                      • Important Packaging Characteristics

                                                                                        • Focus first on packaging integrity, then environmental and cosmetic enhancements
                                                                                            • Figure 10: Important packaging characteristics, November 2018
                                                                                          • Packaging integrity: Quality matters more to iGens
                                                                                            • Figure 11: Important packaging characteristics – Packaging integrity, by generation, November 2018
                                                                                          • Environmental: Reduce packaging waste to appeal to more women
                                                                                            • Figure 12: Important packaging characteristics - Environmental, by gender, November 2018
                                                                                          • Enhanced packaging appeals more to packaging conscious shoppers
                                                                                            • Figure 13: Important packaging characteristics, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                        • Packaging Preferences

                                                                                          • Plain shippers preferred (for now)
                                                                                              • Figure 14: Packaging preferences, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                            • iGens are nearly as likely to prefer branded as unbranded shippers
                                                                                                • Figure 15: Packaging preferences, by generation, November 2018
                                                                                            • Desired Information and Areas of Improvement

                                                                                              • Provide more detailed packaging information
                                                                                                  • Figure 16: Packaging information online shoppers want, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                • Demonstrate environmental commitment
                                                                                                  • Figure 17: Environmental actions and preferences, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                • Enhance the visual experience during ordering and after shipping
                                                                                                    • Figure 18: Visual areas of improvement, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                • How Packaging Impacts Online Purchasing Decisions

                                                                                                  • Bad packaging can be enough to turn away a customer
                                                                                                    • Figure 19: Impact of packaging on online purchasing decisions, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                  • Grocery, electronics, furniture retailers have an opportunity to provide more information
                                                                                                      • Figure 20: Packaging impact on online purchasing decisions, by product category, November 2018
                                                                                                  • When Things Go Wrong

                                                                                                    • Seven in 10 have experienced packaging issues
                                                                                                        • Figure 21: Issues with online order packaging, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                      • Carriers get blamed for damage, retailers expected to foot the bill
                                                                                                        • Figure 22: Who’s to blame when a package arrives damaged, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                        • Figure 23: Refund expectations when an online order arrives damaged, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                    • Attitudes toward Return Packaging

                                                                                                      • Return packaging is nice to have, but not a deal breaker
                                                                                                        • Figure 24: Attitudes toward return packaging, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                      • Return packaging presents an cost saving (or upselling) opportunity
                                                                                                        • Figure 25: Attitudes toward financial incentives around return packaging, by impact of packaging, November 2018
                                                                                                      • Younger online shoppers will pay more for inclusion of return packaging
                                                                                                        • Figure 26: Willingness to pay for return packaging, by generation, November 2018
                                                                                                    • Appendix – Data Sources and Abbreviations

                                                                                                      • Data sources
                                                                                                        • Consumer survey data
                                                                                                          • Abbreviations and terms
                                                                                                            • Abbreviations
                                                                                                              • Terms
                                                                                                              • Appendix – The Market

                                                                                                                  • Figure 27: Total US online retail sales and forecast, at current prices, 2013-23
                                                                                                                  • Figure 28: Total US online retail sales and forecast, at inflation-adjusted prices, 2013-23