Bloomberg takes a skeptical look at the subscription box industry.
As more and more flood the scene, VC’s wonder if their time has passed.
The boxes that make up the monthly subscription industry differ in price and content, but the premise is always the same: A box of surprise stuff, typically keeping to a theme such as makeup, vices, or snacks, arrives at your doorstep once a month. Because these companies are largely privately held, it’s hard to gauge how big the market really is, but Cratejoy, a subscription marketplace, estimates subscription commerce generated $5 billion in revenue in 2014.
But these days, a record number of boxes are looking for a slice of the same pie, as more consumers seeking monthly joy log onto Amazon.com for their regular box of stuff (the e-commerce site offers recurring delivery, in which you customize your cart and pay as the items ship). It’s unclear exactly how many box services there are–box review site My Subscription Addiction lists more than 2,000 in its database. And more, like Robb Vices, continue to appear, despite the industry being plagued with layoffs, slow growth, and a capricious public. Monthly visits to various websites of online subscription companies did total more than 21 million in January, up 3,000 percent from three years earlier, according to a study by Hitwise.
With this deluge of new entrants, lack of many big successes, and perhaps excessive hype surrounding the model, analysts and investors fear that a shakeout is imminent and that many will not survive the culling.
Is The Blush Off The Rose?
“I have worries that we’re coming to a peak,” said Josh Goldman, a general partner at Norwest Venture Partners, who invested in such e-commerce companies as Gilt Groupe and ModCloth. He has looked into investing in many subscription box services in recent years but never pulled the trigger. Boxes have spread into categories that aren’t appropriate, he said—throwaway novelties that shoppers don’t stick with. The model can work only for certain kinds of goods–essentially things that shoppers need replenished (household products), or items they are willing to buy frequently anyway (clothes, makeup).