Marketing expert: subscription gifts popular this year

Gifts that keep giving all year through “of the month” clubs or subscription services have been around for decades, but they have not only become more popular than ever but now include a vast array of products and services, observers of consumer trends report.

Supply chain issues and other complications for holiday buyers this year are creating creative shopping experiences, according to Dan McCarthy, assistant professor of marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, who said, “We are expecting a boom in experience gifts and subscription services, including meal kits, fitness memberships, and monthly gift kits.”

In the 1960s, the grandparents of today’s householders could have selected a “fruit of the month” or “jelly of the month” to have shipped to their friends and family members as gifts. And magazine subscriptions as gifts have been standard for many years. Today, however, products to match nearly any taste and interest are available through monthly clubs, including bacon, barbecue sauce, neckties, pasta, cigars, cheesecake, cocktail mixes, beauty products, candles, cake, pie, beer, and wine.

There are more than 2,000 products offered through subscription services; however, products are not all that are available through such services, according to McCarthy. “People are now buying entertainment streaming packages, master classes, meals—about anything you could imagine—as subscriptions gifts,” he said, “and new subscription offerings are being added regularly.”

More than 11 million such gifts were given in 2017 and the number has gone up significantly since then, McCarthy said. “The pandemic brought an increase in online shopping and prompted people to think about what their friends and family members would like to have as they stay home waiting for the health crisis to be over. Subscription entertainment has become a really popular gift.

“These are perfect for last minute shoppers. The giver can just go on the internet, order the gift, and have the recipient notified right away. The giver doesn’t have to worry about sizes, whether the gift will arrive in time for the holiday or about wrapping and delivering,” according to McCarthy, who said that with so many glitches in the supply chain this year, subscription gifts can take a lot of the frustration and worry out of holiday shopping.

Subscription services are available in such a wide range of price points that the shopper is likely to find something to fit the holiday shopping budget, McCarthy said. “Not all subscriptions service must be purchased for a full year. The buyer may have the option of six months, three months, or other time periods. Available products and services range from relatively inexpensive offerings to extremely upscale ones.”

While some may associate online services with younger consumers, there are subscription gifts for nearly every age group, he said, noting that an entertainment subscription might be ideal for an older recipient who already has plenty of sweaters, robes, and ties.

Some businesses launched as subscription services and continue as standalone models while others are an extension of existing businesses, McCarthy noted. He offered as an example, online movie and entertainment services which existed before they were offered as gift subscriptions and continue to be available both as gifts and purchases for the consumer.

All the giver needs to know to give a subscription service is the recipient’s email address, McCarthy said. “Of course, it’s necessary to know the person’s tastes and interests, but that’s true with any gift. It’s an opportunity to introduce friends or family to products or experiences they may have never tried. If they like it, they can continue by renewing; if not, the subscription ends in a few months.” He noted that there are services that will curate what a recipient is likely to enjoy based on the person’s age, lifestyle, and other factors.

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