The charm of curated subscription boxes

A number of platforms are offering thoughtfully put together gift box sets with eco-conscious cosmetics, books, pet snacks and more

Avantika Bhuyan
First Published22 Jun 2024, 04:00 PM IST
A Children's Book Box by Boxwalla
A Children’s Book Box by Boxwalla

Imagine a thoughtfully curated box, featuring the best of fiction and poetry books, gourmet snacks or clean beauty products, landing at your doorstep at regular intervals. All you need to do is choose a subscription plan with a service that matches your taste and interests, and a set of curators will put together a box for you.

Such subscription box services are quite popular, both as a form of self-care and for thoughtful gifting, internationally, particularly in the US. A May article on The Strategist, a New York Magazine site, states that “subscription boxes land right in a good-gift sweet spot of being thoughtful without requiring too much effort. All you have to do is select the one that best matches your recipient’s interests, and your gift will continue to surprise and delight for several weeks or months.” The boxes could range from the regular and mainstream to the niche—there are coffee boxes in which a service uses quizzes to match the subscribers’ tastes with the offerings by a diverse set of roasters, snack and tea offerings sourced from family-owned businesses in Japan, and even a box set on the choicest sprinkles and decorations required by amateur bakers. There are even kits available on subscription, such as the Bitsbox Basic Box, for budding coders.

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In India too, in recent years, there has been rising interest in subscription services. You have a monthly box of 10 healthy snacks, and more, on Snackible, for instance. Flower subscriptions are available on Shades of Spring that can be delivered at frequencies of every seven, 14 or 28 days. Another niche service is Woof Box, a monthly surprise for your pet containing treats, essentials and grooming products. The service also features a special Meow Box for your feline family members.

The latest addition to this growing segment is the Boxwalla, which launched in India in April. Described as a “discovery platform for curious people”, it was founded in 2015 by California-based duo Lavanya Krishnan and Sandeep Bethanabhotla to explore the “art of slowness” via a subscription box service. In recent years, they have created tasteful boxes on beauty, books, artisanal food, film, fashion, music and more, to be received every two months. In India, the beauty boxes are outside of the subscription model and are available as limited edition ones.

In the US, Boxwalla caters to tens of thousands of customers with a majority of women aged between 30 to 55 years. These customers come from all backgrounds and ethnicities from all over the world, with most of them working across various industries.

That’s the general age range of the people opting for such services, more so after the pandemic, according to the founders of the subscription box services we spoke with.

After covid, people, in general, have become keener to get more personalised and customised services. They don’t just want a curation that is tasteful or premium, but also one that satiates their quest for discovery and exploration. The rise in travel in the past three years to find new places or find fresh narratives in previously visited places is being mirrored in the need among consumers to find a selection of product experiences that tell a story as well.

The average price points for such services is 1,000 and upwards, depending on what you desire inside the box.

At Boxwalla, for instance, most of the curation comes from Krishnan and Bethanabhotla. They often also collaborate with like-minded creative practitioners on boxes—both subscription-based and limited edition. Take, for example, the American Fiction curation by Alexander Chee, author of acclaimed novels such as The Queen Of The Night and the collection of essays, How To Write An Autobiographical Novel.

“We had been talking about reading diversely for a while now, and so even within American Fiction we wanted to highlight great American writers, beyond the gatekeeping. Chee, also a fan of subscription boxes, had similar tastes as us, and his selections reflected the heterogenous fabric of the country,” adds Krishnan.

For the India launch, Krishnan and Bethanabhotla focus on beauty, featuring brands like African Botanics, Lovinah & Oio Labs that showcase the range of luxury plant-based beauty, literary fiction for adults and children and film boxes from The Criterion Collection. The book subscription box is available at 1,499 and comes with two books and a bookish gift.

For every box, the curators choose one book and the subscriber gets a choice of the second one out of three options such as The Door by Magda Szabo, Gazing Eastwards by Romila Thapar and James by Percival Everett.

While the concept of a subscription box is still relatively in India, Bethanabhotla believes the consumers are discerning enough. “We all use subscriptions—be it for Netflix, Prime Video, or to access other kinds of media. So people are already well-versed with the idea. Indian readers want to discover authors and genres hitherto unknown to them, and that’s where we come in,” he says.

WoofBox, founded by Ritika Sharma four years ago, too, has seen the market evolve. It started from a personal need to find premium products—toys, treats, accessories, food—for her two German Shepherd dogs. Whenever she and her husband would walk into a pet store, they would end up purchasing a lot of things that they either didn’t need or the quality was not top notch. That is when they thought that it would be a good idea to come up with a model that could bring good quality premium products to people’s doorsteps.

“People love to spend a lot on pets but many times they don’t know if it is good for them or not. We know from experience about what works for pets,” she adds.

The couple also looked closely at BarkBox, a similar subscription service in the US. “However, their boxes are theme-based. Here, it is important to be necessity-oriented. The model of subscription boxes, while being popular for beauty and wellness segments, is not entirely well-known for pet products. But we feel that it is important for us to continue” she says. WoofBox sends out many boxes every month.

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“The consumer mindset is such that why should I pay in advance for something I may or may not like. So, we introduced a one-month box, priced at 1,888, for those who want to try it out. And then, they subscribe for longer three, six and 12-month subscriptions which deliver value for money and customised products——the last three being for those who have tried the box and realise the value that we provide,” says Sharma.

No two boxes that are shipped across India are the same. They are curated based on the breed, size, age and allergies of the pet.

“Every dog is different and so are their needs. So, we have also introduced specialty boxes like Chew Master, which is curated for extensive chewers, Trick2Treat containing mentally stimulating toys that keep dogs engaged for long, and a Birthday WoofBox, which is curated to celebrate the pooches’ big day,” she elaborates.

Curation is key to such services. Krishnan says she tries every product before including it. “I have enough experience now about how a certain product will work, say with different skin types. I am able to extend that subjective experience to predict how it will work for a range of people,” she elaborates.

The curation stems from a fundamental question—what is your favourite versus what is great? “It is completely okay to have a favourite that is not great, but you should know the difference.”

Whatever your interest, subscription boxes usher in an element of surprise and excitement. That’s perhaps their biggest pull.

Also read: Source: A luxury shopping guide where places play muse




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First Published:22 Jun 2024, 04:00 PM IST
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