Would you pay for a goodie box if you didn’t know what exactly is inside it? Seems you would, as the international trend of subscription-based surprise boxes finds takers in India
A large, neatly wrapped white box sporting blue ribbons arrives at my doorstep. “Spoil yourself silly,” reads the tag. As I open it — after peeling through layers of bubble wrap — a note peeking through the contents addresses me with a “Hello Gorgeous”.
Inside, there’s a SpongeBob umbrella, a pair of watermelon-shaped slippers, detox tea, chunky earrings and an herbal eye pillow. Not exactly the things I would pick up on a trip to the mall. But was I happy to receive this little parcel of goodies? Hell, yes. Sugarbox, a recently launched subscription-based service, sends over monthly boxes of curated knick-knacks based on a theme. As it turns out, the theme for this box was monsoon.
On their website, themes range from ‘red carpet’ and ‘beach edition’ to even ‘girls’ night in’. That box has Hershey’s chocolates, cupcake-shaped handmade soaps (because, you know, you can’t get enough of cupcakes) and quirky earphones, among other things.
Expect the unexpected
But why would anyone pay to get a box (whose contents are unknown) delivered to his/her doorstep? “Women in metros have disposable income. And they don’t need a man to make them feel special,” reasons Niharika Jhunjhunwala (25) of Sugarbox. A popular concept in the west, subscription-based services are slowly gaining ground in India’s e-commerce story. The biggest draw is the surprise element that most of them offer. “You never know what’s in the box and that’s the best part,” says Shuporna Ghosh, a 30-year-old communications professional, who is a regular subscriber. Right from beauty and make-up products to baubles, artisanal teas to desserts, a new subscription service seems to be cropping up every month. Priced between `500 and `1,800 a month, these boxes not only aim to surprise, but help consumers discover new products. As a result, they also help brands reach their target audience with a ready product rather than a TV commercial.
For instance, My Envy Box, an Indo-French company which launched in October, 2013, sends out four to five trial-sized beauty products from top international brands every month. Expect brands like Shiseido, Elie Saab, Lancôme and Estée Lauder to make it home without you going hunting for them.
Another service, Embellishment Box, sends trendy jewellery and fashion accessories every month. The Little Bauble Box, too, is a jewellery subscription box but with a twist: once you subscribe to a box, you get to pick the items you’d like to wear. Once you’re done wearing that designer anklet or the turquoise earring, you can return the box for a fresh one.
Powai-based Fab Bag is the oldest player in the segment. Launched over two years ago, it sends over a bunch of beauty and make-up products for subscribers to try out. “Internationally, the trend is more discovery-led. Indian shoppers place high importance on value for money,” says Kaushik Mukherjee, CEO, Fab Bag.
In 2010, when Birchbox was launched by two Harvard Business School graduates in the US, investors asked them an obvious question: why would customers pay $10 (`660 approx.) a month for a box of cosmetic samples Birchbox had received for free from manufacturers? The answer to that is in the fact that, today, it is one of the most successful subscription-based models with its own e-commerce site (birchbox.com) and a loyal customer base. Now, there is subscription box for all your needs — from pet food to raw, plant-based snacks, organic food to DIY kits for home décor. Recently, Sephora, one of the biggest cosmetic retailers in the US (and soon to open in India), also started a subscription-based home delivery service called Play.
With the precedent existing internationally, in India, too, most brands don’t mind sponsoring sample products, since these services help them reach their target customer. “One of our brands, which has two stores in Delhi, wanted to reach out to customers in that particular pin code. We are able to offer that kind of filtration,” says Mukherjee. Many of these subscription services also send out their samples to fashion and beauty bloggers for reviews, which helps them get noticed.
But what about the men? “The men’s grooming market is not mature in India, whereas the women’s segment is perfect,” adds Mukherjee. Sugarbox does a men’s edition called Pepper Box, only on special occasions, such as Raksha Bandhan or Father’s Day. This year, they had goodies like fedora hats, hair wax, funky socks and airplane-shaped cufflinks. It saw reasonable success. Fab Bag too has a men’s edition with styling crèmes and body scrubs.
While beauty products dominate these services, they also include artisanal teas, baking products and desserts. Teabox, a two-and-a-half-year-old tea company recently launched a service to send out fresh teas to customers. “The idea was to reach people within seven days of production of tea,” says founder Kaushal Dugar, who grew up in Darjeeling. To identify the kind of tea best suited for customers, they are encouraged to take an online quiz. Based on the results, a curated box is sent out for sampling. Most of its current customers are based in Europe, apart from the US and China, but Teabox has plans to expand in India, too.
Encouraged by the idea of gifting, Mumbai-based Icing on Top, a dessert service offers surprise dessert boxes that have sweet and savoury options like crunchy crackers, mini cinnamon cookies and mini chocolate chip cookies. “These little tin boxes with their summer-y and vintage feel make for a great gift for your loved ones,” says Ayushi Shah of Icing on Top.
But how narcissistic does one have to be to gift things to oneself? Jhunjhunwala claims that it’s about the ‘feel good factor’. “We make it a point to send our boxes at the end of the month. This way, even after you’ve spent all your money, you have reason to cheer,” she says.
What’s in the box?
Fab Bag: Beauty and cosmetic products (fabbag.com)
Rs 599 for a month’s subscription
Sugarbox: Fashion, beauty, lifestyle and gourmet products (sugarbox.in)
Rs 1,499 for a month’s subscription
The Little Bauble Box: Trendy designer jewellery (thelittlebaublebox.com)
Rs 2699 for a box
My Envy Box: Beauty products from international brands (myenvybox.com)
Rs 899 for a month’s subscription
Teabox: Fresh tea that matches your taste (teabox.com)
Rs 499 per month
Icing on Top: Mini desserts and savouries | Call: 9867013315/9920254119
Rs 500 per box
Embellishment Box: Jewellery and trinkets (embellishmentbox.com)
Rs 1,200 per box
Gourmet Box: Hand-picked gourmet products from all over the world (thegourmetbox.in)
Rs 700 per box
Being Juliet: The box arrives five days before your periods with goodies to cheer you up (beingjuliet.com )
Rs 1650 for a three-month subscription
(The writer tweets as @CultureCola)