Subscription Boxes Lead the Way in Direct to Consumer Sales

Subscription Boxes Work to Build Your Business

From our June Newsletter – Subscribe Today!

Over 25% of consumers are signed up for subscription box services. The industry now contains over 3,500 established box services worth roughly $10 billion. And, according to MultiChannelMerchant, 75% of DTC (Direct to Consumer) brands will offer subscription services by 2023.

As the subscription model becomes more popular, many businesses are wondering if they should ride this wave with their own subscription boxes or supply their products to mixed or mystery boxes to attract new customers.

Subscription boxes are beneficial to everyone, which is one of the reasons they have become so popular across the board. Here are some of the benefits to consumers and businesses.

Consumers

• Save money

• Try new products

The benefits to consumers are simple. Not only can they avoid running out of products that they use regularly and count on, they also save money on these products. Plus, they can discover new products in the samples included in the boxes.

Sometimes the boxes are random selections, while other times boxes are selected entirely by the consumer. Each has its own benefits.

Businesses

• Better order forecasting

• Enhance customer loyalty

• Improve bottom line

Order Forecasting

One of the challenges of retail in general is the predictability of order flow. Some businesses experience a very regular pattern throughout the year, with peak season activity predictably raising revenue. But most struggle to anticipate the order volume. Forecasting isn’t easy, especially when it’s about the future.

The subscription box model helps regulate the order flow by grouping orders and standardizing the activity among subscribed customers. Although some will cancel their subscriptions, the overall pattern will be more regular than businesses without subscription options, evening out cash flow and helping predict revenues month over month.

In the early days of e-commerce, a business would need to manually create reorder logic to ship to a customer each month. Today there are numerous services that provide this capability within existing e-commerce platforms, communicating with fulfillment partners as well as the customer and fully automating the process.

Customer Engagement and Loyalty

Subscribing to a box is an act of loyalty. This model helps build a relationship between the customer and the business. The consumer is more likely to purchase from the business that they deal with so regularly and the business has an easier time creating engagement for promotions or new items and cross-selling.

Building this level of trust paves the way for potential up-sells. Familiarity enhances customer loyalty in this case. And it’s worth noting that many of these businesses would not have encountered or attracted the customers without the exposure to product trials that subscription boxes create.

Bottom Line Benefits

Subscription boxes can also save the business money. By regulating order flow, there is more predictability in inventory, which prompts a leaner supply chain and reduces carrying costs. At the same time, the business gains new customers and a more predictable order flow.

Fulfillment Partners

• Better forecasting

• Fill niche services

Similarly, a fulfillment partner that processes subscription boxes may be able to move inventory through more quickly, cutting down on stagnant inventory. Storage costs are rarely a significant source of revenue for a fulfillment house, but they can impact a business’ bottom line.

By filling orders and utilizing inventory in a more efficient manner, a brand can achieve JIT inventory (just-in-time inventory) and smooth the supply chain so there are less stuck-in-storage costs. This is good for everyone.

Shipping large volume for a client once per month helps a 3PL better predict staffing needs. 3PLs are accustomed to ramping up staff for peak holiday seasons, but when a client has a very successful sales promotion without warning, this can create a strain on the fulfillment operation.

Subscription boxes help regulate this flow and make the peaks more predictable. Not only does the fulfillment partner benefit from more regular peak order volumes, but this improves efficiency which impacts the 3PL’s bottom line.

Much like the businesses themselves, fulfillment partners can forecast revenue more easily with the more regulated pattern lent by subscriptions.

Fulfillment services who are adept at serving the subscription box market are prepared to handle the relevant logistics. Medallion Fulfillment & Logistics and Sprocket Express have successfully worked out the kinks and are set up to provide service to this niche, which is growing rapidly. This expertise helps us provide quality service to our clients across a variety of fulfillment scenarios.

Conclusion

The subscription box model works well for all parties in the transaction.

• Predictability (of delivery, order flow, revenue)

• Efficiency

• Relationships

• Saves money (retail prices, inventory, supply chain, preparation)

If your business is not involved in subscription service, this may be a good time to research your options. Almost every brand has a product that fits in one or more of these boxes. Contact us today to see how we can help with your subscription box service needs.

Don’t Get Banned from Selling on Amazon; It Could Be Forever!

Important News and Reminders for January

Amazon.com offers small businesses and entrepreneurs ready access to a huge customer market for their goods. Of course, sellers pay a price for the opportunity to trade on Amazon’s good name, internet saturation and global market reach. Not only do private sellers often find themselves in direct competition with the internet behemoth for products and services, but Amazon holds all the cards. To protect its own reputation and maintain a satisfied customer base, Amazon’s sellers’ agreement and myriad rules stack the deck firmly in Amazon’s favor.

In order to sell on Amazon.com, sellers must follow an exacting list of expectations that dictate how and when they interact with their customers at every point in the sales process. Fail to meet Amazon’s performance expectations and you could receive a not particularly cheerful “Hello from Amazon.com” letter notifying you that your account has been blocked and your sales listings terminated. And, by the way, Amazon will be hanging onto your money for the next 90 days to cover any unresolved financial issues.

For businesses that rely on Amazon.com as a primary conduit to customers and order fulfillment, receiving one of Amazon’s computer-generated “Hello” letters can spell disaster. A big part of the problem is that the letters are computer-generated. Computer algorithms don’t care if you didn’t respond to a customer within the required 24 hours because you were hospitalized or on vacation. They’re completely unsympathetic that your approval rating appears to be in the toilet not because you provide poor service but because the only customers who have bothered to offer feedback are dissatisfied ones.

Many Amazon.com sellers complain that they’ve been unfairly booted off Amazon because they’ve fallen victim to the “law of negative averages” in which a small number of negative comments can, if they outnumber positive feedback, result in a negative feedback score. For example, if out of 50 sales, 47 customers are satisfied, but only 1 posts positive feedback while 2 dissatisfied customers post negative comments, Amazon’s trackers will record a negative average and you’ll soon be the recipient of a letter from alliance@amazon.com, Amazon’s enforcement department.

What sends sellers into a panic is the phrase “the closure of an account is a permanent action,” implying that you will be forever banned from selling on Amazon. And the ban will not only affect you, but anyone Amazon’s online trackers can connect to your name, street address or email address. All is not lost, however, sellers can petition Amazon for reinstatement and a number have done so successfully. The process is not easy; and, if reinstated, you can expect Amazon to scrutinize your account carefully for some time (and hang onto your money while they do so); but you can get back in the game.

  1. Look carefully at the points made in the letter you receive from alliance@amazon.com. Review your consumer metrics to see if you’re falling short of expectations.
  2. Respond promptly via email, explain that you feel your suspension is unfair and rebut each charge with as much factual information as possible. Attach pertinent records or letters from consumers and offer your explanation of any negative feedback.
  3. If you’ve failed to meet Amazon’s performance targets, review your sales practices and provide an action plan to correct the problem.
  4. Plead your case, emphasizing your sales and customer service record and pointing out how your product benefits consumers.
  5. Monitor your email for Amazon’s decision.

 

To prevent being terminated, keep a close eye on your email and regularly review Amazon’s agreements and help pages as Amazon may change its procedures and guidelines at any time without notifying sellers. Monitor the customer metrics Amazon provides and compare your performance to the Amazon’s seller performance targets to make certain you are hitting the expected benchmarks.

Building an E-newsletter List? Make Sure You Are CAN-SPAM Compliant

What Should You Ask Your Accountant?

Have you ever felt burned by getting a piece of mail from your bank, cable company or insurer whose envelope blared “Important Account Information Enclosed”? You know the outcome: You opened the envelope, that “important information” turned out to be an ad.

Translate that print tactic into untold millions of e-newsletters in distribution, and you will understand why the CAN-SPAM business compliance guide was created.

Email a Powerful Attraction Tactic

Even in an age of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “tweets,” email and e-newsletters — when handled right — continue to be a robust tool for marketers.

  • According to 2011 statistics published by Exact Target, 42 percent of subscribers are more likely to purchase from a company whose emails they subscribe to.
  • The other side of that coin? Content Marketing Institute notes that the e-newsletter open rate can go as low as 8 percent, with monthly newsletters averaging in the low-20 range.

So the audience making up your e-newsletter lists needs to be one you screen carefully — those on your list should be the people most likely to find your information valuable enough to subscribe and to read at least occasionally with few opt-outs. If you use purchased e-newsletter lists, ensure they are from reputable sources consisting only of “opt in” subscribers.

Keeping Out of Trouble

Once you’ve identified an audience to invite as subscribers, you must establish an acceptable template for your message. Just a few false moves, and your carefully crafted e-newsletter could end up in the spam folder.

CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003) establishes standards for commercial email, including e-newsletters. It spells out what you can and cannot say, and sets penalties for violations.

Under the CAN-SPAM rules, for example, you are required to:

  • Identify the nature of your message as an e-newsletter.
  • Tell recipients where you are located. Your e-newsletter must include both an email return address and a valid physical postal address.
  • Tell recipients how they can opt-out of your e-newsletter, and honor their request within 10 business days.

Conversely, the CAN-SPAM law prohibits:

  • False or misleading header information. In other words, the “To,” “From” and “Reply to” headers must accurately identify the person or company initiating the email.
  • Deceptive subject lines. No false promises, “gotcha” wording or other text that doesn’t reflect on the actual content of the e-newsletter.
  • Sending through an open relay or using harvested email address (both examples of technology that allows spammers to find and use lists).

And of course, the CAN-SPAM act requires you to truthfully describe any products or services you are offering for sale in your e-newsletter — and if you are positioning this information as an ad, you must identify it as such.

How to Attract More Subscribers

Subscribers can quickly become un-subscribers, so identifying and attracting new audiences is an important part of your e-newsletter strategy.

How can you encourage people to opt-in?

  • Promote your e-newsletter on your website’s homepage. Keep a colorful sign-up icon near the top of the screen, as you can never rely on visitors scrolling all the way down.
  • Invite new customers to subscribe. If someone makes a purchase through your website, follow it up with an email invitation to the newsletter. You can use the same tactic with visitors who leave contact information on your landing page.
  • Include a “send to a friend” link on every e-newsletter to encourage forwards from subscribers.
  • Promote your e-newsletter on your social media pages; include sneak-peeks of articles or offers that subscribers will find in the newsletter.
  • Offer a free gift to new subscribers. It can be a special deal or item associated with your business, or something general, such as a drawing for an iPad. (However, all giveaways and drawings must be “no purchase necessary” in nature and something anyone may enter.)

Test and Test Again

The way you handle your e-newsletter lists may change once you see how many people opt-in and opt-out of their subscriptions. As with most forms of web marketing, e-newsletters can benefit from testing and measuring results to create the ideal marketing tool for you.

Got a New Product to Sell? Get Some Tips on How to Create Demand

Grow Your Business by Thinking of More Resources than Amazon

 

It survived the concept pitch, the drawing board, R&D, prototypes, focus groups, and testing. Now your new product is ready to launch.

Whether you opt for a “soft launch” to introduce your baby to just a few markets or demographics; or a “hard launch” that involves a company-wide strategy and major rollout, you’ll want to build brand recognition and product awareness the fastest, most cost-efficient and most ROI-oriented ways as possible.

In years past, the debut of a new product into the market meant heavy investment in paid advertising. Just 10 years ago, you may have designed your launch around print ads, brochures, radio, outdoor boards… the so-called “interruption” marketing.

Today, however, consumers are more savvy and more discriminating. They’re less likely to respond to such expensive media as TV, print, or direct mail, and more likely to head for their desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. In fact, a recent survey revealed that 50 percent of today’s shoppers spend 75 percent of shopping time online!

Let’s repeat that statistic: Half of the consumers spend most of their shopping time on the Internet. It’s where they get their information and, increasingly, make their purchase decisions.

If your marketing is mired in 20th century tactics, you have a great opportunity to enjoy the benefits 21st century marketing can offer in terms of brand recognition.

The New “Word of Mouth”

A 2011 survey of small-business owners revealed a surprising fact about their attitude toward online marketing.

  • A combined 65 percent of the participants thought that the web and social media had little or no value for their business, or didn’t know enough about it to form an opinion;
  • But at least 50 percent agreed that “word of mouth” is a major force in attracting customers and prospects.

Here’s the point where these two ideas (dis)connect: Today’s word of mouth comes from the web.

Social media, websites, forums… that’s where people go to share information, communicate with businesses, comment on products and make recommendations to others. They’re where you need to be.

Content Drives Consideration

Having a website for your business is one thing. Optimizing that site so that people seek it out is another. To establish or boost brand recognition, your site needs to be a destination. The good content you provide makes this happen.

What do we mean by “good content”? Let’s start by defining what good content isn’t. It isn’t an unsolicited email, a coupon or an ad. Web users are bombarded with such sales pitches every day, and will largely ignore yours. Good content isn’t a press release about your latest award, or an announcement of a new location. In other words, it’s not about you.

It’s all about your customers and prospects – what they find compelling, or what worries them. Consumers want facts and proof, not promises. So your good content can:

  • Outline a common problem consumers face and show how your product or service provides a solution.
  • Give background information into your industry that helps people understand how your product came to be.
  • Offer a guide to safety or security tied to your industry.
  • Provide statistics on the way people use the product or service you offer.

Factual, insightful or entertaining content engages consumers in a way that paid ads do not.

When introducing a new product, you’ll face an understandably wary audience. Good content establishes you as more credible.

Get Seen to Get Leads

Building brand awareness, and qualified leads, through content starts with grabbing attention through the media that matters:

  • Blogs. A series of informative articles, peppered with the search engine optimization (SEO) words and phrases a search engine recognizes most, will boost your website to the top of the Google results. Other text-based online marketing includes reports, e-newsletters and industry white papers.
  • Multimedia. Think of what you might pay for one run of a local TV commercial – plenty. Compare that to producing engaging, entertaining videos and posting them to YouTube for free. Videos, podcasts and infographics get responses from consumers. The best go viral.
  • Social Networking. Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks attract communities who share an interest in the product or service you provide. Post your content to your social media page, and you’ll be in a good position to net new “friends” or “followers” who will comment on, and share, your offerings.

Once you’ve built a community of visitors interested in what you have to say, you can use strategic landing pages to gather their contact information in exchange for more, or exclusive, content. This tactic narrows the field from casual searchers to qualified leads.

Does This Strategy Work?
Yes – countless small businesses are using the power of the Internet to build brand recognition for their new products. It could work for you, too.

Why Offering Free Shipping will Increase Your Online Orders

During the Coronavirus Pandemic Boost Sales with Free Shipping

Shipping plays a huge role in e-Commerce.  Free shipping is increasingly the number one promotional tool used to entice online shoppers during the virus pandemic. Many of the major online players including Amazon and Walmart offer free shipping. Free shipping is a major tool retailers use to attract new customers and keep existing customers.

According to comScore, a leading Internet marketing research company, during the first three weeks of the holiday season in 2010, 45 percent of transactions included free shipping, the percentage rose to 50 percent by the 21st of November, increased to 55 percent in the week ending November 28 and was still at a high rate of 51 percent in the week ending December 5. It’s important to note, transactions using free shipping for the week ending December 5, 2010 averaged $125.20, 45 percent higher than orders using paid shipping.

> Consumers Expect Free Shipping

Due to the prevalence of free shipping in online retailing, consumers expect it when shopping on the Web. A recent comScore survey showed 84 percent of consumers indicated free shipping was somewhat or very important when making purchases and may be even more important during the virus pandemic.

Jeffrey Grau, principal analyst at eMarketer, said “Free shipping makes e-commerce more appealing. A lot of people won’t buy from a website if there isn’t some sort of free shipping. It’s almost a requirement.”  He went on to say “Retailers have to decide for themselves whether the potentially higher sales can justify absorbing the shipping costs. They’re going to hope for higher volume and slightly lower margins. They’ll try to make up the cost in higher volume” (E-Commerce Times).

Free Shipping Day, held on the 17th of December, is an example of the power free shipping has on consumers. In 2009, Free Shipping Day accounted for $586 million non-travel retail spending and surged to $942 million in 2010, a 61 percent increase (comScore).

Azita Arvani, principal of the Arvani Group, said “The biggest friction points in online shopping are payment and shipping. By offering free shipping, it reduces a key friction point, which should result in more sales, provided the offer is not too restrictive to a point of being meaningless to the consumer” (E-Commerce Times).

> Don’t Ignore the Trend

The free shipping strategy includes the prospects of thinner margins or higher prices on merchandise, however online retailers who ignore the trend will likely have lower transaction volumes. By enticing consumers with free shipping, retailers may be able to avoid offering deep discounts on their merchandise.

Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT stated “Free shipping is always a bonus, especially when money is tight, consumers are getting creative. They want a high-dollar item that won’t have a stiff shipping fee. Getting the shipping free makes sense” (E-Commerce Times).

> Free Shipping, a Daily Promotion

Increasingly, free shipping has become a daily promotion in online retailing. According to comScore, in the third quarter of 2010, 41 percent of all online retail transactions included free shipping. Gary Reblin, Vice President, Domestic Products , U.S. Postal service, believes the growth trend in e-commerce transactions coupled with free shipping in the business-to-consumer segment continues to be the number one compelling force in the shipping industry (Source: PARCEL).

Free shipping is a great way to stay competitive and increase sales. Free shipping is also a good way to get rid of last year’s merchandise. However, to keep a healthy profit margin   it’s vital for retailers to partner with a savvy, experienced fulfillment service such as Medallion Fulfillment and Logistics to keep shipping costs low. A knowledgeable fulfillment company knows how to take care of a large increase in orders and can negotiate based on volume for the lowest packaging and shipping rate possible.

As you plan your virus pandemic selling strategy, consider that consumers have come to expect free shipping during the year and in the holiday season – free shipping can make or break your own promotion projections.