We sat down with three of the most popular subscription box reviewers to get their thoughts on some of the most common questions new (and even seasoned) box owners have about packing, presentation, and getting publicity. Including in the interview is Wendy, who runs Two Little Rosebuds, Brandy, who runs Hello Subscription, and Liz, who runs My Subscription Addiction.
We sourced out questions from existing business owners, prospective business owners, and from some FAQs we hear about the review and publishing process.
PACKAGING AND INSERTS
How important is custom packaging to you?
Wendy: Honestly, if the items inside are awesome I really don’t give much thought to the packaging itself. Of course, if I receive a box that’s beautifully presented I’ll definitely take note of that and mention it in the review. One thing I hate to see is a company that spends a lot on custom packaging and then allows the contents to suffer. I recently received a new box (I won’t mention any names!) that was impressive on the outside but VERY underwhelming once opened. Custom packaging is nice, but actual curation is what I base my reviews on.
Brandy: It’s not essential (except for really luxe boxes), but I like to see a little decoration on the boxes if they’re not custom – but custom boxes may cost nearly the same, so keep that in mind. In reviews, I definitely will not take a picture of the box if it’s ugly. One of our reviewers, Anna, notes that many boxes can’t be composted because of their inks – definitely something to keep in mind for boxes in the eco & green space.
Liz: I think packaging is important, especially for subscription boxes. They’re meant to feel special and you want that experience to start as soon as you see the box. The other thing that’s important is that its professional feeling. You’re letting customers know you’re professional.
Does having really nice inserts, etc, add value in your opinion?
Wendy: I wouldn’t say that it adds value, per say. It definitely makes for a more pleasant unboxing experience, but like I said about the custom boxes — it’s all about the contents.
Brandy: I like having one nice, legible insert. One box I get has an illustrator design the card each month; it’s really nice and framable. I prefer only one insert per box.
Liz: I do like cards and nice prints; something like a postcard is a cool addition sometimes. It does at some specialness to the box. Just don’t put a price on it! That can spoil the experience.
CURATION AND PRODUCT SOURCING
How does/when does curation to trump value?
Wendy: “Overall value” is always a tricky thing to determine with subscription boxes. Especially when it comes to handcrafted/artisan/“niche” items. If it looks like a lot of work/care was put into curating a box to say, a specific theme, I definitely take that into consideration. Some boxes are more about convenience/saving time than “getting your money’s worth” and I try to get that across in my reviews.
Brandy: Personally, I think it depends on the vertical. For example, if it’s an artisan food box, I think as long as the contents are worth the price + shipping it’s a good value. A kids’ activity box we don’t tally up the cost of the material as long as the kids love the contents – I’m paying for the value of having that experience for my kids. If the box isn’t providing that kind of unique experience and doesn’t solve a big pain point for people, then I think it really needs to be focused on providing market value.
Liz: For the vast majority of our readers, the value is at the top of the list in terms of importance. Curation is important too, but a typical reader would be looking for value. There’s a market for it, but there’s not a large market.
Do the number of items matter to you each month if it’s the same value?
Wendy: It depends. Generally, I’d say no. However, for something like a snack box I’d much rather receive a variety of smaller (lower value) snacks to try than to get a full-sized item that I may not even like (thus receiving less items to make up the cost of the larger one).
Brandy: Well, it’s hard to feel worth it if the box feels empty, even if the items inside are amazing. I caution against using cheap filler items that just aren’t as good as the other items. I never want to see an item detracting from the quality of the other products in the box.
Liz: It’s an interesting question. On the one hand, if there 5 items that are evenly valued, there still feeling good about that box if one of those items is off. On the other hand, if you have 1 really high value item and 2 lesser value items, then it’s risky. It might feel empty, and more risky is that if someone doesn’t like the high priced item, then the box feels like a waste. I think it’s a good idea to do a spoiler of the high value item if you have a low quantity box with 1 high value item.
Do monthly “themes” matter to you/add to the experience?
Wendy: I’m sort of a sucker for a good theme. Especially when they involve holidays/seasonal-related items. So, yes. Bring on the themes!
Brandy: Boxes don’t need themes, but even a box without a theme can pull one off occasionally if all the stars align. I do like sharing theme sneak peeks, so it’s a way for boxes to get a little more exposure. If you do a theme, make sure it makes sense with the products.
Liz: I don’t think you need to do it, but it can help and it gets people excited. They’re great for spoilers. If you use one, just don’t be too specific – use basic overall themes. I think they’re a fun way to experience a box if done well.
HOW YOU DECIDE WHAT TO SUBSCRIBE TO/WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT BOXES:
If you had two similar boxes from different companies, what would you look for when choosing one over the other?
Wendy: As a customer, price. I’d look for a coupon code or some kind of promo offer and choose the one with the most savings.
Brandy: My decision when it comes between 2 similar boxes is really based on previous items from the box – which ones do I like more? Which did I use more, which did I enjoy opening best, did I value the experience, etc.
Liz: Based on past boxes/reviews a lot of the time. Exclusive items can really move the needle. Ie. New released books, new book goodies, some type of exclusive content.
What do the best boxes consistently do to impress you?
Wendy: Continually send high-quality, well made products at a reasonable monthly cost. It’s really just that simple. 🙂
Brandy: I really am impressed when I use everything from a box. Even if it’s not a “Wow!” experience when I open it, I think being able to use everything is always impressive and I remember it during my next review!
Liz: I think the element of surprise is a big part of it. I love boxes that have items you wouldn’t normally come across. Something newly launched, limited edition, or otherwise uniquely special. Consistent value is also awesome. I also really like when my favorite boxes do limited edition boxes because I can gift those to friends and family.
Have you ever tried a box when they just launched? What did they do to impress you/attract your readers?
Wendy: Yes, quite a few. I’m usually impressed by boxes that are unique or have something different to offer customers. Snack and beauty boxes are great, but it’s exciting to get a box that falls into a category all of its own. I’d say readers generally feel the same. Offering some kind of discount or special offer is always a good idea to attract new customers. If I don’t have a coupon code to publish with a review of a new box, I often get asked if they have one available. People are all about getting good deals.
Brandy: We do try a lot of first time boxes – we’re a lot more interested in trying a first time box from a subscription that seems to have everything all together – they already have their branding down pat, professional photos, and have been working on engaging potential customers already. Readers are ultimately attracted by the value of the box to them, but coupon codes help a lot in taking the plunge with a new subscription.
Liz: Well, we’re always hesitant with a first-time box. They need to assure us that stock and inventory is going to be there. They might get a big bump from us, then not be able to meet those expectations, which is bad for our readers. I also suggest that once they launched, we do one or two reviews, then we have a conversation about advertising – not sooner than that. Other than that, I think the best launches have been the ones that look professional with nice photos that help assure customers the box is going to be great. New boxes tend to be using stock photos, and I feel like it’s a bit cheesy and makes them less likely to be successful.
WORKING WITH YOU/OTHER REVIEWERS:
What is something all subscription boxes could do to make your job easier?
Wendy: Include info cards!! I get a LOT of boxes for review, so anything that saves me from having to look up product descriptions and retail prices on my own is MUCH appreciated. (Just don’t inflate the prices!)
Brandy: Put a piece of collateral in box! A packing list, a welcome card, anything. I do not like digital packing lists, because sometimes you don’t know if something is something supposed to be there. Also, I love boxes that come up with unique and secure ways of packing their boxes without squiggles (kraft paper). Finally, boxes should keep in mind email volume – there’s no need to email that your box has arrived on my doorstep. Similarly, there’s no need to ask if it did arrive – check your tracking number!
Keep your emails to the stuff that matters – and if there’s something important enough for me to know about, it should also be on your website. Being upfront and open with contact information and answers for subscribers is important. It’s frustrating to get subscriber emails because the boxes don’t provide a method of contact or fully answer basic questions on their website! I oftentimes have problems locating the cutoff date for subscriptions – so I wish that would be more prominent on many boxes’ sites.
Liz: Okay, I’d answer this in two parts, one for the customer and one for me as a reviewer. For the customers, 1) Make sure it’s clear when people get the box. “If I sign up today, will I get this box?” Is our number one question. 2) Make sure your FAQs really answer FAQs. Sometimes they’re branded questions, which is okay, but you need to make sure your basic info is clear. 3) If you’re a new box, make sure your social media and contact information is accurate and accessible.
For reviewers, there are definitely some things I’d suggest. 1) When a person sees a review of a new box, a lot of time they tell us “Future reviews will make me decide,” so please keep sending boxes! I think a lot of boxes think it’s one-and-done with reviewing. 2) Keep us and your customers updated on shipping timelines and if something is going to be late. Just send an email! 3) The packing list needs to be there. We want something to reference even if we don’t always read the whole card.
How can someone tell the difference between a “good” reviewer with real influence and a “poor” reviewer with little influence?
Wendy: Most people would say the number of readers/followers they have and where they rank in Google, but I don’t necessarily agree. Yes, having SEO power is good, but the quality of the content is sometimes lacking on a lot of “bigger” sites. It’s easy to tell when a reviewer “phones it in”. (Obvious typos, nonsensical sentences, poor photos, very short reviews, etc.) Also, when a review site gets really popular, they often end up farming their reviews out to other people (which isn’t necessarily bad), but then there’s never a consistent voice for the readers or the companies sending in their boxes for review.
Brandy: We like pair boxes with someone on our review team with a person that matches the interest of the box – for example, a backyard farm box would go to one of our reviewers that actually has a backyard farm! Read previous reviews on the site – are they consistently able to evaluate boxes like yours with their existing knowledge, or is it a lot of guessing or saying I can’t use this? If it’s the latter, it might not be a good match.
Liz: Look at their social media metrics and look at their engagement. You should also look at something similar to your business on their site. If they reviewed a similar product, you should be able to see some engagement around it. Maybe reach out to the company and ask for their results. Hopefully they’re willing to share some info with you!
Have More Questions for Subscription Box Bloggers?
We’ll be updating this piece with additional interviews with other bloggers and reviewers, so make a point to come back to catch the updates. If you have more questions, post them in the comments below for the opportunity for them to be added to the list.
A special thanks to Wendy, Brandy and Liz for contributing their answers!