Not All Subscription Models Are the Same…

In the past we’ve written about subscription service models, comparing them with the “fruit of the month” clubs of past decades. While the idea of regularly sending items to club subscribers is certainly not new, today’s subscription models have grown and diversified in many exciting ways. Wineries considering a wine club subscription service will want to think through the different types and ensure that they are getting the right fulfillment services in place to maximize success.

The Basic Foundation of All Subscription Services

There are literally hundreds of subscription services serving consumers today. Popular ones, such as Birchbox, Blue Apron, Dollar Shave Club, Graze, Winc, and others have received considerable attention from consumers, bloggers, and the business community at large.


While all these services vary in their details, the business model behind them all is the same: Subscribers to a “box” club pay a monthly fee to receive a package of products compiled by the company and sent straight to their doors. The company gets predictable cash flow by charging a subscription fee, and the consumer can have the experience of trying new products (or cherished familiar products) without the need to spend time shopping.


On top of this basic model, there are different variations on the subscription club idea:

Curated vs. Customized

With a “curated” subscription box, subscribers receive items chosen by the company, with little to no input of their own. This allows the experts at the company to carefully select a variety of items and expose customers to products they might not try on their own—hence the curation concept.


The opposite of this would be the “customized” model, where subscribers have input into the contents of their boxes. This is usually controlled by a profile containing their answers to key questions asked during the signup process. For example, a customized service might ask about wine preferences (red or white, dry or sweet, etc.) and then select bottles accordingly.

Shared Drop vs. Anniversary Drop

Many companies, especially those that do curated boxes, ship on a shared drop date. Their customers all get their boxes at roughly the same time—a crucial detail when social media sharing and anticipation building are a huge part of the brand experience.


Other companies deliver boxes at regular intervals starting from the date of sign-up/purchase. This means that boxes are continually being shipped out, depending on when during the month the subscriber joined. This makes more sense for customized boxes but works with curated boxes as well.

Fixed Subscription vs. Rolling Subscription

How long the subscription lasts can vary as well. With a fixed subscription, a customer pays for a period of one, three, or six months (although other time periods are possible). This is a good option for letting customers try the service without worrying about cancellation if they do not like it. Fixed subscriptions also give you the option of offering a discount if the entire subscription is paid up-front.


The other option is a rolling subscription. With a rolling subscription, a box is sent every month for the same fee until the subscriber cancels (or subscription plans change). This is an easier option that can often keep consumers on the books longer.

Flat Fee vs. Pay for What You Keep

Most box services charge a flat fee for their delivery (although some services offer different tiers of products). Still, a different model is becoming popular for clothing and fashion: Consumers receive a box of items, get to try on the various articles, and see what works for them. They can then keep what they like and return what they don’t. Subscribers are then charged only for the items they keep.


Some services are also experimenting with a “hybrid” approach, where a monthly curation ”stylist” fee is charged every month but put toward the price of any items kept. While this would not work for wine per se, it does suggest other ideas—for example, charging a flat fee but then offering a discount on wines that are re-ordered.

Subscriptions Are a Logistics Game

To create a successful subscription service, you need to make some choices as to the above. For example, suppose you want to create (or modify) a wine club. Do you send out a carefully curated collection of your wines? Or do you allow consumers to take a quiz? Do you send out the wines at the same time every month, or on the anniversary of a subscriber’s join date?


After you’ve made these choices, you will want to talk to some 3PLs to get an idea of what services are needed to fulfill your particular model. This is important, as subscription services are a different beast from typical eCommerce: Instead of shipping one-off orders as they’re received, you will need the capability to send thousands of similar orders, perhaps more, all within a tight timeframe.


To do this, you will likely need outside help from a 3PL. Specifically, your particular business model may require:


  • Advanced packing and kitting abilities
  • Cold shipping options (during warm weather)
  • Compliance with laws in the state to which you are shipping
  • Tracking tools
  • Analytics (to predict churn rate and estimate inventory needed)
  • Procedures for adding marketing materials (catalogs, coupons, tasting cards, etc.)
  • Procedures for processing return


In short, subscription box services are much more than simply throwing a few items in a box. There are a number of small details that have to be managed, from customization and curation to packing and presentation. (Our expert panel white paper on the topic covers many of these.)


Copper Peak can help you figure out these details and scale your operation to meet demand; we specialize in craftsmanship fulfillment for the wine industry and have much experience with subscription services and wine clubs. Contact us to get a discussion going.


Remember, 13% of all subscription services fail within a year. You can’t afford to get the details wrong. But get it right, and your subscription service might be the next Birchbox, Blue Apron, or Dollar Shave Club. The DSC story, in particular, had a happy ending, and yours can as well.