Before You Get Dad a Subscription Box, Consider This

Woman standing in front of packages that have arrived by mail

With so many (thousands!) of niche subscription boxes, designed for virtually every interest and taste, it can be tempting to gift a subscription. And they can be wonderful.

I enjoy the occasional subscription gift. A close friend gave me a Cowgirl Creamery “Cheese of the Month” annual membership, and there’s a very good chance I will be renewing at the end of the year.

But be careful. While you might feel very clever joining a tie-of-the-month club on behalf of your dad, how many formal accessories does one man really need? And even though you have great intentions in getting him a subscription to the New Yorker, you don’t want to be responsible for the subscription guilt he feels if the magazines begin to pile up.

Be aware that many people feel guilty canceling (or not continuing) a subscription purchased by a family member or close friends.

As is the case with all gifts, put yourself in your recipient’s shoes before you make a commitment. It’s not as bad as a puppy, but subscriptions aren’t called “forever transactions” for nothing!

All of this being said, subscriptions can be a really fun and creative gift — a way to expose a loved one to something new, or provide a delightful indulgence that they wouldn’t otherwise buy, or give them a regular reminder that you care.

If you really want to give a subscription gift this year, make sure it’s something that they’re going to use, and not get overwhelmed by. And if it feels a little indulgent, either in the packaging, or the contents, or both, that’s good too.

Here are some of the most gift-able subscriptions. There are literally thousands, so I limited my suggestions to B. For Baxter. Hint Hint.

$49.99/month plus shipping. A variety of craft beers, personalized for the recipient.

About $30/month. But make sure Dad us the one who loves the dog before you subscribe to this fun package of cute canine treats and call it a gift for Dad.

At least $100 per shipment. High quality, well-sourced steaks, bacon, burgers and other meat.

The one that started it all, originally becoming popular among post-war moms trying to expand their horizons and those of their kids.

But here’s some advice that I share each year, and which I think is still useful.

Robbie’s General Subscription Box Advice:

If you do decide to buy a subscription box package as a gift this year, you’ll likely be able to find a great one that will delight even the toughest-to-please person on your list. But first, ask these important questions:

Are they going to appreciate the subscription box model? Does the recipient enjoy frequently getting new stuff, or are they hard to shop for because they don’t really need or want much?

Your recipient may not want a monthly subscription for more stuff. Does she really need a scent of the month each month? Or does he really need a series of new pocket squares? Probably not. If this is the case, make sure that whatever subscription you choose will truly resonate with the receiver. Otherwise, it could miss the mark horribly.

Is it a product and community they really care about (and will use)? First of all, make sure that the items in the box are the kinds of things your recipient will actually use. If your spouse loves milk chocolate, but the box contains chocolates of all varieties as well as chocolate-themed t-shirts, posters, and socks, they might not enjoy it as much. At that point, it’s just more unwanted and unneeded junk in the house. But if the box contains new varieties of milk chocolate — you might hit a bull’s-eye!

Who is going to continue the payments — you or the recipient? The tricky thing about subscription boxes is that someone will be dealing with a monthly charge. Unless you plan to pick up the tab forever, your gift receiver is going to wind up getting harassed to subscribe himself or herself. It’s important to think about this factor before you sign anyone up.

Remember, your recipients have not given permission for the subscription box company to mail, bill, or otherwise contact them. So protect their inbox, mail, and phone by making sure all communications about billing go to you and not to them. If they like the box and want to subscribe after your gift runs out, you can always help them set it up later.

Do the quantities make sense for your recipient? One shortfall among some subscription services is that they force you to receive more product than you can use in a month’s time. Certain companies have made a (bad) name for themselves by sending products faster than their customers can use up their previous shipments. Don’t sign your loved ones up for boxes that can’t be customized to suit their needs.

Does the company hide the cancel button? Many subscription box services make it difficult to unsubscribe by hiding the cancel button or the customer service contact information. Be sure to choose a highly rated service that makes it easy for your dad, your best friend, or your aunt to manage their subscriptions or cancel outright when the time comes.

Companies should never build brand loyalty by making it hard for customers to manage their relationships or end those relationships when they aren’t working. Before signing your friends and family members up, check out their cancellation policy. It should be very easy to unsubscribe or get in touch with customer service whenever there’s a problem. But if you can’t find the cancel button, steer clear!

Is the company committed to keeping the customer at the center of its business? Many subscription boxes fall short on providing a well-curated product. A good subscription has a forever promise — that the company will “help you achieve your goal” and “treat you fairly and like a friend” in exchange for recurring revenue commitment. But too many of these companies either serve a goal you don’t really have or take advantage of your trust — and that gives memberships a bad name.

Subscription boxes look like a win-win gift solution at first blush, but the reality can be much trickier. Make sure that the subscriptions you choose for your loved ones really do suit their needs and lifestyles, and will continue to do so month after month. And remember that in the case of subscription boxes, a seemingly great forever subscription could end up being a big holiday headache that nobody really wants or needs.

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Robbie K Baxter

Author of THE FOREVER TRANSACTION & THE MEMBERSHIP ECONOMY; Leading expert on membership models and subscription pricing.