PhotoRemember when companies would offer special discounts on their  products if you joined a consumer club? The old CD clubs like Columbia House were like that, where you were sent a bunch of new music, and chose which CDs you wanted to keep.

Then of course there was (and, yes, still is) the Book of the Month Club, as well as food clubs, home decorating clubs — you name it. But with the explosion of the Internet and the sudden rise of online shopping, monthly clubs that relied on post office delivery went away just as fast as it became popular.

Well as they say—what’s old eventually becomes new again—and all of a sudden a bunch of start-ups around the U.S. have returned to the idea of offering subscription based clubs to sell its products.

But what’s different this time around is companies are using the Internet to better learn about their customer base, so the products sent are much more tailored to the individual and not just a random selection of items.

Kids' clothes

PhotoThe children’s clothing company Wittlebee is a prime example of a start-up that offers subscription based shopping for its members, by using the newness of the Internet along with the old method of post office delivery.

The company asks parents to fill out profile pages for their children so it can get a firm idea of what style, sizes and overall looks you and your child are going for.

In about two weeks after filling out the profile, members will receive a box of clothes through the mail for their child, and each package is valued at around $100, the company says.  You can bypass each shippment if you don't like what's selected for you, or you can completely stop the shipments altogehter.

Wittlebee is just one of the many start-ups that have rebelled against the trend of online shopping as more and more companies are seeing that not everyone wants to purchase things virtually.

Selling mystery

PhotoIn fact, many of these companies are not only selling products, they’re also selling the anticipation of receiving something new. It’s kind of what makes a Christmas or birthday gift so fun to get, because although you’re involved in what’s being mailed to you, there’s still an element of surprise.

In other words, start-ups are counting on the fact that consumers still like to have a little mystery when it comes to receiving new products, and getting a box each month and being surprised about what’s chosen for you  is a lot of fun for many consumers.

TastingRoom.com is another start-up that’s going the subscription route, as it partners with some of the top wineries, and then mails you monthly wine samples each month.

From there, members can see what they like and order full bottles on the company’s website, so they can not only discover new wines each month, but they’re also able to be more educated about the wines they spend money on.

This can potentially alleviate purchasing something you don’t like, or buying something you find just average.

Certainly wine clubs aren’t a new invention, but not many clubs let you taste the wines before you purchase a full bottle. Each monthly sample will run you between $20 and $30 depending on the type of wine you select, and certain subscriptions offer a $4.99 monthly shipping rate.

Surprise! Healthy snacks

PhotoHealthy Surprise is another start-up that’s relying on the subscription model to build its customer base.

For $33 to $99 a month, depending on what size box you choose, the health food company sends you a package of healthy snacks that aren’t sold in stores, and each item is made by both popular and obscure health food companies—so consumers are bound to be introduced to a product they’ve never heard of or tried before.

And for coffee lovers, Craft Coffee offers monthly samples of premium coffees from different parts of the U.S., where members can sample various brands and decide which ones they want to buy more of. Those interested in Craft Coffee can either sign up for a $19.99 yearly subscription, a $22.49 monthly subscription or a monthly membership for $24.99.

It will be interesting to see how well these start-ups do with subscriptions being so much a part of their successes or failures. It’s possible that people miss being able to hold an actual product in their hands before buying the complete version of it.

Sure consumers still visit brick and mortar stores to test products out, but one usually doesn’t buy smaller versions of that product to sample it before buying it.

Also, many of these start-ups rely heavily on the Internet, which also makes the modern day subscription service very different from those consumer clubs of the past.

With the old version of subscription clubs, consumers weren’t really involved with the items that were mailed to them, and many times you would just hope to find something that you actually wanted to keep.

The new version of subscription services promise to send you things that are better tailored to your likings and taste, which could make all the difference in the world  on whether monthly clubs will be popular again and used by more companies. I guess we'll all soon see.


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