Boxing clever - the subscription box explosion

Alex Calvin
Boxing clever - the subscription box explosion

It seems you can pick up a subscription box for just about anything these days.

Are you after an assortment of healthy snacks? Graze has you covered. What about make-up? Then try Glossybox.

So it's no surprise then that a number of these subscription boxes have appeared within the game and geek space. Chief among these is American company Loot Crate, which goes out to over 100,000 subscribers. The concept for these services is simple – consumers pay a monthly fee for a box of themed content. They have only a vague concept of what might be inside.

Some have even popped up in the UK, with a number of companies trying to cash in on the boom of the geek market. MyGeekBox launched at the start of 2014, while The Hut Group started its Zbox last December. Meanwhile, Scottish firm MyRetroGameBox arrived at the start of this year.

A lot of the recent popularity of subscription boxes is down to the boom in the industry in general,” MyGeekBox manager Kirk McKeand. Geekiness and gaming are no longer niche, and encompass all ages and backgrounds. Combine this with the boom in the superhero cinema scene and you've got a cocktail for success.”

The Hut Group's head of merchandise Joe Anderton adds: There's always been an appetite for products and collectibles associated with these big games and films. Marvel is going from strength-to-strength in the UK. It's always been thought of as a being led by American audiences, but the appetite is there in the UK. We were hoping to tap into that. The amount of people going to see Avengers: Age of Ultron is huge, so you have the customer base there – kids after toys and adults who have grown up with Marvel comics – and suddenly its becoming cool and they're keen to get their hands on products associated with that. That's hopefully what we're allowing them to do.”

"Publishers can promote really
cool products to our database
of collectors and geeks."

Joe Anderton, The Hut Group

But why would entertainment giants like Marvel want to get involved with these boxes?

We entered the merchandise market about eighteen months ago,” Anderton says. The idea was to drive more business through the studios and publishers directly and to sell more games and DVDs off the back of that. It's a chance for companies to diversify and to supply merchandise directly.

It's a great idea for whatever the games publishers or studio priorities are around that time. They can get a really cool product promoting their film to our key database of geeks and collectors. It's a bit of PR around whatever key titles are coming that month. If you can get some Call of Duty into a box then there'll be a higher awareness around that title. There's always going to be opportunities for us to create unique boxes for tentpole releases.”

McKeand adds: We have a team that sources products and we generally just buy them in large quantities from wholesalers. We are working with a couple of publishers on some exciting things, We're always looking to work with more.”

And so far, the reception to these schemes has been mostly positive.

Reception has been fantastic,” McKeand says. We have a decent number of subscribers who have been with us since the very beginning and they're brilliant. Obviously, not everyone will love every item in the boxes, but we always try to put a nice variety in each one, so we hope there's always going to be something our customers really love.”

Anderton adds that it's most been good, but there have been some minor issues: From consumers, reception has been diverse. We have taken on board some minor criticisms. A lot of the feedback has been that we've pretty much hit the ground running. Because of the relationships we have with the industry, we've been able to deliver great products from the get-go. Other companies have had a bit of a learning curve as they've had to go from nothing. whereas we already have those connections. We are growing every month. Companies are keen to get involved.”

McKeand concludes: We're a generally new and exciting distribution model and we have a passionate community full of video game enthusiasts - you only have to look at our social media channels to see how vibrant our community is.”


WHY A BOX?

These subscription box companies are selling merchandise from some of the most prolific entertainment brands the world has. Surely these items would sell on their own – so why even put them together in a box?

We started off with our merchandise division in January of last year,” Hut Group buyer Joe Anderton says. It was a multi-million pound business in year one. But we still wanted to grow that side of things.

We saw other people doing subscription boxes – it just makes perfect sense to add that. We've had a few exclusive products on our site.

Zbox is not in any way going to cannibalise our merchandise offer. We have big plans to grow that this year and next year. It's an incremental offer.”

MyGeekBox manager Kirk McKeand adds: People like so many franchises that sometimes it's a bit of a task to grab yourself a collectible when overwhelmed by choice. That's where we come in. With us, each month you get a little surprise, almost like the birthday feeling you got when you were a child. Who wouldn't want to revisit that?”

This feeling of surprise is something that MyRetroGameBox's Katy Craig agrees with: People actually like the idea of not knowing what they are getting. It's so easy to go online and buy whatever you want but it's a new kind of thing to not know what you are getting. With these subscription boxes, they're all quality items. People really feel like they're getting a bargain as well.”


CASE STUDY: MyRetroGameBox

MyRetroGameBox founder Katy Craig was a long-time fan of subscription boxes, and signed up to one for Japanese stationary.

Her partner wanted one for retro games – and after being unable to find one, the couple decided to set up their own.

We're just little at the moment. It's myself and my partner, who are working from home doing it,” Craig says.

Our customer isn't an avid collector, because they are already spending all of their time and effort getting the best prices on games anyway. Our market is the casual collector, or not just players who are interested in retro stuff.

Some people are saying we aren't worth the money as they're going to get five copies of the same game. And obviously that wasn't our idea, but people know they can get games for cheaper sometimes. But obviously we send out boxes that are far above and beyond the value.”

Despite the issues, MyRetroGameBox has gone down a storm – something the firm did not expect.

Working from home means we have one room to work from. For the amount of games we want to buy we need a warehouse. But we still kind of have to keep it small, because what happens if all the retro games get bought up and there are no more?” asks Craig.

We just didn't think it would be so popular. We thought it would be a totally niche thing that 50 people would sign up to.

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