Retail Woes? What About Subscriptions to Stuff?

pet_food_on_shelf.jpg120 cans of cat food per month.

There aren’t a lot of constants in life, but one of mine is that my two cats go through 120 cans of cat food every four weeks, come hell or high water.

That’s a lot of cat food to lug home, particularly in New York City, where we residents tend to be car-less. But recently a friend of a friend turned me on to Amazon’s subscribe-and-save feature. Voila! Now, each month like clockwork, those 120 cans magically appear on my doorstep. I get a 15 percent discount on the product, and there’s no shipping fee (the major pet retailers such as Petco offer subscriptions as well, but the shipping fees make their version of a subscription service prohibitively expensive).

In this, the most dismal era of consumer consumption in memory, why isn’t Amazon doing more to promote this indispensable service? And why don’t more online retailers follow suit?

Diapers. Over-the-counter medications. Grocery items. Personal care items. Snacks. Office supplies. Everyone’s got a product they can’t live without. Most consumers have products that require regularly scheduled replenishing, from blades for razors to filters for humidifiers.

Guaranteeing this level of service and savings doesn’t just make sense for consumers, but also for online merchants, who can bank on a lock on this portion of consumer spending. The trick is to make it economically worthwhile for buyers, with flexible options to change, cancel, accelerate or postpone orders (as Amazon does via a simple interface).

Guaranteed customer loyalty is nothing for retailers to sneeze at. If you’re selling online, what portion of those sales can you market as a subscription? And how will you promote that service? We all know the power of word of mouth marketing, but even mighty Amazon isn’t going out of its way to spread the word on its subscription services.

There’s some serious opportunity here for retailers to subscribe to customer loyalty by allowing their customers to subscribe to their services.

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