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How Subscription Services Are Changing Brand and Consumer Habits

When it comes to this evolving landscape, there are things to both celebrate and watch out for.

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the past, we consumed products and services largely by purchasing them at shopping malls and supermarkets. These days, we live such busy lives that all we want is enough of the things we need for life to run smoothly. Subscription services fit that need so we never miss a beat, and it's why we’re currently seeing the model explode out in real-time.

As with most things in life, there are positives and negatives to consider as we continue indulging these innovations.

Positives

Intelligent data and financial stability

Historically, retailers captured consumer data through their tills at the moment of checkout using a Point of Sale system (POS). Brands could then look at the collected data and calculate the relative market share of their products and services. In a subscription world lacking direct interaction, brands have access to intelligent data collected online that provides insight into how we're using products and services. 

For brands, in addition to establishing a more intimate relationship with consumers through data, the subscription model provides certainty because it locks consumers in for a specific amount of time, producing more stable revenue.

Related: 5 New Consumer Buying Habits That Can Transform Your Business

Time for things that matter

When we’re working or we want to visit friends and family members, the thought of doing more mundane domestic tasks can be a drag. Why worry about having to go to the grocery store every week when we can place an order and set a recurring delivery through the app or service of our choosing? Being able to order things online and having them delivered to our door gives us more time to do the things that really matter to us.

More choices

Subscription services are changing the way we consume visual content as well. We have the major video streaming platforms like Netflix, and then we have those that are more niche, or what we call linear TV, where, for example, you can subscribe to a news channel. I don't know about you, but I drift in and out of so many series and episodes that I lose track of what I've been watching. As funny as it sounds, we’ve become very promiscuous in terms of how we consume content these days. We’re in and out of different forms of entertainment all of the time.

As a result, in terms of the consumption of some services, allyship is being built. For others, it’s less about building allegiance and more about giving us choices. Ten years ago, if you liked one song, you were bound to buy a whole album. Now, with music-streaming subscriptions, you can listen to all of your favorite songs on a monthly basis for the same amount you would’ve paid for just one album. You get to listen to what you want, and artists collect royalties fractionalized into smaller contributions across a number of different tracks. The music industry has come full circle as it is effectively a singles market once again, as it was pre-1960s.

Related: Future Buying Trends that Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Negatives

Increased expectations

For all of the insights brands are picking up through our use of subscription services, our expectations of what they do with that data will increasingly amplify. Personally, it's become harder and harder for content on streaming services to live up to my expectations. Sometimes it’s as if shows and movies are just thrown together, and the quality is dissipating. The level of expectation we have these days is much higher and will increasingly become a challenge.

Less desire to try something new

Back in the day, if you needed deodorant you went to the store with a brand already in mind and bought it. The beauty of in-person shopping is that it creates a moment of hesitancy in the mind of the consumer because seeing another brand for the first time might just prompt a decision to try something new. Today, with subscription services, that moment of hesitancy ceases to exist.

Too many choices

On the other hand, subscription services provide unbridled choice. This sounds great, but it can actually be the opposite when you end up spending too much time deliberating what you want to watch or which brand of deodorant you should buy. Many of us want to simplify our lives and, to some degree, there are subscriptions out there that are actually making it more complex by providing too many choices. 

Add in the handling of several subscriptions that require remembering logins and passwords, and things can quickly become overwhelming. Brands need to watch out for the complexity that subscriptions present in our lives. The focus should be on making life easier.

The dual-device phenomenon

There is a danger of overload and fatigue here, particularly with streaming subscriptions. You have to be quite disciplined about what it is you want to watch and try to do that with one device rather than dual device screening — where you’re simultaneously watching a show on TV and looking at social media on your phone. We’re all doing it to different degrees, and for brands, it’s really quite challenging. How can they grab your attention when you're so distracted?

Related: 5 Game-Changing Ecommerce Trends in 2022

Staying competitive

Subscriptions are great, and they give us access to services that we wouldn't necessarily have thought we wanted, but this can be a good and bad thing. 

Moving forward, I think there will be a great reset of subscription services at some point. The pandemic has taught us that there are a host of applications and tools that can simplify and make our lives easier, but there are an awful lot of things that, in truth, we like to go out and do as social beings. 

I'm not someone who thinks that Covid-19 and streaming services will lead to the death of the cinema, but they will force theater operators to invest in the customer experience. Brick-and-mortar companies in general that want to stay competitive will also have to focus on going above and beyond in terms of hospitality, customer service and satisfaction. If brands want people to physically visit their business, they’re going to have to create something immersive that reminds consumers of why in-person interaction is better than an online subscription service.

Stephen Day

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Stephen Day is Chief Procurement Officer at Kantar. He specializes in supply chain, purchasing, multi-country transformation and change, having led many operational transformations and new business-model developments to support enterprise-wide evolution from products to services and more.