The monthly supply of happiness

Updated: Jun 28, 2020, 08:01 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

As the economy takes a downturn and jobs are hit, will subscription businesses survive? It all depends, believe observers, on who is peddling what we "need"

Vishakha Naware has swapped her TataSky membership for a Kindle Unlimited subscription as it's a more productive way to spend time with her son
Vishakha Naware has swapped her TataSky membership for a Kindle Unlimited subscription as it's a more productive way to spend time with her son

WHO would've imagined that a health crisis would coerce everyone to keenly consider what they need, and spend on. Ordering in, eating out, visits to the neighbourhood pub, even that gym membership is now under scrutiny. If you were paying for three OTT platforms, two music streaming apps, a fashion website that delivers clothes once a quarter, a website that sends a secret box of gadgets and your monthly fix of fresh-roasted coffee, it's likely that you have decided to cull the list.

In an online essay dated December 2019, Amandeep Singh, Business Director, VMLY&R India, said that the subscription business is reported to have grown in India by more than 300 per cent over the last seven years. "Subscription as a concept is misunderstood in our country by consumers as well as many business owners, who classify it as either a box or rental. However, at the heart of subscription lies Customer Centricity. It is all about putting consumers right in the centre and creating a personalised experience for them enabled by technology." In fact, he had expressed a positive outlook for 2020, with, "I expect to see a rise in not only physical subscription services but also new-tech enabled options where AI is used to enhance everyday experiences."

Jigar Vora, founder of Scriberr, a subscription business aggregator, says, that due to supply chains being disrupted during the lockdown, the subscription business has slowed down. "Normalisation will take months. We have seen beauty products being hit the hardest. But essentials like sanitary equipment, and coffee, are still doing well." Products that consumers believe they need will continue to find favour because subscription will reduce the need to step out for shopping. "But yes, we won't see people order socks, or clothes, or lingerie. But we will see them order masks, a fresh supply that comes every month. We have to change the business model to give customers the essentials that add value to their lives. The subscription models that will work are those that will offer solutions to problems."

Dhimaan Shah of StyleCracker, which delivers personalised  and curated fashion boxes to your doorstep, says that growth will be slow till 2021, seeing a spike only  during Diwali
Dhimaan Shah of StyleCracker, which delivers personalised and curated fashion boxes to your doorstep, says that growth will be slow till 2021, seeing a spike only during Diwali

When this writer reached out to Geek Crate, a personalised tech box service, we received a mail that said they have suspended operations. Dhimaan Shah, co-founder of StyleCracker, a fashion portal that aims to be your personal stylist, sending you regular consignments of clothes and accessories, believes "normal" shopping won't return before the end of the year. And yet, he clarifies, their strong subscription base has kept them going. "After the lockdown was particularly lifted, we experienced revenge buying, but now it is slowing down. It should pick up around Diwali maybe. We will see this as a period of 'hurry slowly' and use it to build connections with the existing base. We have been doing personal sessions where our stylists tell our members how to style something they already own. We won't see growth, but we will work our way out of it."

Matt Chitharanjan of Blue Tokai says coffee subscription has remained stable as it’s a routine people find comfort in
Matt Chitharanjan of Blue Tokai says coffee subscription has remained stable as it's a routine people find comfort in

Unlike niche products, the essential category subscription businesses seem to be booming. Matt Chitharanjan, the Delhi-based co-founder of Blue Tokai coffee, says that their subscriptions haven't dwindled since most people now prefer drinking coffee at home. The online coffee business was started with the intent to popularise the little-known coffee growing plantations in India. "Once you start drinking a certain coffee, you tend to stick to it. It becomes an essential and routine, which seems to be providing a familiar comfort at a time when our lives are disrupted."

Sarvesh Shashi of Sarva Yoga says their app installs have gone up 360 per cent from April to May
Sarvesh Shashi of Sarva Yoga says their app installs have gone up 360 per cent from April to May

Products and services to do around wellness and fitness therefore, are also seeing interest. A company spokesperson at CureFit, a wellness portal that offers clean eating and fitness services, says, "Once the lockdown commenced, we initially offered free access to our live workout classes on the cure.fit app. The response was great. In June, we launched the monetised version of our cult.live classes including a free trial for new users. Currently, we are offering three months, six months and 12-month packs for our digital offerings. Our existing offline subscribers with valid subscriptions of cult.fit and mind.fit get complimentary access to the same. Our membership has grown since we started selling our cult.live packs online. And since there is still very little clarity on when fitness centres will re-open, we plan to continue this model." Even online yoga, an Indian favourite, has seen a resurgence. The SARVA App, which offers a variety of yoga content free, has placed the Immunity Builder Programme behind a paywall. Sarvesh Shashi, its founder, says that the install growth from April to May 2020 has been 360 per cent. "The membership is definitely growing at a rapid pace and there are a number of factors responsible, including restricted movement during the ongoing lockdown, interest around International Yoga Day and the addition of content such as Sarva Features, which is a masterclass series. We're seeing maximum traction for the Live classes on the app with a repeat rate of over 91 per cent."

With theatres yet to open, television channels telecasting re-runs in the absence of fresh content due to a ban on shooting, it is OTT platforms that have emerged the clear winners in the entertainment category. Market research and analysis firm Velocity MR conducted a survey during the lockdown which revealed that 75 per cent Indians had got themselves new subscriptions for portals such as Amazon, Netflix and Hotstar. We also were informed that Spotify India, which ran a mid-year subscription offer in India recently, benefited since it saw many new subscribers come on board.

Freelance event management professional Craig Afonso and his three friends share their solo Netflix  subscription, in a bid to save;
Freelance event management professional Craig Afonso and his three friends share their solo Netflix  subscription, in a bid to save

Some users are united—the lockdown has made them value their time and money. Craig Afonso, a freelance event management professional, says that he has cancelled all subscriptions except Netflix, Hotstar and Spotify. "I am a freelancer, and I am not getting a salary anymore. So I rather use my resources well. My friends and I are sharing a Netflix subscription. Four of us use it. So we share the expense."

Jhanvi Thakkar, who lives alone, has got herself additional OTT memberships
Jhanvi Thakkar, who lives alone, has got herself additional OTT memberships 

While Jhanvi Thakkar, 28, who works with an MNC in Bengaluru, signed up for OTT subscriptions because "a cheerful movie offers me hope at a time when I'm alone". German language trainer Vishakha Naware, gave up on her Tata Sky subscription when she realised "no one was watching it", and swapped it for a Kindle Unlimited subscription so she could read with her son. "It's also about what helps us be productive." Exactly why PR consultant Sahana Rai cancelled all the OTT subscriptions she had at one go. "I was not working to my optimum since I was addicted to watching shows and movies. Nobody talks of this as an addiction. It can be. I think I have managed to save money, sanity and time."

Sahana Rai gave up all OTT subscriptions since she realised that they were interfering with work
Sahana Rai gave up all OTT subscriptions since she realised that they were interfering with work

Breaking it down

  • Netflix costs Rs 749 per month, while Amazon Prime costs R999 for a year. HotStar costs R1,499 a month.
  • Spotify premium will cost you Rs 699 for a whole year, while Saavn comes to R399 a year.
  • StyleCracker's monthly membership costs Rs 1,999 a month, which includes tips from a stylist.
  • Blue Tokai's subscription comes in three varaitions—six deliveries for Rs 2,200, 12 for Rs 4,350 and 24 for Rs 8,600.

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