The Subscription Economy: The changing nature of gifting and the rise of the self-gifter

The Subscription Economy: The changing nature of gifting and the rise of the self-gifter

Key points

Episode 4 Contributors

Moi-Meme
https://www.moi-meme.co.uk/ @moimemebox

Mila and Pheebs
https://www.milaandpheebs.com/ @milaandpheebs

All Subscription Boxes
https://www.allsubscriptionboxes.co.uk/ @AllBoxes

The first three sections of findings from Royal Mail’s report on the UK Subscription Box Boom discussed the market overall, regional trends and opportunities for businesses in the subscription box market*. As Christmas approaches, the fourth instalment looks at the role subscription boxes play in gifting and self-gifting.

Gifting is responsible for over a quarter of spending on subscription box products, equating to £160 million. A further £423 million is spent on self-gifting subscription boxes. The gifting market is a key avenue for subscription businesses, including shoppers who gift to their friends and family as well as the growing trend for self-gifting. Subscription boxes could make the perfect Christmas gift for many consumers!

While ninety per cent of subscription shoppers bought for themselves, almost a third (32 per cent) bought as gifts on behalf of somebody else, with 45 per cent of 18-24 year olds buying into such boxes as a gift. With the rise of online retail driving a decline in demand in some traditional gifting categories, subscription boxes – particularly those that deliver interesting products that the recipient potentially hasn’t tried before – are helping to fill the void.

For this podcast, we spoke to a number of businesses in the subscription box industry. One of those being Alexis Hughes from Mila and Pheebs. She explains why her craft kits for kids work particularly well as gifts: “I have quite a few subscribers whereby they will subscribe to a box for their granddaughter or niece or even their own children and it's a gift. Maybe they'll do it every six months or so and then pick it up again. We get a lot of feedback from customers who are abroad and still have family living in Britain. They can subscribe from wherever they are but don't have to worry about buying anything or shipping it. They buy a subscription and every single month that present goes through the post with a little gift tag. It makes it really easy and really simple to send presents and gifts to people.”


"We get a lot of feedback from customers who are abroad and still have family living in Britain.

They can subscribe from wherever they are but don't have to worry about buying anything or shipping it."

Alexis Hughes, Mila and Pheebs


When it comes to purchasing on behalf of somebody else, refer and recommendation is key for discovery, with 54 per cent purchasing after being recommended by someone, and 44 per cent after reading good reviews.

The growing influence of subscription boxes as gifts is reflected by the 36 per cent who felt their purchase was a thoughtful gift to buy someone. 

For gift recipients, their feedback was that it was good to try something new (32 per cent), they appreciated the gift (29 per cent) and liked the subscription model (27 per cent).

We also spoke to Prita Das from Allsubscriptionboxes.co.uk for our fourth podcast in the series. She said: “It takes a bit of the stress away making sure that you've picked exactly the right product or exactly the right brand of beauty brand when you know that you've got an expert team doing it for you. You’re sure to like receiving a subscription box because it's very thoughtful. It feels like it's personalized and often they are, especially with beauty and wine and even animal boxes you can customize it according to your preferences. So you know it's guaranteed to please the person.”

Food and drink is the largest gifting category with UK consumers spending £83 million on gifting such boxes. Food and drink is also a large self-gifting category with UK subscribers spending £208 million on themselves. When it comes to health and beauty, £15 million is spent on gifting compared to £28 million on self-gifting such boxes. £4.5 million is spent on gifting entertainment and books subscription boxes, compared to £8 million on self-gifting.


"It takes a bit of the stress away making sure that you've picked exactly the right product or exactly the right brand when you know that you've got an expert team doing it for you.

You’re sure to like receiving a subscription box because it's very thoughtful."

Prita Das, allsubscriptionboxes.co.uk


Treat yourself!

There is an increasing desire for shoppers to treat themselves, reflecting the strong element of self-gifting involved with many subscription purchases.

In addition to the near one third of subscription buyers who have signed up to a subscription service as a gift, 42 per cent of those who signed up for themselves did so as a treat, reflecting the importance of both gifting and self-gifting in this market. Subscription brands have encouraged this trend with a focus on the element of surprise, as well as innovative and unique products.

The element of surprise, having someone else curate a selection based on your profile and getting to try out exciting new products are some of the reasons subscription boxes are well suited to gifting and self-gifting. These factors have been particularly key to the rapid rise of beauty boxes. These subscription boxes also help to take some of the hassle out of the decision making process. This is a key factor given the increasingly stressful and time-pressured lives of today’s shoppers.

We also spoke to Camilla Bourquin from Moi-Même for the podcast and she commented on self-gifting: “For Moi-Même and for other gift-based subscription businesses, the appeal comes from the surprise element. People mainly order online but as much as it's nice when that order arrives, you still know what you're going to get. You've still chosen it and you've paid for it and you know what's coming. Having that surprise element, having a parcel arrive in the post where you have no idea what's going to be in there. We're really careful about not putting too many spoilers out beforehand and opening that up and the joy that brings to people. There are very few surprises out there so I think that is probably the main appeal for people.”

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