Subscription Fulfillment: A New Model for Office Supplies

Business.com / Strategy / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

A look at subscription services and discounts, how they benefit the consumer and the retailer, and subscription programs available.

Wouldn't it be nice if the next time you needed to order office supplies, they were already there?

That's the idea behind subscription services. Sign up to receive regular shipments at a designated frequency and you won't have to worry about reordering. Additionally, in many cases you get a discount or special treatment because you've made an upfront commitment. Meanwhile, the supplier has a better handle on inventory levels with a more realistic anticipation of future revenues. And it develops long-term customer relationships and continuing loyalty. It's a model used to sell pet supplies, groceries, and even vinyl records.

Related Article9 Benefits of Subscription Selling

Pet Supplies by Subscription

For example, PetFlow's Auto-Ship lets subscribers set a delivery for any of its products every two to 12 weeks. PetFlow sends you an email reminder a week before shipment in case you want to make changes or even skip a delivery. There are no subscription fees and you can cancel any time. In addition, Auto-Ship customers receive exclusive sales and promotions.

The company started in 2010. According to The New York Times, a year later its revenue exceeded $13 million, with 60 percent of it from subscription sales. Other firms have noticed and now consumers can get everything from shaving supplies to groceries delivered to their homes automatically every month.

Office Supplies by Subscription

So, how many times have you run out of paper or ink cartridges or something as basic as a felt-tip marker? The subscription model would seem to be a perfect fit for office supplies, where the need is steady and the quantity is predictable.

Surprisingly, the big office supply outlets have not embraced the office-supply-by-subscription model. This includes Staples or Office Depot. So we'll look at three other providers: Office supply retailer Shoplet.com, Amazon's news Subscribe & Save program, and Target's subscription service.

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Shoplet.com Schedule & Save

Shoplet.com is a successful business supply outlet with a Web front end. Shoplet has managed to survive in the difficult online retail market with a combination of low prices, free shipping on orders over $25, and terrific customer service.

At Shoplet.com, you can choose to Subscribe and Save on almost any item the store carries -- unlike Amazon and Target, where the range of products available on subscription is still small. Shoplet allows you to schedule delivery from every week to every two months in one-week increments.

You can Schedule & Save at Shoplet.com using an old order -- just check the items on an old invoice that you want on subscription, and set the delivery interval. You can name and save multiple lists, one for the shipping department, one for accounting, one for bathroom supplies, for example, and each list can have a different delivery schedule.

Amazon Subscribe & Save

Amazon subscribers earn a 15 percent discount, plus free shipping, on any qualified product listed on the website. When you select an eligible item, you choose the quantity and delivery schedule, and click the "Subscribe Now" button. You can opt for delivery in increments from every one month to six months. You can cancel at any time, without penalty. Most individual subscriptions are 5 percent off. If you receive five or more subscriptions on the same delivery day, the discount can go up to 15 percent.

Eligible product categories include not only general business office supplies, but also items from other Amazon categories: industrial and scientific, health and personal care, household, pet supplies, and, yes, office supplies. The problem is the selection for office supplies is very limited. Some common office needs such as printer ink cartridges or printer paper -- even pens and notebooks -- aren't Subscribe & Save eligible items yet.

Target Subscriptions

Target recently launched a subscription service for roughly 1,500 items than can be delivered in four- to 12-week increments. You get 5 percent off all orders, plus free shipping. And, you get an extra 5 percent off if you use Target's REDCard debit or credit card. Target's home and office category includes only three items: furnace filters, batteries, and -- more significantly -- printer ink. Target only recently launched the service, in June, following a trial last fall. So, if printer ink subscriptions take off, perhaps they will expand with other office supplies.

The subscription model for office supplies is a great idea. The trend is just starting, and you can get in on the ground floor by signing-up for one of these services today. As more business take advantage of subscription savings discounts, we can expect to see more of the products businesses need covered by subscription programs.

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