How BarkBox’s DTC Model Fetches Customers

What can a pet product marketing agency or business learn from BarkBox’s success with their subscription, DTC retail model?

Ecommerce analysts already considered pet industry marketing as one of the most rapidly growing sectors. That began years before the rapid spike in online sales generated by the coronavirus outbreak. Along with all of the good news about online pet sales, BarkBox relied upon a DTC, subscription model to rank as a notable success story. Since 2012, the company has mailed boxes of canine goodies to millions of dogs and more recently, partnered with such large retailers as Amazon and Target to open new markets. Find out how BarkBox converted so many pet owners into loyal customers.

What’s novel about BarkBox’s pet industry marketing strategy?

BarkBox’s business model has relied upon sending out a box of pet treats, toys, and accessories to subscribers each month. According to Business Insider, the company has mailed these boxes to over two million pets (and their owners) since its founding in 2012. To understand how this company’s pet product marketing works, it’s helpful to first take a look at the products and services they offer.

What’s in a BarkBox box?

To keep their offerings interesting, the packages have a theme each month. For instance, they might have a holiday-themed box in December or a dinosaur-themed assortment in June. Every month, subscribers get two toys, treats, a chew toy, and a special item for the month’s theme. In-house designers create the toys and test them on the company’s own dogs.

To get started, customers create a profile by answering some questions about their dog, so the packages are somewhat customized to the pet’s diet and size. Customers can also choose between plush toys or Super-Chewer, non-plush toys.

After the simple and quick subscription process, customers can choose between:

  • One box for $29
  • Six months for $25 a month
  • One year for $22 a month

A Business Insider reviewer ordered the treats for her own dog and was pleased with the quantity and quality of the products she received. Treats were free from common allergens and the toys held up to rough play. Her dog appeared to like everything, and the company gives customers the option to reorder certain items on their own. They also offer a money-back guarantee in case a customer gets something in the box that their pet either doesn’t like or can’t have.

In addition, BarkBox donates a percentage of their profits to services that provide free and low-cost vet services. Their pet packaging design has been described as somewhat kitschy and dog-centric, which appeals to pet owners. Overall, the reviewer felt pleased with the quality and suitability of most of the items and the value and customer service that she received for her money.

How has BarkBox expanded upon their DTC subscription model?

At first, the company’s pet marketing services mostly relied upon their own DTC subscriptions. More recently, they’ve expanded to offering both individual products and subscriptions on Amazon. As just one example, Fox News said they have earned revenue of over $1 million just from sales of one popular dog bed offered on the retail giant. According to Mark Meeker, the company’s CEO, the additional sales from Amazon have given them their first across-the-board profitable year.

Working with Amazon, BarkBox still sold directly to consumers. They’ve also expanded to retail sales, both online and in physical stores, through a partnership with Target. A company spokesperson said that they knew lots of pet owners still bought supplies offline, and they wanted to get their products in front of these customers too.

The BarkBox response to the coronavirus outbreak

Even though it’s possible to find BarkBox items in some stores, they still mostly rely upon online sales, either through their own website or through Amazon. During the outbreak, eCommerce has boomed, and pet products have been a major contributor. The company has responded to the outbreak by allowing more flexibility with its subscriptions, since they understand some of their customers may face financial uncertainty.

With the rise in online sales and even in pet ownership during this crisis, this flexibility hasn’t appeared to hurt them at all. In fact, it’s generated good buzz for the brand, and sales have remained strong.

They’ve also responded to some common disruptions that have plagued most companies during this crisis. For instance:

  • They’ve reported on their FAQ page that they have had to scramble with supply chains to prevent delays in production and delivery.
  • The company has also worked with their factories to ensure proper safety precautions to protect their employees, their customers, and of course, their customers’ pets.
  • They have also assured customers that their pet product packaging is probably safe since the CDC said that the virus would not survive on surfaces long.

In any case, BarkBox appeared to do a good job addressing both customer concerns and typical issues they faced during this market disruption. In general, customers understand that they may experience some delays during a crisis. They tend to respond well when businesses communicate transparently about issues. Naturally, customers won’t tend to tolerate businesses that might take chances with their health or that of employees and communities.

How did BarkBox succeed with their DTC, subscription model?

In many subscription categories, BarkBox first emerged as the only company offering these kind of pet products. As consumers began to adopt this model, they may have not even had any other choices, so BarkBox got some attention for innovation. Still, even most subscription sellers deal with higher churn rates than BarkBox does.

Why has this particular pet food supplier enjoyed so much success retaining customers? Typically, customers opt into these kind of subscriptions partly for convenience and value. If they’re disappointed or simply underwhelmed with the product or service, they cancel at the first opportunity. It’s fair to argue that BarkBox went out of their way to deliver quality and good service, so they didn’t have problems with armies of disgruntled customers or poor reviews. For example, most people say that they would easily pay more for the same quality of treats, toys, and chews if they bought them at a pet store or online without the subscription.

Even more unique, BarkBox delivers a sort of mystery bag each month. While it’s possibly easier to please dogs than people, it’s also fair to consider Henrik Werdelin’s, one of the company’s founders, observations that what they really deliver is an experience. He said that what customers really get isn’t just high-quality, novel, and appropriate products. They’re really getting a chance to share the fun and excitement of opening the box and sharing with their pets.

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