I am very good at buying gifts. There aren’t many things I’ll tell you I’m great at; I’m very neat with a pair of scissors, I make world-class scrambled eggs, and I can fast-forward through adverts to press play at exactly the first second of any TV programme, every time. That’s pretty much it.Except for gift-giving. I just nail gifts, and I’m happy to share my secret. There are three rules that result in a perfectly posited, well-received gift every time. A gift should…
- Show how well you know the person – it relates to a memory you share, a comment they once made, an interest of theirs or the values they live by
- Be a complete surprise – the best gifts are ones the recipient didn’t know they wanted, and ideally didn’t even know existed. This is why I hate present lists as they ruin the element of surprise
- Be something they would never buy themselves – my brother-in-law once bought my sister a grout pen as a present and, honestly, I’m surprised their marriage survived it. Gifting is not the time for practicality.
Now, there are obvious exceptions to the above. Don’t use this list as reason to ignore a registry for a wedding or baby shower. If your friend tells you their 2-year-old has too many toys but is rapidly growing out of their clothes, don’t buy them a wooden hobby horse just because it’s chic and by The White Company.
But for most gift-giving occasions the perfect gift is a surprise, a delight and an opportunity to say “I know you, I love having you in my life, and you deserve this thing which I know you wouldn’t or couldn’t treat yourself to of your own accord.”
And that leads me on to my new favourite types of gift: the subscription gift.
The first time I bought a subscription as a gift was 8 years ago. It was cake to your door – a different flavour of tray bake in brown packaging, through the letterbox each month. I bought it for my big sister while she was busily training to be a barrister in London – the idea of a surprise sweet treat arriving at her door (but crucially not needing anyone home to receive it) after a long day of baby barristering seemed perfect. Of course, now she’s a Cordon Bleu-trained patisserie chef, the days of buying her cake are very much over.
But I was thrilled by the novelty of the product. Subscription services were rarer in those days – Graze led the way with their healthy snack home delivery model, but only a handful of others followed.Over the last few years, a burgeoning Subscription Economy has gone from strength to strength, with start-up businesses democratising every product out there – from leggings to loo roll – packaging it in recycled boxes and sending it directly to you, in regular intervals, for a regular fee.
Why are subscription gifts thriving?
Simply, businesses and consumers love subscriptions.For the business, they have a reliable forecast of future income. They know how much revenue they will see each month, how much stock to order and can neatly manage their supply chain while swerving cash flow problems.
As consumers in a difficult economy, we’re moving toward subscriptions and micro-transactions over big upfront payments. It’s the same principle as mobile network providers offering “free” handsets in exchange for higher contract values. The cost of your phone is represented (and then some) in those higher monthly payments but £40 a month for two years is easier to stomach than £800 upfront.
And so, while subscriptions are newly gaining traction as an economy all of their own, a lot of these businesses are not as innovative as their sleek branding would suggest. Some digital disruptors are using a ‘member’s club’ model you may recognise from your parent’s Costco card. Beauty Pie, the “luxury buyer’s club”, charge a monthly membership fee on a sliding scale that offers customers the chance to shop their products at cost price. The more you pay monthly, the more products you’re allowed to buy. Beauty Pie don’t make money from shifting Japanese serums or brow pencils (just like Costco’s mark-up on goods was minimal) – they make all their revenue from the subscription fees.
Why a subscription gift is the best gift you can buy
But whether they’re truly disruptive or simply new dogs selling old tricks, there’s no denying the sheer loveliness of subscriptions given as gifts.They allow you to give a gift several times over throughout the year, delivering an often-forgotten-about moment of joy when the recipient isn’t expecting it. For those of us who’s friends are scattered across the country, it’s a reminder to check in – “My delivery just arrived, it made my day! How are things with you?”
And of course, it is still slightly thrilling when something arrives at your door that isn’t shaped like a bill or a Deliveroo-summoned Wagamama. Even my fortnightly veg box feels like a present from past me to current me.
If I’ve successfully converted you to the joy of subscription gifting, what’s out there to choose from? Dig a little, and you can easily find yourself buried under a metaphorical mountain of little brown packages pouring through the letterbox. So I’ve curated a selection of my favourites, from artisanal food providers to surprise paperbacks, at a range of price points. Happy gifting!
For caffeine and book lovers
The Coffee & Book Club by Bookishly delivers a pack of freshly roasted coffee and a surprise vintage paperback to your loved one. It’s perfect for the friend whose self-care ritual is more book-shaped than sheet-mask-shaped.
Pricing: £29.95 for 3 deliveries over 3 months; £59.20 for 6 deliveries over 6 months (other options available)
For the suit-ably stylish
Unique and whimsical men’s socks are the name of the game for The London Sock Exchange. Miniature repeated motifs in all sorts of themes – think racehorses, ice cream cones or avocados – come in boxes of threes. There’s also a great option to fill the box with any old socks and send them off for free to be recycled.
Pricing: £40 for 2 deliveries over 6 months; £74 for 4 deliveries over 12 months (other options available)
For the house plant hunter
A different houseplant, shipped carefully to your door each month by Sprout London, chosen for variety and seasonality. This gift is perfect for that friend whose home toes the line between ‘botanical boho’ and ‘Day of the Triffids’.
Pricing: £45 for 3 deliveries over 3 months; £75 for 6 deliveries over 6 months
For the retro record lover
For the vinyl collector, a hand-picked selection of records from The Retro. They’re chosen by music fanatics according to preferences you contribute (but don’t worry – they can be updated and changed by the recipient at any time in case you get something not-quite-right!).
Pricing: £29.95 per month (options available)
For the craft beer fanatic
You may have heard of Beer52 on literally any podcast, but if not, they ship a selection of themed craft beers from around the world, accompanied by a crunchy snack and an artisanal beer magazine. You can also add a stylish illustrated card with a personalised message.
Pricing: £24 for 1 month; £69 for 3 deliveries over 3 months (other options available)
For curious little ones
The book boxes from Little Box of Books are thoughtfully curated selections of titles in different age ranges, along with stickers, puzzles and reading guides. For every box ordered, a book is donated to charity partner Doorstep Library. It’s perfect for little ones who read voraciously, while those who struggle a little will be engaged by the surprise delivery and the accompanying aids.
Pricing: from £18.99
For the aesthete
Cereal is a bi-annual independent magazine dedicated to art, design, architecture and style. It’s filled with high-end photography and journalism and is, in itself, a beautiful object. Support independent publishing while delivering something beautiful to the door of a loved one.
Pricing: £35 for an annual subscription (two editions)
For the football fan
The magazine that football fans deserve, Mundial is a beautiful look at the beautiful game. Glorious design meets thoughtful and wry commentary on football culture.
Pricing: £21 for an annual subscription (four editions)
For beauty or grooming obsessive
One of the biggest subscription success stories, Birchbox curates a selection of 5 dreamy beauty products (there’s a men’s grooming version too!) in a beautifully designed box each month.
Pricing: £10 + £2.95 P&P for a single box; £60 for 6 monthly boxes + £2.95 P&P after one month’s free shipping (other options available)
For the epicurian
Promising to help you prepare 5* pasta in 5 minutes, Pasta Evangelists send freshly made pasta, sauces and garnishes direct to your door. You choose the length and frequency of the subscription, and your recipient is invited to choose particular dishes. This makes the pricing a little complicated, but the ordering process is straightforward and the dishes are really something special. How does beef shin and red wine ‘Ragu of Kings’ with mafalde and and parmigiano reggiano sound?
Pricing: A three-month subscription ranges from £51 to £153 depending on frequency (other options available)
For the stationery super-fan
Papergang is a monthly stationery subscription box by the team at Ohh Deer. They commission an exclusive collection of stationery goodies (think notebooks, post cards, envelops, diaries and pencils) created by a different artist each month. And it’s sustainable – with ever four boxes sold, Ohh Deer plant a tree to offset the materials used.
Pricing: £39 for three deliveries over three months (other options available)
For the cake-lover (i.e. anyone)
Just like that very first subscription gift I found and bought, The Cake Tasting Club send a selection of freshly baked goods, including cakes, bars, tray bakes and cookies, to your door in letterbox-friendly packaging. You can also add a balloon and candle for a thoughtful add-on to a birthday subscription.
Pricing: £24 for 3 deliveries of the ‘Cake for One’ box over 3 months (other options available)
For the pin and patch addict
Brat Box is a subscription of themed enamel pins and embroidered patches created by independent artists. It’s wearable art, at its heart, for the loved one who will customise any jacket, bag or stick-able surface, given the chance.
Pricing: $25 for 3 items per month; $30 for 4 items per month
For the devoted pet parent
Woof Box‘s mission is to “deliver happiness to dogs everywhere” – though they also have a cat box for your more aloof four-legged companion! For their standard subscription box, you select the dog’s age, breed and size along with any details like allergies or dietary requirements to ensure the contents is perfectly picked. A box might include soft toys, chewables, snacks and treats.
Pricing: standard subscription box starts at £22.95 over 1, 3 or 6 months. There are also boxes specially designed for cats, puppies or Christmas