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Lockdown might be over, but the UK’s obsession with subscription services is just getting started…

Over the past few years, we have reported several times on the UK’s subscription economy – a growing consumer trend that started with milk and magazines being delivered to the Victorians and has now come to encompass everything from cheese to underwear – and even musical instruments.

While it’s true that subscriptions have been on an upward trajectory for the better part of the past decade, new Barclaycard research has revealed that the UK’s reliance on subscription services spiked during lockdown, jumping up an astronomical 23 per cent year on year. Considering the limited options available in terms of shopping over the past 18 months, this stat might not strike you as particularly surprising. But there is an interesting story here… Not only has this trend only proceeded to get stronger since lockdown restrictions have ended, but people are actually planning to sign up for even more services in the coming months.

Now that most shops and services are open as normal, and we don’t need entertaining with box sets 24h a day (at least not EVERY day) why do deliver-to-door services remain so popular? Our research actually points to a very satisfying explanation – because they are saving us £££.

We remain a nation of ‘super subscribers’

Barclaycard’s research has found that the UK subscription economy is now worth £395m. Those of us who already loved subscription services are signing up to more of them, and more of us are signing up in the first place. In fact, an incredible 81 per cent of UK households now pay for at least one subscription service, a huge increase on last year’s 65 per cent.

Whether you pay for one service per month or are a subscription pro, with your sign ups in double figures, the cost of these services is stacking up for UK households, with those signed up now paying an average of £620 per year for their services.

This might seem like a lot, but is it really? In the past, we might have thought of the idea of having products and services neatly packaged and delivered to our doors as an expensive matter of convenience. But, as our research reveals, many customers are reporting that subscriptions are actually saving them money – and helping them keep their wider household budgets in check. When you consider the sheer value of the convenience and surprise and delight factor that subscriptions are already known for, the fact that people are signing up for more subscriptions than ever suddenly makes sense.

What are we paying for?

Because entertainment subscription services are now so commonplace in UK households, it can be useful to think of subscriptions in terms of a) entertainment, and b) everything else.

Yes, it’s true that there are plenty of fun subscription services out there designed purely to bring us surprise, delight and joy: artisan pasta, floral arrangements, jewellery, books, and the aforementioned musical instruments, for example. But there are just as many there to make our lives easier – streamlining our routines by making it easier to get hold of the essentials that we’d be buying anyway – dinner kits, fruit and veg, cleaning products, razor blades, natural deodorant, coffee pods, and so on.

What do we tend to look for in our subscription services? Barclaycard research has shown that customers value personalisation (57 per cent), value (54 per cent) and highly-tailored products (52 per cent) above all else, with flexible contracts and suitability as a gift also playing their respective roles. Ever felt uninspired enough to ask the streaming services to provide you with viewing recommendations? Or left it to the experts to choose the recipes in your weekly meal box? These are great example of how expertly-tailored products and recommendations are effortlessly enriching our lives.

How are our subscriptions saving us money?

Convenience and personalisation are what we have perhaps come to expect from subscription services, but saving money? This seems to be more of a happy accident.

Barclaycard research has shown that our reliance on subscription services isn’t just making us spend more and more - far from it. If we know that our weekly meal box will be arriving on the doorstep the next morning, we will be less likely to fill a couple of shopping bags on the way home from work. If we tend to get all the beauty products we need from out monthly beauty box, we are more likely to skip shelling out on that expensive jar of moisturiser. Then there are the huge savings that can be seized by savvy shoppers who take advantage of introductory offers – £290 per year on average. As a result, nearly half of those who currently pay for at least one subscription service say they are saving as a result (48 per cent), with 50 per cent saying that subscriptions actually help them keep their finances organised, and 55 per cent valuing the time they save by having things delivered on a regular basis. All this makes for a win/win situation for retailers and their customers.

What next?

40 per cent of Brits say they plan to sign up to more services now – even though lockdown restrictions have eased. And why not? Subscription services are saving us time and money, while providing us with the high-quality, personalised and tailored services that so many of us crave.

And besides, now that we have let so many glorious movies and box sets into our lives, it may be difficult for many of us to go back…