The Psychology of Subscription: Why Do We Subscribe?

The Psychology of Subscription: Why Do We Subscribe?

The concept of subscription is simple. A regular payment – be it weekly, monthly or annually –  in exchange for a product or service. As well as their refreshing ease, subscriptions also cater to major elements of human psychology which explains their growing popularity.

When we think about subscriptions, streaming services like Netflix and Spotify come to mind instantly. Then there are the UK subscription box giants like Graze, Birchbox and HelloFresh. But alongside these names, more and more companies are providing a subscription option as a way to access their products or services – and it seems consumers are all for it because in the last 9 years, the subscription economy has grown by more than 435%.

In this article, we take a look at the psychology behind the subscription revolution, and why more and more customers are choosing to subscribe.

The Psychology of Subscription Services


The National Retail Federation found that 83% of shoppers say that convenience is a bigger priority now than it was five years ago, and 52% of shoppers say half or more of their purchases are influenced by convenience.

The whole concept of subscription revolves around making things simple. People are time-poor, and we appreciate services that will save us valuable hours. There is a major time drain involved in setting up contracts with multiple service providers. Not to mention the frustration that can come with managing lots of individual purchases, deliveries, policies and agreements. 

With a subscription, not only do you benefit from a single, neat payment, but you have one point of contact too – just one phone call or email when you need to contact your provider. Streamlining these areas of our lives delivers that all-important convenience, saving us both time and mental energy.

Product tangibility

Humans love tangible items. And it has been proven that they leave much deeper impressions on us than digital services. A study on the emotional connection of tangible objects found that when participants were asked to think of products and services they regularly used, they indicated a much stronger connection to providers of tangible products, than to service providers.

Physically receiving a product is more compelling, which is why ‘unboxing’ videos perform so well on YouTube. It’s no wonder then that physical product subscriptions are so popular when they give you that unboxing feeling at regular intervals throughout your week, month or year.

With a Pivotal vehicle subscription, the tangibility factor is huge. Our cars play major roles in our lives, providing tangible experiences that are critical to our every day, therefore leaving a much deeper emotional impression than the online services we use. Also, with the option to update to a new car as often as you like, Pivotal subscribers get that unboxing excitement every time a new vehicle is delivered to them.

Control and choice (but not too much choice)

It’s important for humans to feel like we have enough choice. But this can be a tricky balance to strike as we are also subject to ‘choice overwhelm’, where an abundance of options leaves us feeling unfulfilled and as though we have lost control.

Subscription companies usually give consumers just the right amount of options to choose from, plus the ability to control, stop or restart their subscription at all times. For Pivotal members, the subscription includes the car itself, insurance, maintenance, tax and roadside assistance. Members choose their car but then everything else is handled by Pivotal to minimise workload and therefore overwhelm.

Once you join the Pivotal service, you remain in full control of your subscription with the ability to update to a new car, pause or resume whenever suits. In comparison to ownership or leasing, the inability to exit a contract takes control out of the hands of the customer and puts it with the business. This inherent flexibility is one of the most fundamental factors contributing to the psychology of subscription, and why we’re choosing to subscribe.

Sense of community 

We all have a desire to belong. As a species, we have a basic human need to connect with those around us. With a subscription, you select to become part of something and you share this experience with other subscribers. The subscription relationship also provides a new level of trust and connection between the brand and the consumer.

Previously, the only interaction was at the time of purchase. With a subscription, there is a mutually beneficial, continuous relationship between brand and subscriber. Customers are in the driving seat of the relationship which makes them feel valued and in control, and businesses benefit from customer loyalty and open communication. As social, emotional animals we appreciate this honest connection and enjoy being in the same boat as the other subscribers within our community.

Why do subscriptions work?

When looking at the psychology of subscription, it’s pretty clear why we as consumers are increasing the number of subscriptions in our lives.

Subscriptions attract us because they appeal to many major elements of human psychology. The convenience, flexibility and sense of community, as well as the connection we form with our subscription brands, make them undeniably enticing, and in most cases a smart financial choice. Subscriptions make the process easier and more enjoyable, while reducing our cognitive overload.

Click here to find out how a Pivotal subscription works.

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