How The Vitamin Shoppe Introduced Subscriptions To Its Retail Business

Subscription products have exploded in popularity, but certain items are more conducive to the model than others. The high drop-off rate for surprise-and-delight subscription boxes and meal kit services illustrates that items that need replenishment generally see more success. Vitamins need regular restocking, and the aptly-named The Vitamin Shoppe has been offering that via subscription for the last two years. The nutritional supplement retailer is somewhat unique in the field as a chain that has branched out into the subscriptions market rather than starting wholly online. There are over 750 brick-and-mortar The Vitamin Shoppe locations across the country, as well as an eCommerce site, that work alongside its subscription offerings.

In a recent interview with PYMNTS, The Vitamin Shoppe’s chief customer and digital experience officer Stacey Renfro discussed why the retailer jumped into subscriptions and how it meets the unique challenge of combining physical storefronts with online subscription services.

Subscription offerings old and new

The Vitamin Shoppe currently has two distinct subscription offerings. The first, Auto Delivery, was introduced in 2017 as an automated vitamin delivery service that shipped vitamins and supplements at customers’ preferred intervals, such as every 30, 45, 60 or 90 days. Many popular subscription services rely on surprising the customer, but that model was not a great fit for The Vitamin Shoppe.

“You know what you’ve enrolled in and what you are having replenished … each month,” Renfro explained. “But as there are changes — say we discontinue a product, or we are out of stock, or we add a new product that fits within what you have in the subscription already — we’ll make additional recommendations and provide options to make changes to the customer every month.”

The retailer’s second subscription offering, Only Me, launched just a few months ago. It leverages a detailed questionnaire covering daily routines and current health statuses to create customized supplement regimens. The questionnaire is available both in-store and online, and The Vitamin Shoppe employees can help customers with their self-analyses. Subscribers then receive personalized daily packs tailored from a catalog of 37 different supplements.

“We’re really aiming to demystify, if you will, the shopping experience of the health and wellness category and make it much more personalized,” Renfro said. “The real motivation behind it was around how we can continue to increase our personalized shopping experience for our customers.”

Countering payments issues and other challenges

The growth of The Vitamin Shoppe’s subscription services introduced many payments challenges, such as unexpected and involuntary cancellations that neither the consumer nor the business anticipated.

“What happens when a customer changes the address on [her] credit card, or it expires, or it had fraud and [she received] a new credit card?” Renfro said. “There are a lot of these operational pieces around payments and changes that can very easily, with a slight change on someone’s credit card, suddenly cause their subscription to not work the next month.”

Partnering with banks to automatically update payment information helped somewhat, but The Vitamin Shoppe’s main approach relied on direct communication. The retailer instituted changes allowing customers to be more proactive in addressing involuntary cancellations by alerting them that their next payments are at risk of failure.

“It became about what we need to do within the customer experience to ensure that our customers have the time to validate both their shipping and their billing addresses and make changes in the right amount of time,” Renfro said.

The other major challenge for The Vitamin Shoppe was entering the subscription scene as an established retailer. Customers had to be educated in the value of the program as an alternative to in-store shopping, as did employees.

“Our in-store associates — we call them Health Enthusiasts — are a really big part of the initial enrollment of our customers in the subscription program,” she explained. “When you’re educating and training thousands of people in the field, you have to really make sure you have a great continual education program around the benefits of this service, the selling points and how they overcome objections so that the customer really understands the value as well.”

The future may be online

Both of The Vitamin Shoppe’s subscription programs will continue to evolve, especially the nascent Only Me. Renfro noted both offerings will likely assume different forms than their current states, however, both online and in-store.

“We really expected there to be more engagement in-store than what we’re actually seeing,” she said. “When you put certain digital solutions in-store, do they really fit best [there] or are they meant more for your digital device? I think that Only Me is going to be much more of a kind of a digitally native solution more so than an in-store solution.”

The Vitamin Shoppe’s subscription services have an intrinsic advantage over many others in the space: being backed up by over 750 physical stores. The chain is not putting all of its eggs in one basket, making it resistant to many of the woes facing today’s subscription-only businesses.