In Malaysia, the non-popularity of the subscription box model is a curious case. Comparing Malaysia with regions such as the USA and Europe (where many businesses built upon the subscription box model have gone on to become pretty successful), there is a relative lack of buzz for these boxes.
The largest brands reportedly generated more than USD2.6 billion in sales in 2016 and showed a clear year-on-year growth.
All told, only a modest of number boxes here in Malaysia have achieved some sort of sustained success, with the reasons down to things like perceived product value, demand (or lack of), and general Malaysian tastes.
But thinking they have what it takes to make their own take on the subscription box model work in Malaysia, Malaysian buddies Tim Lee—an engineering graduate and digital marketing specialist—and Raisa Mia—a petroleum expert—decided to venture into creating the Wiggle Boks, a box catering to mothers and their babies up till the age of 24 months.
The idea started with Raisa, who—inspired by food subscription boxes from her time in the UK—could not find the same type of offering here in Malaysia. This made her eager to bring back the model to Malaysia, and after seeing friends and family having more and more babies, she decided to create one for mothers and babies.
Eventually, she roped in Tim, who was convinced by the potential of the market in Malaysia, and formed Wiggle Boks. The name represents the fun and enjoyment parents have when receiving mystery gifts (Wiggle) and the childlike spelling of the word “box” (Boks).
Mother Knows Best
The Wiggle Boks sets are priced at RM128 for each month and contain all the basic necessities for postnatal mothers and their newborns, including things like bottles, brushes, baby food, toys, soaps, and a variety of useful items for the first two years of a baby’s life.
These products are all from brands and manufacturers that Tim and Raisa have identified as having high quality and who share the same ideas as they do.
“We’ve met several mums to talk about brands they like to use, and no doubt many are very picky with their product selections,” Tim and Raisa explained. “But one thing we learned was that a majority of mums use products that are plant-based or free from chemicals—for example, soaps by Ecostore, creams by Buds Organic, natural cotton by Suzuran Baby, or even healthy snacks by Only Organic.”
“With these criteria, our group of mums check and test products from these brands before we set them out to be curated for each box.”
We did a quick and small survey among 6 new Malaysian mothers, just to find out their opinions about subscription boxes. All of them unanimously voiced their doubts, and their main concerns were one, that the boxes would not be value for money, and two, they would receive unnecessary items that would clutter up their houses.
For Tim and Raisa, their approach to making sure parents get their money’s worth with the Wiggle Boks is to always make sure that the value of the contents inside always exceed the amount paid by the customer, this is in response to the feedback they’ve gotten since setting up shop.
“We’ve had fair feedback on our pricing in the past—some have said the pricing is on the higher end, while some have said the products are good value,” Raisa said.
“We believe that with the price of RM128, we’ve always ensured that the combined retail value of each box comes up to RM200 or more—this includes vouchers on strollers and breast pumps in addition to other things that could end up helping mothers save more.”
Also in response to the feedback received, they’ve introduced smaller, limited versions of their boxes called Mini Boks that have sold for prices of RM30. These are meant as a means to get mothers to try out their boxes before subscribing for real. So far this has worked out pretty well for them, with 20% of Mini Boks buyers so far converted to ongoing subscribers.
For Wiggle Boks, the biggest obstacle to growth and scale is pretty much the same problem plaguing most subscription box models in Malaysia—a lack of understanding of how the concept works, and by relation, how to make it sustainable.
“We can ensure long-term sustainability simply by knowing that there are new babies being born everyday who are all essentially our target market, and we know that we won’t run out of babies!” said Tim. “On top of this, we have brand partners who are basically mother and baby product manufacturers that constantly innovate and create new goodies for them.”
“With this, we can also ensure a constant supply of inserts for our subscription boxes.”
For Tim and Raisa, the lack of awareness about subscription boxes among Malaysians also means more opportunities for them to explain their product to their target audience; in short, a larger untapped market segment.
“We’ve had mums asking why they’re being charged monthly, how the Boks works, or why they must commit to a subscription,” they said. “This lets us know that the concept is still something new in Malaysia and so we try to explain to them who we are and how the subscription process works.”
On the other hand, they also face a different kind of challenge—catering to little ones that are actually above their intended age range.
“We’ve gotten moms subscribing for their four-year-old toddlers even though we only cater up to 24 months,” they said. “Knowing that every child needs different items at different stages of life and development, we have and will continue to strive to accommodate the bigger children in our subscription database, including colour pencils, books, and other relevant things for them.”
Baby’s First Steps
With all that said, it’ll be interesting to see if Tim and Raisa will be able to circumvent the typical pitfalls that have beset the subscription box model locally—particularly getting people to want to pay a monthly premium to get items that they don’t know they need.
But already they’ve managed to sell over 500 boxes within eight months of starting up, breaking even within six months. Even more encouraging for them is the fact that their customers come from all over Malaysia, and sometimes from places such as Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Seeing all this, they’re confident about their ability to make it all work in the long run, with their plans for growth even extending beyond local soil.
“In the next two years, we hope to have made an impact in Malaysia in the sense of brand awareness and education about the concept of subscription boxes for those still unaware of how they work,” Tim said. “We hope to grow our subscription further into other countries starting with Southeast Asia in the next three years.”
Feature Image Credit: Wiggle Boks