Skip to main content

A Guide to Subscription Services for Students

Decades ago, many home coffee tables and bedside stands sported glossy-covered magazines. People usually ordered these yearly, received a renewal notice in the mail, wrote and mailed a check to the publishing company, and then continued receiving their publications. Some older adults still do this today.

How times have changed. Now, there are subscription services for just about anything – food, razor blades, beauty products, games, movies, clothing, and more. And a hugely growing population of subscribers are students. They love the convenience. They can make a subscription online, arrange for automatic online payments, and receive their products or services immediately.

If you are a student, you probably know the most popular subscriptions within your peer group – Spotify, Netflix, HelloFresh, Birchbox, Stitch Fix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and such.

Subscription services are also very popular with e-commerce companies. Why? Because they foster customer retention and brand loyalty if the customer is satisfied.

Types of Subscription Services Students Use

For students, often on tight budgets, the balance among those costs, convenience, and “needs vs. wants” can be a bit disarming. Choices must be made.

So, let’s take a look at the types of subscription services that students commonly use. As you review these types, think about which ones you currently have, add up how much they cost, and see where you fit in the “needs vs. wants” category for each of them.

1. E-Commerce Subscriptions

McKinsey reports that e-commerce subscriptions are growing at the rate of 100% per year. And these include everything from “box” subscriptions such as Dollar Shave Club (a pioneer in this movement) to food, to access.

Box Subscriptions come in the form of products, usually delivered on a regular schedule. Stitch Fix offers female clothes, based upon the customer’s preferred styles and colors – every month is a surprise. Dollar Shave Club offers monthly razors and other grooming items. HelloFresh products are weekly pre-planned meals. Birchbox offers “surprise” beauty products. Students might want to consider if these are worth the subscription price they are paying. Are all of the items being used? Can similar items be found locally and at cheaper prices when they are on sale? A trip to the grocery store, for example, will net lots of newer healthy food options in the frozen foods sections that may be on sale. Stocking of these items may be less expensive than a boxed food subscription.

Access Subscriptions are just that. They give a student access to services that regular customers do not enjoy. Amazon Prime is a perfect example. How much do you need that subscription? Don’t indulge your desire for immediate gratification, if a slower shipping rate is more cost-effective. On the other hand, if a student makes purchases on Amazon often, the free shipping may be cost-effective.

Replenishment Subscriptions are those that provide a regular supply of an item that a student may use regularly.

For example, teeth whiteners are quite popular right now. A student orders an item, the first one is usually highly discounted. One agrees to have that product replenished regularly, through automatic deduction from a debit or credit card. It can be a bit risky if you find out that you don’t use a product and “forget” to cancel the subscription. Students need to be aware of the cancellation policies on these websites and keep that information close at hand. It usually requires a simple phone call.

Overall, female students tend to subscribe more through e-commerce than males; however, males tend to have more subscriptions than females.

2. Subscriptions for Membership

Everyone is familiar with “membership” in loyalty programs, usually offered by major retailers – grocery and drug stores and big retailers such as Target. Membership earns points which can then be used as cash toward future purchases.

Some membership subscriptions overlap with box subscriptions (e.g., Dollar Shave Club). But there are online membership subscriptions that provide additional discounts and benefits to members that regular customers may not get.

Alison Lee, an editor for the academic assistance service Subjecto, puts it this way: “Students register for a personal account with us, for free. It gives them a type of ‘membership’ which puts them in line to receive lots of special offers. Students do not have to have an account to access our services, but if they do, the benefits are surely there.”

These are products or services that can be delivered only digitally. And according to the McKinsey Analysis, close to 50% of all consumers do have one or more of these subscriptions. The most common and popular for students include Netflix, YouTube Premium, Hulu, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and even Apple TV. And, according to Statista, subscription video-on-demand services are expected to be 411 million by 2022.

Students have lots of options for these digital products, but they should take a long hard look at how many they actually use and need. If, for example, a single music service provides the most loved music, there is no reason to subscribe to others.

There are two types of digital subscriptions – pay as you go (media on demand) or a subscription with a regular fee that allows total access. Again, students need to monitor their subscriptions and see how they can reduce costs. If a service is used very infrequently, for example, then pay-per-piece might be the way to go.

The Wrap

Subscription-based products and services provide convenient and almost seamless “shopping” experiences. It’s easy to get caught up in the “flow,” because more and more companies are using this model.

Hopefully, this guide has shed some light on the types of subscription options students have and some good advice on how to balance those tight budgets with expenditures. Students should look carefully at their spendings on subscriptions each month and see if there are some ways to save money.

Daniela McVicker

Linda Ferguson



Linda Ferguson started her career in a local company as a content writer 5 years ago. She has always been passionate about academia and writing. Besides her busy work schedule, Linda manages to find time for attending conferences that keep her up to date with the latest news in the industry.

No Comments yet!

Your Email address will not be published.