Subscription services and the future: How much is too much, and what are we really willing to spend a premium for?

Subscription services and the future: How much is too much, and what are we really willing to spend a premium for?

Fear of commitment

Text: Azrin Tan

Netflix. Spotify. Skillshare. The running thread? They all promise endless amounts of exclusive entertainment well enough to last a lifetime, as long as you're giving them the monthly payout in return. In other words, they're all pretty reliant on a subscription service, and ultimately, your loyal commitment as a customer. You as their consumer have absolute control over how long you'd want to keep a subscription service around: it could be for a year, 6 months, or well if you're just cruising in for the free trial, it could be the bare minimum of a month. And only more business models have been adopting the non-committal arrangement, as we see the increasing likes of enticing options like ClassPass that grants you access to a varied range of fitness classes, or Style Theory where you pay a premium to gain access to a multitude of designer fashion items every month. But with the burgeoning of more obscure subscription-based options like plans for rental cars (a la Carro), house furniture, and even smart lighting, where does the average millennial or Gen-Z individual truly stand to benefit? Where do we draw the line when it comes to the way we live and own our lives?

With the idea of subscriptions comes the element of choice. With the likes of Carro, Style Theory, ClassPass and as such, people can change up the ride of their choice, wear a fancy dress for the day, attend yoga by day and spin by night — all without needing the full commitment. It only makes sense in the age of digital power: as our needs and wants are consistently altered by the endless amounts of consumer information all available at the touch of our fingertips.

And yet with even more newfangled concepts like VIO's smart lighting subscription plan or property giant Hmlet's furniture subscriptions on the rise, we begin to question: what exactly will we continue paying a premium for? And as much of our lives become automated and increasingly reliant on such services, how much control do we truly have? Whilst seemingly strange, subscription plans such as VIO's and Hmlet's seem to give us the option of adorning our homes in a trial-and-error sort of fashion. Rent it for a certain period of time, try it out, and see if it's something that works for you. You get greater flexibility in tailoring your home to suit your needs; if you made a bad choice or it's simply something that you don't quite need anymore, you can replace it with another from their myriad of options.

Like the Associate Director of Product Procurement at Hmlet, Parham Mansor, adequately puts it: "We live in a world where people do not like, or rather, are more apprehensive, to make a commitment. Hence, we're a lot more fluid and receptive to the sharing economy concept. There is also a functional need for this flexibility for people moving to a new or different stage of life — for example, you only need a baby cot or a child's bed for a finite amount of time."

But let's talk about the premium. Depending on the intended service, your subscription plan probably charges you a somewhat reasonable price. But with certain things like cars, homes and lights, just how much is a reasonable amount to continue paying over an extended period of time? At a certain point, some might say that the continued price of the service function would have exceeded the original cost of something that was more permanent. Though of course, one cannot discount that the thing with these fresh-out-of-the-box options, is that they're services meant to help us adapt to our new modes of life — with increasingly pressing concerns such as sustainability, changing health needs, and a desire for creative expression.

And these are aspects that these new brands of subscription models might be able to offer us in their specialised ways. By entrusting them to streamline their services to each individual's needs, possibilities for a higher quality of life might actually be enabled. With services like VIO, our home lights can be adapted to suit different situations. With a touch of a button, one can transition from a WFH-approved white light to perhaps a warmer, mellower light before winding down for the night. They incorporate their expert knowledge to provide a more human-centric service: one that accounts for things like the glare of your desktop screen, increased eye fatigue and multi-use purpose of a single room.

And yet there is perhaps still a question we ask ourselves: in the rising scene of subscriptions, how much of our lives can we properly stake claim over anymore? Whilst we increase control over the aesthetic or functional purposes of our spaces and cars, do we relinquish our personal sense of ownership over the more material, tangible assets in our lives? With these services, our lives lean to the transitional, where there is possibly a lesser sense of permanence, something some might not be able to give up — especially for the intimate space of a home.

Which brings us to our last pitch — why would one make the switch to a subscription service for things that we've never really seen a need for? In a growing need for sustainability and eco-consciousness, one can't deny that this modus operandi of subscriptions enables a sharing economy, and might just help out our environment that little bit more. Less of a throwaway culture, and more mindful consumerism. At least, where certain material goods are concerned, the ends might be able to justify the means.

So do we need some of these subscriptions? Probably not. But the world around us continuously evolves in new ways, we are only getting more interconnected with more facets of our lives being persistently shared (online and offline), and there seems to be a growing consensus that the priority is no longer on the tangible aspects of our lives. It's out of our personal realms of control, almost. But one can definitely aim to find an in-between that works for us. Just like the non-committal nature of the subscription plan: try it, see if it works, and if it doesn't? Ditch it. The tide will take you where it wants to go. As for how long it'll take for you to adapt to the new shore? That's completely up to you.


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