Before we get to the 5 Things You Should Know Before Buying a “Survival Box” Subscription, we need to give a little setup about how this business model came to be. First, I want to make clear that we use the term “survival box” as a bland description for the multitude of survival based subscription services, not as a direct identifier of any specific company.
As many of you know, we recently switched our website from a full-blown survival store to an ad-based survival blog. There were many factors that brought us to the point that we decided to close our store, but the main reason is described below. In short, the biggest problem we faced was the selling-out of the major brands to Walmart and Amazon.
Briefly, here’s what happened:
What happened to online retailers with the onslaught of Amazon is the exact same thing that happened to Main-street retailers by the onslaught of Walmart. They were pushed out of the marketplace by the brands that realized that they did not need small retailers any longer. All they needed to do is to get their products on the shelves of the big-box stores.
Let’s say you are a knife manufacturer and I, as a small retailer, want to stock your knives for retail sales. I buy the knife at wholesale (roughly 25-30% off) and I sell these items on my website. That same brand also RETAILS those knives on Amazon, effectively competing with me. Which is okay, smaller retailers have lower overhead and can usually compete profitably.
In 2016 Amazon began the end of all small retailers by allowing major brands to ban all other companies from selling their products on Amazon, thereby eliminating all competition on the Amazon marketplace. So, that’s still okay, sort of, I mean we can still retail those products on our website, right?
The problem is, once a brand makes a good showing on Amazon by moving a lot of products, Amazon will ALWAYS step in and buy those products directly from the manufacturer. This leads the online retailer holding a ton of inventory with no way to “retail” out of the inventory … they can’t even sell these items for a loss on Amazon, because they are banned. Amazon has super-cheap and streamlined distribution, and can buy and ship those products cheaper than any online retailer, and in most cases, lower than the manufacturer!
This Created the “Survival Box” Business Model
Out of desperation, online retailers were forced to bundle and ship products in “packages” as opposed to individual items, simply because they cannot compete with Amazon’s shipping and pricing. They also cannot risk stocking Brand-Name items because all of the brands have been, or soon will be, whored-out to and/or by Amazon.
This is why the items that you get each month from “survival gear box” subscriptions is a mystery. It’s not because they are “secretly” making “special” buys on the fly, it’s because stocking a fast moving item is risky and could tie up their money if that item becomes popular on Amazon.
5 Things You Need to Know Before Signing up for a Survival Box Subscription
1. Don’t Be Fooled by the Brand Names
Survival boxes need to look like they are a great deal when you first open the box. Curb appeal, especially when you open your first box, is everything. When you open your first survival box the first things you will see is well known name brands like SOG, UST, Light my Fire and so on. Seeing these well known brands gives the survival box instant credibility in the eyes of the subscription holder.
All of these well known brands have lesser known items in their lineup. Small flashlights for keyrings, entry level folding knives, and smaller items sold in bulk for retailers’ shelves. These are usually the type of brand name items that you will get. These lesser known items are rarely found on Amazon because the cost to stock vs. cost to ship ratio doesn’t convert well. If they are found, they are usually part of a larger kit that is for sale.
This doesn’t mean these are bad items, it just means that these items are probably not the items that you would choose if you were putting a survival kit or bug out bag together piece by piece. And contrary to what you’re led to believe, they are NOT purchasing their items cheaper than Amazon can. They are typically purchasing the items that Amazon has elected NOT to purchase.
2. Subscriptions, It’s All About the Math
Subscription box retailers are not in business to lose money. Therefore, for them, knowing the average subscription time that most subscribers will keep a subscription for is of key importance. There are many different business models that the survival box subscription retailer can use, the break-even first model being the most popular.
This strategy is all based on the average time that their subscribers keep their subscription. Obviously, some people will keep their subscription all the way to term, and some will drop the subscription after the first shipment. The key figure for the retailer is the average of these two different subscribers.
If the subscription survival box retailer knows that the average subscription time is 3.2 months, they can easily plan their profit for later boxes, allowing them to deliver a super-starter “knock your socks off” box for your first shipment.
This is pure old-fashioned loss leader retailing. For instance: If we know, statistically, that the average subscriber will pay for 3.2 boxes, we can afford to break-even, or even lose a buck or two on the first subscription box. This strategy is designed to keep you hooked for another two or three months, where they will most assuredly make their profit on later boxes.
The lesson here is: “There ain’t no free lunch.” You will eventually get a few boxes that are not as much of a value as your initial survival box. Another thing to note is the process that you must follow to cancel your subscription. If you read the fine print, you will usually find that if you wait until you get your next box to cancel your subscription, you’re usually on the hook for one more box. Or, you must call them and play 20 questions to stop the subscription.
3. Returns, Nope. Warranty, Maybe.
This is the Return Policy from a well-known survival box retailer (the names were changed to protect the innocent.)
“Unfortunately because we purchase our products based on paid subscribers, we cannot give refunds.. You can, of course cancel, whenever you like, but if you cancel after the billing period (15th of the month), then you will receive one more [insert retailer’s name here] subscription. If you pay for a subscription, and then decide to cancel before you have received your first shipment, you will still receive the one you paid for, and no more will be shipped after that.”
As we mentioned earlier, subscription boxes utilize some brand-names to give their boxes pizazz for when you first open the box. What we didn’t mention is that the other items are usually off-brands purchased in bulk from no-warranty Chinese companies.
These companies specialize in building knock-off items that look like the better known brand names. There is almost ALWAYS no recourse for the retailers from these manufacturers, meaning it’s up to the retailer to honor the implied warranties.
If you factor in that all sales are final and the short return policy for items received that were damaged during shipment, there is virtually no warranty on these off-brand items. And it’s important to note, that if the retailer is not an authorized dealer for the brand names that are included in the subscription boxes, it’s possible that the manufacturer will not honor their off the shelf warranties on their products.
4. You Get What You Get, Don’t Pitch a Fit
Here is another statement of fact from a prominent survival box retailer:
“As a subscription based around monthly mystery themes we cannot always please everyone. Therefore, we do not offer returns, refunds or credits for disliking of subscription contents.”
Assumably, if you’re interested in buying a “survival box” subscription, you already have some survival gear that you have accumulated along the way. Maybe a knife, a backpack, a fire starter or two before you subscribe. You will most assuredly duplicate these items with a survival box subscription, which may or may not be a good deal for you.
The whole allure of a subscription survival box is the thought that you will probably save money in the long run by “subscribing” and in the end getting a better overall deal. If you start factoring in shipping costs, item quality and unneeded item duplication, that perceived value can easily slip away.
5. Survival Gear is as Personal as Underwear
Have you ever noticed that the underwear you get at Christmas is never as good as the underwear you pick out yourself? That’s because you know what you like, what’s comfortable, and what you’ll wear versus the underwear that’s always left in the drawer when it’s time to do laundry. That’s because it’s personal.
Survival gear is no different. Do you know how to use a fire striker in the middle of a rain downpour? If not, wouldn’t you be better served by getting a Bic lighter? Do you live in a desert climate? Wouldn’t you be better served with sunscreen and a hat than a poncho? The fact is, our survival gear is dictated by our skill level, geographical surroundings and our personal survival strategy.
Are you planning to bug-out or shelter in place? That one question alone completely changes the priority in which you should buy your gear, not to mention the type of survival gear you should focus on buying. If you are sheltering in place, your water filter, weapon choices, food solutions and water storage is completely different. How can you plan a specific survival strategy if you have no idea what gear you’ll be getting next month?
We can not recommend that our readers subscribe to survival box subscriptions. The irony being, survival box subscription advertising shows up on our website from time to time. This is because the ad generation is automatically generated by the theme and keywords in the articles we write. So it’s quite possibly on this page.
However, when you factor in the unpredictability of the items that you will receive as well as the questionable quality and warranties of these products, a survival box subscription is not as good a deal as you would think.
The zero tolerance return policy and the average to low quality items that will be present in some, if not all of the boxes, makes a survival box subscription a poor investment. We see no way we could recommend this mode of prepping for anyone, unless they have plenty of money to spare, and simply love the novelty of opening up a random box of goodies each month.
Here’s What Our Friends Over at The Outdoor Gear Review Have to Say About Survival Boxes