First Look: New Research Unpacks the Differences Between Subscriptions and Memberships

New research from CI&T and Retail TouchPoints reveals that most consumers believe there is a distinct difference between subscription and membership programs.
Photo credit: Syda Productions -

The terms “membership” and “subscription” are often used interchangeably in retail. However, new research from CI&T, developed in partnership with Retail TouchPoints, reveals that most consumers (64%) believe there is a distinct difference between these two types of programs. Although the report won’t be released until next month, we’re offering you a first look at some of the findings. 
Based on a survey of 1,000+ consumers across all age segments, the most notable differences are connected to the value each program provides. While subscriptions are largely associated with convenience, memberships feel more exclusive and are often tied to more perks, such as services, community access and more robust personalization.  
“A membership is like being a part of a group,” said one respondent. “Membership is the key to friendship and [with] subscription, you’re just a user,” said another. 
However, there are some notable commonalities between subscriptions and memberships, especially in the categories consumers most commonly gravitate toward. The categories consumers were most open to or already had memberships with included: grocery, pet supplies, household goods, personal care and beauty retailers.  
“What was really interesting about this research was that consumers could define differences between subscriptions and memberships conceptually, but their attitudes and behaviors towards them were very similar,” said Melissa Minkow, Director of Retail Strategy at CI&T, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Unsurprisingly, 74% of consumers agreed that the economy impacts how interested they are in memberships, so brands and retailers offering these programs need to be mindful of how they balance the financial benefits with more high-value offerings.”  

Influencing the Membership Journey 

Because memberships are more closely tied to long-term relationship building, CI&T and Retail TouchPoints sought to understand the key benefits that influence the membership journey. Specifically, we wanted to understand what motivates consumers to register, stay loyal to and re-engage with a membership program.  
While financial benefits such as discounts and lower prices were very much a motivator for consumers to initially register for a program, they often seek perks that make the shopping experience easier and more enjoyable as they further engage with a membership program. 
Minkow will explore these aspects in greater detail during a fireside chat with Rashi Maskara, Senior Director of Growth for Member Engagement at Ipsy, during the Retail Innovation Conference & Expo, taking place June 4-6 in Chicago. Register now to dig deeper into the research and learn how Ipsy is elevating its membership model to address some of these findings. 


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