CONSUMERS have been enthusiastic about subscribing to an array of products, from monthly shipments of razor cartridges to regular deliveries of trial-size personal care products. But the subscription model has gained a foothold with, fittingly, socks.
Within the last two years, about a dozen online stores have sprung up offering sock subscriptions, primarily to men, with names like Soxiety, Sock Panda and Ankle Swagger. Sales of men’s socks online grew 29 percent for the 12 months that ended Sept. 31, compared with a 4 percent increase in stores, according to the NPD Group, a research firm. Women’s socks sales online were up 35 percent for the period and down 4 percent in stores.
Alex Realmuto, who began selling his sock brand, Soul Socks, through online subscriptions (one pair a month for $12 monthly) in August, said he was pitching to men in their 20s and 30s, often called millennials.
“The millennial demographic is more willing to put their credit card on the Internet, and the next logical step is, ‘Are you willing to give me your credit card like with a gym membership?’ ” Mr. Realmuto said. “Millennials value the convenience of having something come to their mailbox, and this is just set it and forget it.”
Blacksocks, which began in 1999, claims to be the first company to offer a sock subscription, and coined the portmanteau “sockscription.” Today its plans include one where, for a yearly subscription of $118, three pairs of men’s socks are delivered four times a year.
The company, which is based in Zurich, has 2,500 subscribers in the United States and 25,000 internationally. Initially offering only black socks, which remain its top seller, the company has added colors and stripes.
“Women like lots of choices, but men buy more if they have fewer choices,” said Lori Rosen, who along with being president of the Rosen Group, a public relations firm in Manhattan, is a Blacksocks managing partner who handles the United States and Canadian markets.
Wendell Brown, senior fashion editor at Esquire, said men’s sock styles were getting more adventurous. “Men’s style has evolved a lot since 10 years ago, when if you were a businessman you wore black socks and that was the end of it,” Mr. Brown said. “Now it’s much more acceptable for even a businessman to have some personality with his socks, with some interesting stripes, zigzags or color.”
Like other sock subscription services, Blacksocks does little in the way of traditional advertising, relying instead on word-of-mouth and public relations stunts. Last summer, for example, Ms. Rosen sent her then-16-year-old son and three of his friends out in Manhattan wearing boxer shorts (which the company also sells through subscription), black socks, shirts and ties to hand out cards promoting the website to morning commuters.
The sock merchants also tend to invest in Google AdWords, so they appear as advertisements in search returns for terms like “men’s socks” and “sock subscriptions,” and in retargeting advertising, in which digital ads for their websites follow users to other sites after they leave.
Subscriptions tend to involve no shopping, with merchants sending socks of their choosing.
Sock Fancy, which began in March, ships a pair of socks it chooses from among multiple brands to subscribers for $9 monthly (plus $2 shipping). Stefan Lewinger, a co-founder, said Sock Fancy had about 1,000 monthly subscribers, more than 70 percent of them men.
Similar is Sockscribe Me, which sends socks of its own choosing to its nearly 500 subscribers for $10 monthly (plus $2 shipping). About 60 percent of the subscribers are men, said Eric Kami, who founded the company in August.
Zoraab, which began in April 2012, also has about 500 subscribers for varying subscription levels, from Sock Dabbler (two pairs monthly for $22) to Sock Connoisseur (five pairs for $49 monthly). While Zoraab, which carries only men’s socks, also sells pairs à la carte, subscriptions constitute about 50 percent of its revenues, according to Tina Israni, who co-founded the online business with her brother, Sunny.
While some online subscriptions deliver socks from brands like Hot Socks and Richer Poorer, others design their own.
Sock Club started in July 2012 with a monthly subscription ($12) for a pair of socks from a variety of brands, but in November for the first time shipped a sock of its own design, which was manufactured in a mill in North Carolina. The company has more than 1,000 monthly subscribers, according to Noah Lee, a Sock Club co-founder.
Sock Panda, which started in 2011, also has exclusive designs under its own label, and ships a single pair of socks to men (60 percent of subscribers) or women for a monthly subscription fee of $13. Consumers select either a plan called Out There, which has whimsical designs, or Classy, which are more conservative
For every sock sold, the company donates a pair to the needy and David Peck, a co-founder, said that Sock Panda’s subscribers numbered in the thousands but declined to be more specific.
Foot Cardigan, which started in June 2012 and has almost 2,000 subscribers, sells socks for men and women it makes itself, with designs it calls “fabulously bizarre” on its website. About half of the subscriptions are bought as gifts, and while 60 percent are sent to men, 60 percent were purchased by women, according to Bryan DeLuca, a co-founder.
Mr. Brown, the Esquire fashion editor, said sock marketers had found a sweet spot for what type of clothing sells best online.
“Socks, like cuff links, belts and ties are easier to sell than shirts or suits that someone has to try on,” Mr. Brown said. “People are finally figuring out how to sell to men online.”