Everything is a subscription now

But along with the advantages of variety or quality comes a downside. Whether or not a subscription to breakfast smoothies or Reformation dresses or mattresses makes sense depends on individual consumer circumstances, which Dholakia says people are bad at evaluating on their own. “You tend to overestimate how much you will consume,” he explains. When signing up for meal kit delivery, you might tell yourself you’ll cook three times a week, when actually once or twice is more realistic. In the case of durable goods, Dholakia says, the tradeoff is in the long game: “The consumer pays less, but they don’t get to own the asset and benefit from it.”

Spending $150 per month to lease three different sets of bedroom furniture in three different apartments might give you flexibility, but at the end of those three years, you’ve spent $5,400 and still don’t own any bedroom furniture.

Consumers also seem to be bad at estimating how much they spend on subscriptions. One survey found that when asked to guess their monthly spend on subscription services, Americans’ first guess was around one third of their actual output. Because people aren’t continuously asked to opt in, it can be easy for those who don’t have to pay stringent attention to their monthly budgets to lose track of what’s being siphoned off.