Secrets to Subscription Box Success With Le Comptoir - D2C Discovery #2

Le Comptoir's co-founder reveals the secret to creating cheese and wine subscription boxes that Japanese consumers can't resist.

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Every cheese or wine subscription box contains the warmth of the French countryside. We strive to create this feeling across our products, branding, and marketing.

Le Comptoir launched their online subscription service in March 2021. Their mission? To elevate the experience of cheese and wine in Japan through subscription boxes.

Today we explore how they launched their D2C business in Japan. Co-founder Alexandre reveals some secrets to subscription box success. He also shares his perspective on how physical space is key for D2C. Pour yourself a glass of wine and let's dig into a nice slice of D2C expertise.

Today’s post by sub-headings

  • Le Comptoir: offering Japan a taste of French life

  • Subscription services are new for Japan

  • How Le Comptoir build a bespoke experience with their subscriptions

  • Navigating the differences between France and Japan

  • Customer service is key

  • Using physical space for D2C success

Le Comptoir: offering Japan a taste of French life

Co-founders Alexandre and Masumi knew French cheese and wine in Japan was missing something. Two things to be precise: terroir and convivialité. These concepts are as essential to cheese and wine in France as rice and soy sauce are to Japanese cuisine. So Le Comptoir made these the essence of their brand.

Alexandre translates Terroir as “the warmth of the French countryside”. It's something you feel while enjoying a glass of wine with loved ones on a warm summer evening in rural France. Or when you visit your local cheesemonger and they fondly introduce their selection.

Convivialité is a sense of happiness from spending time with friends and loved ones. It connotes warmth and a life well-lived.

His motto being ‘True Story, True Product’, Alexandre wants customers to experience these concepts whenever they open a subscription box.

We want our consumers to experience France through our subscription boxes. We want them to feel what it is to be a fashionable cosmopolitan sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris. We want them to visualize enjoying cheese and wine with friends on a warm summer evening in rural France.

This means targeting a specific group of consumers in Japan.

Our main consumers are people who seek this special experience. Affluent people who will invest in the experience as much as the products. People who are willing to live a true experience, as if they were in France. Or those who want to give their partner a unique gift.

In D2C, consumers are often equated with "fans". They buy into the idea of your brand as much as your product. It’s important to respect the nature of this long-term relationship, considering customers as VIPs from day one.

Subscription services are new for Japan

Le Comptoir keeps their fans coming back with a subscription service business model. Customers can select from one of three different boxes of cheese or wine on their website. Boxes are priced by weight and variety of cheese or the number of bottles of wine.

Unlike in Europe, this subscription service business model is new in Japan. Especially in food and beverage. We saw this as a great opportunity for disruption. Especially in categories which haven’t employed D2C yet - like dairy products for example.

With opportunities come the challenges of pioneering a new kind of service in Japan.

Europeans are very willing to support new companies. They are familiar with the startup model. In Japan, it’s not the case. Here you need to do a lot of work to acquire customers. You have to educate consumers and convince them of the quality of your brand at first. It can seem like it takes a lot more work than in France, but the difference is, Japanese customers are loyal. Once a customer buys here they will invest in your product. It’s worthwhile taking time to build relationships with your consumers.

In D2C speak, this means Japanese customers have high CLV (customer lifetime value). This is the amount a customer will invest in your product over the course of your relationship.

Unlock our exclusive list of 30 Japanese D2C companies

It makes sense then to invest in finding the right customers. Alexandre's ideal consumers admire France for its fashion, cuisine, and charming rustic culture.  These are consumers who seek exclusivity and novelty in their purchases. Le Comptoir makes sure to infuse this into their service. Beginning with their first visit to the website.

Building a bespoke experience into their subscription boxes

Le Comptoir asks customers to complete a questionnaire about their preferences when buying their first box. This begins each customer's journey with a personal touch. Le Comptoir also gets to know more about their customer's preferences - data to make future marketing decisions.

Japanese consumers want novelty. Le Comptoir’s cheese boxes deliver this. Every box has a new selection of cheese, inspired by a survey of their preferences. It’s always a surprise for consumers.

Every cheese has a unique character. So, Le Comptoir adds an explanation about how to enjoy the cheese in their boxes.

Our product becomes a learning experience. This transforms the product. Through our guidance, a very pungent cheese becomes an unexpected partner for your favourite wine, for example.

If consumers fall in love with a specific cheese, they can request it for future boxes or as an extra order. The surprise factor of each box keeps consumers looking forward to the next one. By allowing for customization, Le Comptoir also stays responsive to consumers' needs.

Navigating the differences between France and Japan

Alexandre learned early on that what works in Europe doesn’t always work in Japan.

Japan is on the other side of the world. It has a different set of rules that requires you to adjust your expectations.

Design is one example. In Japan, people love to have a lot of information about their products. They want to read all about a product's story, technical aspects, and reviews. Le Comptoir has revised its website to be as information-rich as possible. They also add QR codes to the leaflets in each of their boxes so consumers can scan them to get more information.

Consumers in Japan are risk-averse. They do not trust products they cannot see or touch. The more websites inform the more customers feel reassured to buy.

Because D2C business focuses online, the need to engage customers is even greater.

We invest a lot in communicating with our customers. Ensuring them about a product, delivery date, and storage…

This communication is part of our brand. We communicate with our customers like a cheesemonger does in France. We tell them about the origin of the cheese, and how to store it. The cheese counter in Isetan for example does not do this. It's a challenge of D2C, but also an advantage. We can be friendly experts to our customers. We can also respond quickly to their requests. Big brands can't have such close and active relationships.

Keeping customers informed is just a small part of customer service. This is another aspect that has its own flavour in Japan.

Customer service is key

Customer service is crucial for D2C businesses. Nowhere is this more true than in Japan. Attention to detail and small, thoughtful extras define the nation's high standards of service. Le Comptoir goes to great lengths to engage consumers with such extra services.

Something we do a lot of is events and perks. For example, online cheese and wine tastings or French courses that our subscribers can attend for free. They learn from our team about how to consume the products we send. It creates a sense of community, again - of warmth, amongst our consumers.

Unlock our exclusive list of 30 Japanese D2C companies

Le Comptoir also offers subscribers, online French classes. This is an enjoyable way for consumers to engage with the culture of the products they invest in.  For Le Comptoir, it helps to build authenticity for their brand.

The more engaged our customers are with our brand, the more they continue to subscribe and invest. We're French, so a French class is a good ROI for us to acquire and retain a customer. But customers love it. They get to know Le Comptoir better through these classes. They feel more committed to the relationship. It adds up to higher customer lifetime value.

Using physical space for D2C success

D2C businesses usually operate online only. It saves the costs associated with physical operation. But D2C businesses sacrifice the luxury that physical stores have of attracting “passers-by”. More and more D2C businesses use temporary pop-up stores to mitigate this cost.

Le Comptoir has taken this a step further. They opened a permanent physical store to house their products and serve food and drinks to customers. It has huge benefits according to Alexandre.

Our physical space recreates the experience of going into a fromagerie in France. Customers learn about all the cheese from us - where it comes from, how to eat and enjoy it. In France this experience is at your fingertips and it enriches cheese as a product. In Japan, cheese counters in large department stores are cold and transactional. Our physical space enables us to recreate the warmth of the French countryside for our customers.

Alexandre explains the store, beyond sales, is for meeting and converting customers.

For non-subscribers, they visit our store and have a nice time. Then we tell them they can enjoy the same experience from the comfort of their own homes. We find that many people convert.

Then there are opportunities for feedback.

Think about it. The quality of communication you have in person, over a glass of wine, is so much richer than email. Our existing customers give us great feedback when they visit our store. We have open, honest - very honest thanks to the wine - conversations. With a drink in hand, Japanese consumers are very direct with their feedback. It’s fantastic for us to improve our service.

The store is also a great testing ground for Le Comptoir. They experiment with recipes on the store's menu, for example. If an item is a hit with customers, Alexandre can share it in future subscription boxes or on their blog. The physical store is also the perfect place to get feedback on new types of cheese and wine. This data helps to build next month's subscription box.

That's all folks

We hope you enjoyed today's article. We learned a lot about D2C in Japan and the benefits of subscription models. We’d like to say a huge thank you to Alexandre and Le Comptoir for this interview.

Next Thursday, we'll be exploring how to build luxury F&B e-commerce experiences online.

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