No longer just the obscure interests of a passionate few, the objects of obsession found within geek culture—Harry Potter, Star Wars, Pokemon, Halo, Marvel, among other worlds—have become wholly embraced by the mainstream.
It's hard to ignore the trends that are feeding the growth of geek culture: from the spread of Japanese anime in the west to the comic book adaptations that dominate the list of last year's top 10 highest grossing movies, to a global gaming market with an estimated worth of $99.6 billion.
It's become an industry fuelled by fandom where fans attend conventions "cosplaying" as their favorite characters, proudly rock t-shirts that reference comic book heroes, and line their shelves with Funko figures and video game collectables.
In the middle of it all is a company called Loot Crate: a subscription service that ships a monthly "mystery box" of products that have been curated for geeks and by geeks.
Loot Crate: The origin story
Loot Crate, like other subscription box businesses, focuses on curating products from across these different worlds and putting together an enjoyable unboxing experience for their customers or "Looters".
The company was founded in 2012 around a simple idea: "Putting the awesomeness of Comic-Con in a box," according to Hannah Arevalo, Director of Support at Loot Crate.
"Our co-founders Chris Davis and Matthew Arevalo met at an L.A startup weekend event where they conceived of and built the entire company in 48 hours. While most other team members went back to their regular jobs, Chris and Matthew decided to keep going with Loot Crate and dedicate their time and energy into fully growing this new business."
Loot Crate has now grown to serve over 650,000 Looters with new monthly themes and partnerships that help it expand its reach to fans of different universes—within gaming, anime, comic books, and more—who all have one thing in common: geeking out over their favourite worlds.
"From The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, South Park, Minecraft, Call of Duty, Fallout 4 and the WWE, we cater to some of the world’s most demanding fans and do our best to show them new and exciting ways to express their fandom," Hannah says.
How Loot Crate curates products
With so many fans of so many different worlds to serve, Loot Crate's challenge is making the unboxing experience as relevant and enjoyable as possible for as many subscribers as possible every month.
These subscribers can expect anything from comic books, t-shirts, candy, figurines, trinkets, stickers and more when their Loot Crate arrives—with premium goodies if they choose the Loot Crate DX offering.
By working with licensors, Loot Crate can also create exclusive products that are sold through their various crate lines and their own Shopify-powered ecommerce site, Loot Vault.
"The curation process is a huge part of what we do at Loot Crate. There are so many opportunities for us to curate some of the most awesome and exclusive items you will find in pop culture today," Hannah explains.
"Many of the ideas come from our employees. We have an amazing group of people, who are all fans of pop culture and offer invaluable feedback on the best items to include. Working directly with the brands and creators also allows us the opportunity to create and manufacture completely exclusive products that have never been available before."
Keeping their finger on the pulse of geek culture is important for aligning their future crates with current trends—for example, the increasing interest in diversity among superheroes.
Hannah elaborates: "With the upcoming Wonder Woman film to 2016’s big hit Rogue One, female leads are driving huge crowds to the theaters. The rest of pop culture is standing up and taking notice too, from Blizzard’s Overwatch series to some of our favorite comics and tv shows—more diverse actors and storylines focused on underrepresented audiences will continue to be a wellspring of creative content for fans to enjoy everywhere."
Choosing new monthly themes
Many of the worlds of fiction that fans have grown to love are frequently fleshed out further with new movies, video games, comic books, and even fan-generated content.
World building is central to geek culture in all of its forms, and so it's important for Loot Crate to keep up with the current events of each world—both real and fictional—and incorporate them into the unboxing experience.
"We pride ourselves on making sure the latests titles/IPs are included in our crates and their most recent storylines are reflected," Hannah says.
"All of these factors come together to inspire our themes for the month. Looters love the mystery of each month’s Loot Crate so the themes give them a peek into what’s coming without ruining the surprise."
The themes give them a peek into what's coming without ruining the surprise.
"We spend a large amount of time doing research and consulting with our partners to make sure we can bring something truly unique to the most passionate fans, but also the most sought after items around an upcoming event or release," Hannah said when asked about the nature of these partnerships.
"Our partner crates are really special because of this. We love being able to dedicate a whole crate to a particular brand or theme and see the amazing products we can find to make the experience one you cannot get anywhere else."
Introducing Loot Vault: A traditional ecommerce experience
Part of what fuels consumerism in geek culture is the desire to collect and own items from your favorite worlds.
And part of what makes subscription boxes work is the fear of missing out on exclusive goodies each month.
Loot Crate understands this, and that's why they've built the Loot Vault: a Shopify store, which Hannah co-leads, that has become an extension of the Loot Crate brand.
"Loot Vault is different because it follows a more traditional ecommerce experience of a single, closed transaction, while Loot Crate is a subscription service with recurring shipments," Hannah says about the difference between these two ecommerce experiences.
"The idea came about by a desire from our community to have access to even more products that we sourced or created, that might have not made it into a crate, as well as some of our past items that they might have missed."
Loot Vault launched in October of 2016 and has already completed more than 50,000 orders (as of Dec 15) with a 4.9% conversion rate, proving to be a smart way to sell their products outside of their main subscription box offering.
Marketing to geek culture? Use the network effect
No longer as stigmatized as it once was, "geeking out" is simply the expression of fandom.
That self-expression is how geeks earn their membership into this culture, and some of Loot Crate's most impactful marketing tactics harness this energy to tap into the inner circles, networks, and audiences of Looters to reach geeks with shared interests.
Referral and rewards programs
On Loot Crate's website, a "Give 5, Get 5" offer lets existing Looters earn a credit for every additional Looter they bring on through their referral program.
"As our community is one that shares frequently, a program that incentivized people to do what they already did, was a no-brainer for us", Hannah says. "It also encourages what any commerce platform always aims for: repeat business."
With a subscription model, this referral program (powered by Friend Buy on Loot Crate and Beans on the Loot Vault Shopify store) is an especially clever way of acquiring customers and growing their monthly recurring revenue.
Unboxing videos and user generated content
The unboxing experience is centered around the anticipation of opening up a recently delivered package and going through its contents one at a time.
This hallmark of modern day consumerism is actually part of the value proposition for subscription boxes such as Loot Crate.
"As a mystery subscription service, we knew it would be important to offer a way for our community to celebrate together each month when their crates arrive. For many, the unboxing is the most important part of the month and can be a very sacred experience for them," Hannah explains.
And these customers don't undergo the monthly unboxing experience in private either.
"Looters are able to connect with other fans of these crates even from across the world through social media and community as they all unbox together. This has been a tradition of our brand since the very earliest of days".
Working with influencers
There are a wide variety of different types of influencers across geek culture creating all kinds of content from reaction videos to reviews to "Let's Play" videos for almost every video game out there.
There's no shortage of influencers for geek-focused brands to work with, and Loot Crate features theirs prominently on their website, each with an exclusive discount code for their respective audiences.
Logistical lessons from a successful subscription box
As you can imagine, the logistics of a mystery box subscription like Loot Crate are more complicated than a traditional ecommerce operation.
Hannah says that getting these crates out every month is no small task: "It takes an incredible team of logistical ninjas to make sure everything gets out in time and into the hands of our Looters."
In the early days, the team could hand-stamp their logo onto each crate, but as they have grown to over 13 recurring product lines (with more to come), they have had to constantly push their operations team to innovate their processes to keep up with the demand.
Scaling wasn't pretty at first, but Hannah says the key was to make decisions with a "customer first mindset" because what's in the best interest of the customer is usually what's in the best interest of your business.
Redefining what it means to be a geek
"Being a geek" means something different today.
It's become an inseparable part of pop culture that spans across a variety of media, opening up to accommodate casual geeks—not just the superfans—as they indulge in the ever-growing worlds of their favorite stories and characters.
It's a space that's buzzing with opportunities for geek-centric brands like Loot Crate, and one that's likely to be as timeless as the popular titles it's built upon.