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What Subscription Boxes Are Worth It?

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 13 minute read

Nowadays, it seems like you can purchase just about anything in a monthly subscription box. These services, which range from monthly beauty boxes to prepared meals, will regularly supply your home with new and exciting items for a set monthly charge. 

Subscribers enjoy the ease and suspense of a monthly delivery, two reasons why the service has become so popular. As little as $10 a month, they may seem like a steal.

However, if you spend that money on things you wouldn’t ordinarily buy or on things you could get for less elsewhere, even $10 isn’t a good deal. There is a lot of hype surrounding subscription box services, but before you sign up for one, it’s important to do some research on what you’ll get for your money.

Subscription Box Categories

In 2010, Birchbox, a monthly cosmetic sample pack for $10, created the subscription box. Since then, this method of doing business has extended to encompass practically every imaginable commodity. 

It’s true that nowadays you can choose from a plethora of subscription box options. We’ve compiled a list of the most popular services for the most frequent varieties.

Grooming and Beauty

To this day, beauty boxes remain one of the most popular types of subscription boxes. 

Some of the best options available here are:

  • Birchbox. More than a million people subscribe to this box every month, making it one of the most popular of its kind. A selection of five beauty samples, tailored to your preferences, is sent each month for $10, or $110 per year. The makeup, skincare, haircare, and scent are all top-shelf names. The full-sized versions of the products featured in your monthly sample box are available for purchase on the Birchbox website. There is now a Birchbox for males that include items like hair gel, deodorant, and beard oil.
  • GlossyBox. GlossyBox costs an extra $1.50 to $21 per month, depending on the length of your contract, making it more expensive than Birchbox. In contrast, it offers additional value by including both deluxe samples and full-sized goods from popular companies. ShopSmart magazine, the sister brand of Consumerist, reportedly found a full-sized lipstick inside the box, which retails for $20 on its own. In contrast to Birchbox, subscribers of this service often receive the same monthly shipment.
  • Julep. Monthly Julep boxes feature a variety of nail polishes and other cosmetics. Unlike many other services, Julep lets its customers choose exactly the products they want to get each month. My Maven, the $25/month plan, sends at least $60/month in items to customers, while Maven Luxe, the $40/month plan, sends at least $70/month in products to customers. A three-month subscription will save you $5 each month on either service.
  • GoodBeing. This business, formerly known as Goodebox, provides subscribers with organic and eco-friendly goods. Makeup and other cosmetic products are included in the beauty subscription box, while lifestyle subscribers receive these items plus sunscreen, vitamins, and home goods. You can get the smaller $10/month box with just two products or the larger $25/month box with four or five items of varied sizes. If you choose the normal size, you get to choose one or two of the products you receive each month. If you pay six months in advance, you can save a little money on your monthly price.
  • Cheap razors from the Dollar Shave Club. Men might also benefit from receiving subscription grooming boxes. In a nutshell, the Dollar Shave Club sends out fresh, high-quality razor cartridges every month to both men and women. There is a two-blade razor available for $3 per month and a six-blade razor available for $9 per month. When you find that your current membership level isn’t cutting it, you have the option of upgrading or downgrading your membership. When you sign up, you’ll receive a handle to go with your chosen cartridge and a variety of sample-sized grooming products, such as “shave butter,” that you can choose to upgrade to a full-sized version of in your monthly delivery.

Accessories and Clothes

Subscription boxes have progressed beyond just grooming to include full-body wardrobe-essentials. Stitch Fix is the most well-known of these services, and for good reason. If you’re looking for a subscription box service, this one is a little bit different. 

Each month, for $20, you can have a box delivered to your door with five pieces of apparel, shoes, and accessories handpicked by a stylist who has studied your preferences. Items are not included in the rental price and must be purchased individually if desired.

Stitch Fix sends subscription boxes to both men and women, filled with clothing and accessories from established and emerging designers like Joie, Citizens of Humanity, Original Penguin, and Converse. 

On average, items cost $55, and a $20 styling fee is removed from that total. A discount of 25% applies to the total purchase if all five products are retained. If not, the unwanted items can be returned in the provided prepaid envelope.

Nice Laundry is a subscription service that delivers only socks to your door. It sends you a new selection of six pairs of dress socks every three months. Seasonally suitable sock weights and varieties are included in each quarterly shipment. 

There is only one size of socks, but it should be plenty for most men and some ladies with wider feet. Single quarterly shipments are $49. Annual subscriptions are $99.

Pets

Subscription boxes aren’t limited to the human population. The pets in your life can also benefit from the monthly delivery of treats. BarkBox is the most well-known dog subscription box, and its contents include tasty food, fun toys, and interactive puzzles.

A random assortment of four or five products is included in each month’s BarkBox. During registration, you’ll be asked to provide the weight of your dog in order to receive products in the correct size for him or her; you’ll have the option to increase or decrease the size at any time. 

Moreover, you may return or swap any item at no cost if your dog doesn’t enjoy it (up to one item per month). A monthly membership to the program will set you back $29, with discounts available for 6- and 12-month commitments.

KitNipBox is a monthly subscription service that delivers a new collection of cat toys, snacks, and accessories to cat owners. The single-cat plan costs $19.99 per month and includes four products; the multi-cat plan includes six items and costs $29.99 per month. 

A percentage of this monthly cost is donated to organizations that provide aid to cats in need, such as shelters and rescue groups.

Food

Meal delivery services are a modern spin on the traditional subscription box model. HelloFresh and Blue Apron are the most well-known of these services, each of which sends a refrigerated box with a new dish and all the ingredients each week. Prepare a full meal from scratch in less than half an hour, thanks to the pre-measured components.

Many different Blue Apron subscription tiers are available, providing anywhere from two to four meals per week for two to four people. You may expect to pay between $48 and $140 weekly, or $9 and $25 per person, for your meals. When compared to the cost of eating out, this is cheaper, but it’s still more than the cost of buying your own ingredients and preparing a dinner at home.

Aside from pre-made meals, you may also get specialty food boxes delivered to your door. As an illustration, the monthly subscription service UrthBox sends out nutritious snacks and other goodies like vitamins and cosmetics.

Mini boxes with six products cost $20 a month, while the large box with 25-30 items costs $50 a month. Vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well as alcoholic beverages, baked goods, beverages, and spices like spicy sauce, are all available through subscription services.

Entertainment

Many of the present baskets contain some form of amusement. For just $14.99 a month, Book of the Month Club sends you a brand new hardcover novel. There will be five books available each month, and if you don’t like any of them, you can choose to skip a month or choose a different book.

There are other resources where you can find books geared toward a specific demographic. For example every month, for $25, Comic Bento sends out a bundle of graphic novels with a combined retail value of at least $50. 

Each month, for $29.99 plus delivery, subscribers to OwlCrate receive a themed box containing a young adult novel and accompanying products like pencils, bracelets, and bobbleheads. In a similar vein, OwlCrate Jr. offers the same service for preteens and teens for $27.99 a month plus shipping.

To continue the theme of kid-related products, you can also order monthly boxes filled with kid-friendly educational toys and activities. Every month, KiwiCo sends its subscribers a magazine and an art project tailored to their age group, along with all the supplies they need to finish it. 

Kids of all ages, from newborns to teenagers, can sign up for a variety of fun and educational subscription boxes, such as those focused on art and science. Subscriptions are available for 6, or 12 months at savings from the monthly price of $19.95.

Adults are the primary target audience for other types of novelty video game systems. As an example, Loot Crate is a monthly subscription package for geeks and gamers that costs $16 and includes a variety of merch such as t-shirts, stickers, figurines, and more based on a specific theme. And Spicy Subscriptions is an 18+ club that sends subscribers a new box of seductive items including massage oils, candles, and sexual toys every month for $34.95.

Why Subscription Boxes Are Better

The main appeal of subscription boxes, for the vast majority of consumers, is their novelty. According to subscription box industry experts interviewed by LearnVest, customers love the mystery of not knowing what will be within each month’s shipment. 

A specialist on addiction argues that not knowing what’s in that box each month, but knowing it’s coming, provides an adrenaline high. It’s the equivalent of celebrating your birthday every month.

A few other advantages of monthly packages are:

  1. Personalized Selections. The contents of many monthly subscription boxes are hand-picked with the subscriber in mind. For those who dislike shopping or have problems finding what they want in stores, this can be a huge help. The anticipation of opening a package is amplified for many people when they realize the contents were selected specifically for them. Dorman claims that receiving such “handpicked” products increases one’s sense of self-worth and makes one feel special.
  2. Convenience. Time spent shopping can be saved by setting up recurring monthly deliveries. LearnVest cites Lindsay Karr, a teacher, and mother of a six-month-old child, as an example. To ensure that she always has baby food, toilet paper, and other necessities on hand, she takes advantage of Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program on a regular basis. Rather than taking time out of her schedule to go going across town from store to store, she may just do her shopping online.
  3. Prospective cost-cutting. In most cases, subscribing to a box of goodies will save you money compared to buying the contents of the box singly. According to Karr, she saves five percent on anything she has Amazon ship to her thanks to her subscription service. There are other subscription programs that provide even greater financial savings. GlossyBox claims their October 2017 package was worth $69 in cosmetic products for around $20, while Loot Crate guarantees at least $45 in nerd-culture bliss for $16.

Cons of Subscription Boxes

There are other big disadvantages to buying subscriptions. The most prominent is that you often are unable to choose the things you obtain from services. Although it can be great to get a surprise package, it isn’t always a pleasant surprise when you open it. You may be forced to decide between having an excessive amount of what you need and an insufficient amount of what you truly want.

The convenience of the monthly shipments might then be rendered meaningless. For instance, you would have to go to the store to get sunscreen if your monthly grooming box sent deodorant when you truly needed sunscreen. You don’t save any time shopping, and you have to pay for the deodorant on top of the membership cost.

The following problems also affect subscription services:

  1. Overbuying. In spite of the fact that the total price of a subscription box is typically cheaper than the sum of its parts, it’s likely that you wouldn’t buy every item included in the box if you had to buy it individually. A year of BarkBox, at $29 per month, costs $350. You probably wouldn’t spend that much money on only sweets and toys. The total expense of dog ownership may rise substantially over time.
  2. Not Quite Worth It. In a typical retail scenario, you would be able to browse available options and compare pricing to determine which one offers the best value. When you sign up for a monthly subscription box service, however, you receive a mysterious variety of things each time. That makes evaluating the value of your box for the money you’re paying for it considerably more difficult.
  3. We Have Issues with Returns. The Stitch Fix service, for example, allows customers to send back or swap any unsatisfactory products. It isn’t always simple, though, so many individuals don’t even try. Consumer analyst Mitchell McCall told LearnVest that individuals are considerably more inclined to abandon an item on a store shelf than to return a product they have already received, even if they are aware that they will not use the item.
  4. Quitting Can Be Challenging. A subscription box can be stopped at any time in theory. Unfortunately, this is not always simple. McCall claims that individuals will keep using a service long after they no longer have any use for it since canceling is too much of a nuisance. He uses the analogy of a lapsed gym membership to explain this; As long as the cost of maintaining service is low enough, customers will perceive it as foolish to cancel.

How to Evaluate the Value of a Subscription Box

It would be incorrect to argue that subscription boxes are either always or never a good value, given the wide array of options available. Any decision on whether or not to purchase a certain box must be based on a careful examination of its contents, rules, and price.

In order to make a wise choice, consider the following questions:

  • Can You Actually Make Use of This Stuff? Before subscribing to a monthly box, it’s crucial to consider whether or not you’ll actually make use of its contents. Some programs, like Dollar Shave Club, make it clear what you’ll receive each month. Contrarily, with some people, you never know what to expect. In any case, before you commit to a subscription, you can get a decent sense by reading internet reviews to see what previous subscribers thought of the contents of the box.
  • If you were to buy it in a store, how much would it cost? After you have a general idea of what is contained in a box, you can go to a site like Amazon to see how much each item costs individually. You can compare the value of the box’s contents to the cost of a monthly subscription by totaling up all of the individual items. Add additional delivery fees, if any, to your total price.
  • Could you use less of it? If purchasing more of a single item because of the box’s tempting price, then the box isn’t offering good value. Price per unit may be attractive, but the monthly total may still exceed what you’d spend on a single item. On top of that, you’ll have a lot of extras of things like socks, cat toys, and nail polish lying about taking up unnecessary space in your home.
  • You have some degree of control, but how much? Depending on the provider, subscribers may all receive the same monthly shipment. Some, like Stitch Fix, base their selections on the answers you provide to a questionnaire when you join up, so each box is unique. For some of these services, like Julep, you can even customize the goods you receive each month, or miss a shipment if you don’t like what’s inside. On the plus side, you’ll never have to waste money on anything you don’t need; on the minus side, your monthly box will lose its element of surprise.
  • Please tell me about your return policy. What comes in your monthly box is often what you get with many services. While some stores have strict policies regarding returns, others are more accommodating. Before agreeing to anything, it’s smart to make sure you understand the return policy, including the time frame for making a return, the maximum number of products you may send back, and who is responsible for paying the return shipping charges.
  • How Tough Is It to Cancel? If you’re on the fence about a box but want to be sure it’s worth it to you, you can do so by subscribing for a month and evaluating the value thereafter. Almost all subscription boxes have a monthly plan, according to My Subscription Addiction’s Liz Corry, who was interviewed by RetailMeNot. Nevertheless, it may be difficult to terminate your subscription. Canceling membership is handled differently by different companies; for some, like Birchbox, it may be done online, while for others, like Julep, you have to call customer support. Not only that, but unless you cancel your subscription before its term ends, many services will automatically charge your credit card and renew your contract for another term.
  • Really, Can You Afford It? While some of the things in subscription boxes may have practical uses, most are more of a luxury than a need. If you don’t have the money, it doesn’t matter how good of a deal a box is. To LearnVest, financial counselor Katie Colman said, “As long as you’re fulfilling all of your other financial obligations and it’s not harming your capacity to reach your goals, a monthly crate of sweets is fine.”

Bottom Line

You don’t have to sign up for a monthly service to enjoy some of the benefits associated with subscription boxes. Join a membership club like Sephora’s Beauty Insider if one of your favorite things about them is getting recommendations for goods that are a good fit for your personal taste and preferences. With this program, you’ll receive free, specialized items just for shopping there.

But if the monthly surprise is what you look forward to most about your box, you may offer yourself the same pleasure by setting aside some crazy money in your own budget. This is money that you can use for whatever you like, and it doesn’t have to be a lot. It’s a great way to reward yourself often, and since you get to choose the item, you know it’s something you’ll enjoy and put to good use.

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