Birchbox. This is the box that started it all, and it’s still one of the most popular, with over a million subscribers. For $10 per month or $110 per year, it provides an assortment of five beauty samples – all specially chosen to meet your particular tastes. Items include lipstick, mascara, skin cream, dry shampoo, and fragrance, all from high-end brands. If you like the samples in your monthly box, you can order full-size versions from the Birchbox website. Birchbox now offers a men’s grooming box as well, with products like hair gel, deodorant, and beard oil.
For most people, the big advantage of subscription boxes is the fun factor. Experts who spoke with LearnVest about the psychology behind subscription boxes say people enjoy the suspense of looking forward to each month’s box and wondering what it will contain. As addiction expert Amanda Dorman explains, “Waiting for that box each month – not knowing what it is, but knowing it’s coming – creates an adrenaline rush.” It’s like getting a birthday gift every month.
Although often considered a splurge, subscription boxes can be quite the little life-savers. Say you always forget to buy razor blades until it’s too late (read: you’ve got serious razor burn)? There’s a subscription box for that. Never remember to eat breakfast in morning and feel totally drained by noon? There’s a subscription box for that. Or maybe you never have anything fun (cough, cough, educational) to do with your kids on a rainy day. Yep, there’s even a box for that. While you can’t possibly sign-up for them all, we’ve rounded up the top-rated options to help you make the best choice.
8. Vinyl Me, Please: Vinyl Me, Please's monthly subscription service is a treat for audiophiles. Every month the subscriber receives a limited edition vinyl LP (often in color), a 12x12 album-inspired art print and a cocktail recipe to complement the music. Each Record of the Month, whether a current release or a special re-issue, is thoughtfully curated, aimed at broadening the musical taste of the subscriber. Plus, you get to enjoy additional content online, including their podcast and Spotify playlist.
Trunk Club is a Nordstrom company that offers styling services for both women and men. Customers fill out a detailed style profile which, in turn, your assigned stylist uses to handpick clothes, shoes, and accessories. There is a $25 styling fee which is credited towards whatever you decide to keep, which is waived if you are a Nordstrom cardmember.
7. Pipsticks: If the idea of receiving packs of cute stickers every month in your mail gets you excited then you need to get a Pipsticks subscription ASAP! They offer two subscription services — for kids and for 'pros' (adult sticker enthusiasts). Each monthly package comes with 15 or more sheets of theme-based stickers, a quote card and a fun postcard to share the sticker craze with your loved ones or pen pals. From funky food trucks and glittery unicorns to raindrops, beaches and scratch-and-sniff strawberries — each monthly pack will make the #stickeraddict in you squeal with joy. Plus, they're all set to launch a collection of chic journals, sticker books and planners that will be available from June (Spoiler: the planners come with sparkly, holographic pouches, creative prompts, sticker sheets, patterned sticky notes and much more!). You can pre-order yours here.
How Much Control Do You Have? Some subscription services send the same monthly box to every subscriber. Others, such as Stitch Fix, tailor the contents to your personal tastes based on a questionnaire you fill out when you sign up. A few, such as Julep, allow you to preview each month’s box before it’s shipped and skip that month if you don’t want it, or even personally choose some or all of the items you receive. This means you’ll never have to waste money on an item you don’t want – but on the downside, your monthly box won’t be a special surprise.
What’s the Return Policy? With many services, you’re stuck with whatever you get in your monthly box. Others let you return items you don’t want – but it isn’t always easy. Before you sign a contract, check it for details about how long you have to return items, how many items you’re allowed to return, and whether you have to pay return shipping costs.
Potential Savings. Having goodies shipped to you in a subscription box is often cheaper than buying each of those items separately. Karr says her subscription service gives her a 5% discount on all the items she has shipped from Amazon. Others subscription services offer even bigger savings. For instance, GlossyBox says its October 2017 box contained $69 worth of beauty items for about $20, and Loot Crate promises at least $45 worth of nerd-culture joy for $16.
In addition to meals, there are subscription boxes for specific types of food items. For instance, UrthBox delivers healthy snack items each month, along with a few extras like supplements and personal care products. Prices range from $20 a month for a six-item mini box to $50 for a large box with 25 to 30 items. There are also subscription services for vegan and gluten-free foods, wine, beer, coffee, and even hot sauce.
Speaking of kids, you can also get subscription boxes with educational toys or projects for children. KiwiCo includes a monthly magazine and an age-appropriate creative project, along with the materials needed to complete it. There are subscriptions for all age groups, from toddlers to teens, and you can choose between art-themed or science-themed boxes for older kids. All boxes are $19.95 per month, with a discount if you commit to a 6-month or 12-month subscription.
Can You Really Afford It? Although subscription boxes can contain useful items, most of them are clearly wants rather than needs. Even if a box is a good value, it’s not worth buying if you don’t have room in your budget. Financial planner Katie Colman, speaking with LearnVest, says it’s okay to splurge on a monthly crate of goodies only “as long as you’re meeting all your other financial obligations and it’s not impacting your ability to meet your goals.”
If you're working out in the same old gym clothes every day, it might be time to switch things up. You fill out a profile based on your workouts and style preferences, and SweatStyle selects a handful of activewear options you'll love. After your box arrives at your doorstep, you have five days to decide what you want to keep and pay for; the rest can be returned.
Problems With Returns. Some subscription services, such as Stitch Fix, let you return or exchange items you don’t want. However, it’s not always easy to do, and so many people just don’t bother. Consumer expert Mitchell McCall, speaking with LearnVest, says people are much more likely to leave something on the shelf in the store than they are to return an item they’ve already received – even if they know they won’t use it.
On the other hand, if your favorite thing about your subscription box is getting a special treat each month, you can give yourself the same experience by creating a category in your personal budget for “mad money.” This is a sum of cash – which doesn’t have to be large – that you can spend on anything you want. It allows you to treat yourself to something special each month – and since you pick it yourself, you can be sure it’s something you’ll really use.
Overbuying. While a subscription box usually costs less than buying all the items in it separately, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t buy all those items if they didn’t come in your box. For instance, a $29-a-month BarkBox subscription works out to $350 each year. Chances are, that’s a lot more than you’d normally spend just for toys and treats. Over the long term, it could add significantly to the cost of owning a dog.