A subscription box is a selection of curated products with a specific theme and delivered on a regular schedule. Common themes include things like beauty, fashion, pets, and food. Subscription boxes are packaged as an experience and designed to offer value above and beyond the actual retail price of the products contained in the box.
A Brief History of Subscription Boxes
The craze began in 2010 with the launch of Birchbox, a beauty sample subscription service that ships on monthly basis. They kept their subscribers clamoring for more by sending them 4-5 new beauty and lifestyle samples for only $10. Oh sure, there were subscription box services around before Birchbox but they were first to really make a huge impression.
Over the next couple years, there were similar subscription services joining in the fun by targeting specific niche groups. You began to see boxes targeting dog owners, new mothers, babies, and kids. By 2013, multiple new subscription boxes were being launched every week and eventually you had boxes catering to every imaginable niche, interest and need.
What Makes Subscription Boxes so Popular?
According to the people that love them, there are a number of things that make subscription boxes so addictive. A few of the most notable reasons include:
- Subscription Box Value – Many boxes contain products whose retail value is more than the price paid for the box. In fact values are often double or even triple what you paid for the box. Chances are you will not love every product included but the extra value still makes the box as a whole feel like a great deal. Also, there’s value in trying out a sample size of a product and learning it’s not for you rather than finding that out only after buying the full-size version.
- Element of Surprise – Most subscription services keep at least some products included in their boxes a secret. That makes subscription boxes the only gift that you can choose for yourself and still be surprised when they arrive!
- Curation – Many subscription boxes choose the items you receive especially for you based on your needs and preferences. This is a major selling point for people who hate shopping or have trouble finding what they like in stores. Also, knowing the products were chosen just for them increases the thrill of opening a new box.
- Convenience – Having items delivered automatically each month can save time and ensure that you always have important items on hand. For example, a working mother can use a subscription box to get baby food, toilet paper, and other home goods delivered on a monthly schedule. That way, she always has what she needs and doesn’t have to take time out of her busy schedule for routine shopping.
Disadvantages of Subscription Boxes
Subscription boxes can also have some drawbacks. Unfortunately, with most services, you don’t get to choose the products you receive. There is the thrill of wondering what’s inside, but when you open it, the surprise isn’t always a pleasant one. You could find yourself with a stockpile of products you don’t actually want.
Other problems with subscription services include:
- Overbuying – A subscription box usually costs less than buying all the items in it separately, but would you have bought all those products if they didn’t come in your box? For instance, a $424.50-a-month nail polish subscription works out to $294 each year. Chances are, that’s a lot more than you’d normally spend just for nail polish.
- Unclear Value – Typically, when you shop for a product, you look at all the choices and compare their prices to see which is the best deal. But with a subscription box service, you get a different assortment of products every month, and most times, you don’t even know what they’re going to be. That makes it much harder to figure out whether your box is really worth what you’re paying for it.
- Problems With Returns – Some subscription services let you return or exchange items you don’t want. However, it’s not always easy to do, so many people just don’t bother. In general, 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 will never use it.
- Difficulty of Quitting – In theory, you can cancel a subscription box at any time but sometimes it’s not so easy. In many cases, the hassle of canceling is often enough to make people hold on to a service, even after they’ve lost interest in it. Yeah… think about that gym membership you’re no longer using but never canceled.
Are Subscription Boxes a Good Deal?
There are so many subscription boxes out there that it’s impossible to say if they are always a good deal. You have to look at a specific box – contents, rules, cost – and decide for yourself whether it’s a good value.
Here are some things to consider as you make that decision:
- Will you Use the Products? The most important thing to know before you sign up for a monthly box is whether you’ll use everything in it. With some services it’s easy to tell because you know exactly what you’ll be getting every month. But with others, you never know what to expect. You can usually get a pretty good idea by checking reviews to find out what items are typically included.
- What is the Cost Compared to Retail? Once you know what’s in a typical box, you can check the typical retail prices of those products. By adding them all up, you can figure out what the contents of the box are worth and compare that to the subscription price.
- What is 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.
- Is it Hard to Cancel? If you’re not sure whether a box is a good deal, try it for a month and then decide. Some services allow you to cancel your subscription online; others require a phone call to customer service. And remember… many sites are set up to automatically renew your contract whenever it expires, unless you call in time to cancel it.
Finally, Checking the Mail is Fun Again!
So yeah, subscription boxes may have a few potential drawbacks but overall they provide great value and can be a lot fun at the same time. Consumers love subscription boxes because they’re unlike any other consumer goods available and that’s not going to change anytime soon!