Subscription boxes are selling like hotcakes, but are they worth the expense? Whether they contain the latest beauty samples or treats from far-off lands, there's a lot of mystery surrounding these curated care packages. If you're interested in trying one out, it's easy to get overwhelmed by options — not to mention the cost. These boxes aren't always cheap, and many follow the automatic renewal payment model; you definitely want to look before you leap.
To help our fellow dealseekers make sense of this trend, we tracked down an expert: Liz Cadman, the founder of My Subscription Addiction, a website that provides reviews and offers for nearly every subscription box around. Read on for the answers to your toughest subscription box questions.
A Box for Every Doorstep
According to Cadman, there's a box out there for every shopper. "So there are beauty boxes, but there are also vegan beauty boxes. There are snack boxes, and then there are gluten-free snack boxes. The majority of boxes are aimed at women, but there are plenty of boxes for men, kids, babies, and pets, too!"
Because prices can range from $10 to $40 per box, it's better to begin with something general and cheap. "I recommend starting with one of the lower priced boxes like Birchbox or Love with Food [both priced from $10 a month]. This is a good way to try out the subscription box model without investing too much," Cadman said. If you find yourself longing for something more specialized, the next step is to check out some subscription box reviews to see what other folks are receiving.
So what makes a particular subscription worth buying? Cadman suggests checking the usefulness of a subscription's previous boxes, in addition to the items' market price: "I may get a box with a retail value of triple what I paid for it, but if I won't use most of the items then it isn't actually that valuable to me."
What's in the Box?!
Because there are literally hundreds of subscription boxes out there, it's kind of hard to describe what you'll get in any given one. Most subscriptions are delivered on a monthly basis, with 4 to 6 items in a box. Many companies deliver a mix of full- and sample-sized products, which you can then purchase in greater quantity via their website — like Ipsy [$10 per month]. Other boxes will contain a random assortment of items that correspond with a specific theme, as is the case with Loot Crate [$13 per month].
It's worth noting that shipping costs aren't always figured into the prices advertised by a subscription; for instance, Ipsy boasts free shipping, but each Loot Crate costs an extra $6 or so. Another cost to consider is the subscription model itself. You can often shave down the per-box price by subscribing to multiple months at once, but just keep in mind that many of these subscriptions automatically renew themselves.
The cool thing about this process is that you don't always have to keep a box of stuff you don't like. "A few companies allow you to return the entire box for a refund. Wantable [from $20 per box] is a good example," Cadman said. "This isn't the norm though. Because of this, we launched a swap section on our site a year ago to help everyone trade items that are great but not great for them. It's a really great (and free) way to make the most of your subscription box when it comes to value."
Surprise Me! (Or Don't)
A big upside (or downside) of many subscription boxes is the surprise factor. Many subscriptions are curated, in that "the person or persons involved in sourcing the products for the box put thought and effort into not only the items but how they go together," Cadman said. "Often boxes include a card letting you know the themes of the month and why each product was selected." Some companies take the curation even further, offering 100% personalized boxes for every subscriber — Stitch Fix [from $20 per month] is one such company.
If surprises aren't your bag, then you can still give subscription boxes a try. Some companies let you pick the contents of your packages; food subscriptions are especially great about this. From meal planners like Plated [from $12 per plate] to snack boxes like Graze [from $7 per box], picking your own tasty noms is built into the process. Single-service subscriptions like Dollar Shave Club [from $1 per month] are also a good choice if you're not interested in mystery.
Subscription boxes may be the trendy way to get cool stuff delivered to your home, but a little research goes a long way. To make sure you're getting exactly what you want, see what other subscribers are saying before you enter that credit card info. Readers, have you tried any subscription boxes? Whether you love 'em or hate 'em, share your experiences in the comments below!