Are Subscription Boxes Worth It? 8 Factors to Consider

Joel Lee 02-06-2016

Ever since Birchbox launched in 2010, subscription boxes have spread like wildfire. No surprise there, because subscription boxes are one of the easiest business ideas for an entrepreneur Thinking of Starting a Business? 15 Udemy Courses for the New Entrepreneur Have you got a business idea eating away at you and not the slightest clue where to start with it? Well, why not take up an online course on entrepreneurship and make it happen? Read More .


Subscription boxes can be awesome gifts for friends and family Top 5 Online Subscriptions You Can Give As Gifts With the ever increasing digitization of society, online subscriptions have become a valid form of gift-giving and they're often more fulfilling than a physical gift of same worth. Read More , but should you fork over your hard-earned cash and subscribe to one for yourself? It depends. In this post, we’ll help you decide whether they’re worthwhile for you.

Popular Subscription Boxes

For those who don’t know, a subscription box is a service that periodically sends you retail products in exchange for a monthly fee. These products are usually boxed according to a theme, such as a snacks, makeup, or geek-related items.

Before we dive into whether or not subscription boxes are worthwhile, let’s take a look at what kind of boxes you can expect to find.



Once a month, BattlBox sends you a box containing survival and tactical gear. Each box is themed in some way, such as “Zombie Box” or “Bush Survival.” It’s an interesting idea for survival and hunting enthusiasts.


Costs between $25 and $150 per month.



Birchbox started the subscription craze with its once-per-month delivery of samples for different kinds of skincare, makeup, and perfume products. Every once in a while, you’ll also get extras unrelated to cosmetics, such as hair accessories.

Costs $10 per month.


Blue Apron


Blue Apron sends you a weekly box with ingredients and instructions on how to cook meals with those ingredients. Menus are available ahead of time, and you can opt out of certain weeks if you don’t want that week’s food.

Costs between $60 and $140 per week.

Dollar Shave Club



Every month, Dollar Shave Club sends razor blades for your shaving needs. Different quality blades are available at different price points, but even the best choices are still affordable.

Costs between $3 and $9 per month.

Loot Crate


Loot Crate is a mystery box that’s sent out once per month. The items all involve geek topics and pop culture references, and you’ll get things like t-shirts, action figures, collectibles, and more.


Costs between $20 and $50 per month.



MistoBox is for coffee enthusiasts. Every month, you receive one 12-ounce bag of coffee beans which are hand-selected by an expert according to your preferred flavor profile. Frequency is up to you: you can receive a shipment every one, two, three, or four weeks.

Costs between $16 and $22 per shipment.



NatureBox is a snack box that includes incredible foods from around the world with a lean towards the healthy. If you don’t like a snack, you’ll get a free replacement in the next box.

Costs between $20 and $33 per shipment.

And in addition to all of the above, there are many more subscription boxes out there that have their own fun spins and gimmicks. For example, you might be interested in puzzle subscription boxes that need to be solved to open or fun subscription boxes for anime and manga fans.

3 Reasons Subscription Boxes Might Not Be Worth the Expense

At first glance, those subscription boxes probably sound pretty awesome — and they certainly can be! But there are a few downsides that you should be aware of before you dive head-first into the subscription box hype.

1. Poor Value

What are you actually paying for when you buy a subscription box?

  • Cost of goods
  • Shipping
  • Margin

In order to decide if a particular box is worthwhile, you have to take all of that into consideration and compare it against how much you’d end up paying if you went out and compiled a similar box yourself.

In most cases, the DIY option is far cheaper.


Consider Blue Apron. In the basic plan, meals are priced at $20 each (two servings per meal) and you get three per week. Maybe $10 per meal doesn’t sound so bad, but you can easily make delicious home-cooked meals 4 Websites For Affordable Recipes That Won't Break the Bank Want to save a few hundred dollars every month? Stop eating out and start cooking! By cooking for yourself, you eat healthier and save money, it could even become a fun and relaxing hobby. Read More for $2 to $5 per serving.

Are you willing to pay 2x to 5x the cost of ingredients just to have them delivered to your doorstep? If you are, you may as well try using a grocery delivery service like Amazon Prime Pantry 10 Awesome Amazon Prime Benefits You've Probably Overlooked Free two-day shipping is just the beginning. Here are some notable Amazon Prime subscription benefits you may not know about. Read More .


Now let’s look at Dollar Shave Club. At the most basic, you pay $3 for five twin-blade cartridges every month ($0.60 each). On Amazon, you can get a 50-pack of twin-blade cartridges for $18 ($0.36 each). That would be $30 for an equivalent number of cartridges from the Club.

At the highest tier, you pay $9 for four six-blade cartridges every month ($2.25 each). On Amazon, you can get a 24-pack of six-blade cartridges for $40 ($1.67 each). That would be $54 for an equivalent number of cartridges from the Club.


What about MistoBox? You pay $16 per 12-ounce shipment of basic tier beans ($1.33 per ounce). At Starbucks, you can get a 40-ounce bag of house blend for $34 ($0.85 per ounce). At a wholesale club like Costco, you can get a 48-ounce bag of Colombian coffee for $27 ($0.56 per ounce).

The real value of MistoBox is the top tier subscription where you pay $22 per 12-ounce shipment of exclusive limited-availability beans ($1.83 per ounce). You can shop around at local roasters for high-quality beans for slightly better prices, but at least MistoBox requires no effort.

2. Uncertainty

Many subscription boxes offer annual memberships as an alternative to monthly subscriptions and the annual price usually includes a very tempting discount — but that discount may end up costing you. The problem with a lot of boxes is that they lose their luster after the first few months.

Maybe you end up hating the kinds of food that come with a certain snack box. Or maybe you find a better box next month. And for mystery boxes like Loot Crate, you can never be sure whether or not you’ll like the next box that gets shipped your way.

Don’t get suckered into an annual membership unless you’re absolutely sure that you want it for an entire year. Cancellation is usually a tough hassle for subscription box services.

3. Privacy Risks

Independent subscription box services often don’t have the same level of security that you’d find at a massive online retailer like Amazon, eBay, or Rakuten. Are you sure you want to share your sensitive details with these small businesses?

Digital identity theft 6 Warning Signs Of Digital Identity Theft You Shouldn't Ignore Identity theft isn't too rare of an occurrence these days, yet we often fall into the trap of thinking that it'll always happen to "someone else". Don't ignore the warning signs. Read More is a huge problem today, especially after hearing about how so many companies are being hacked and exposing customer data 3 Online Fraud Prevention Tips You Need To Know In 2014 Read More . It’s one thing to trust a well-funded beast like Amazon, it’s another thing to trust brand new startups.

5 Valid Reasons to Subscribe to a Box

Despite the fact that subscription boxes are almost guaranteed to cost you more money in the long run, there are plenty of reasons why you may still want to subscribe. Only you can decide if these benefits are worth the extra money.

1. Discovery

For me, the best justification for one of these boxes is the ability to discover new things that you may never be exposed to otherwise. For example, with MistoBox or Club W, you get to effortlessly discover new tastes that you may come to love for life.

Sure, you can always browse local shops or hop online and do a bunch of experimentation yourself, but these boxes have expert curators who can speed up the whole process and save you time — and that expertise is well worth the cost.

2. Access

Subscription boxes are also a great way to get access to goods that you simply can’t get any other way. For example, a lot of snack boxes are nice because you can taste things from around the world. Not everyone can walk down the street and buy an Asian or South American treat.

3. Specialty

There are some services out there that offer specialty goods from their own brands that are more valuable than store-bought alternatives. For example, some Etsy sellers have their own subscription box services. Good luck trying to get handmade scarves at Walmart!

4. Convenience

The most obvious reason is also the most compelling for a lot of folks. Are you willing to drop an extra dollar or two every month just so you don’t have to worry about keeping your razor blades in stock? If you hate buying blades or find it difficult to prioritize the time to go pick them up, the saved time and energy may well be worth it.

Personally, convenience is not a good enough reason for me. I prefer to buy supplies in bulk ahead of time. The benefit is mostly the same — I only have to worry about restocking about once a year — but I end up saving way more in my pocket.

5. Indulgence

A lot of subscription boxes are sold on the promise that the items in the box will make us feel better. Candy, chocolate, flowers, perfumes, toys — sometimes there’s no reason other than that we just want to indulge in some way.

Birchbox is a good example of this. High-end makeup and perfume can be expensive, but the subscription lets you get a taste of the high life at a very reasonable price. If it boosts your self-esteem or makes you happy, maybe it’s worth it.

Do You Use Subscription Boxes?

There’s no denying that subscription boxes can be useful, exciting, and convenient. Just be aware that there are downsides. If you aren’t careful, these boxes can end up eating a huge chunk of your monthly budget How to Slash Your Household Expenses in 7 Easy Steps Tired of seeing all of your income go towards bills and expenses? You aren't alone. We show you some of the best ways to slash your household expenses. Read More .

Think they’re too expensive? You can save a lot of money by skipping these subscriptions. On top of that, you should cultivate these money-saving habits 5 Tech Habits You Should Cultivate If You Want to Save Money Cultivate these 5 habits to make sure you save money and get the gadgets and hardware you've been lusting after. Read More so you can enjoy tech while being frugal How to Be Frugal While Still Enjoying Tech & Gadgets Just because you're being frugal doesn't mean you can't enjoy tech! Here are some tips on how to not break the bank with tech purchases. Read More .

At the end of the day, money management is a personal decision Simply Frugal: How To Learn Personal Finance The Easy Way Do you fret over bills and debt on a regular basis? Do you feel lost when others speak using financial lingo? Here's the good news: it's never too late to learn about money. Read More . For some, these boxes are more than worth it. For others, they’re a waste. We just want to help you make an informed decision that works for you.

How do you feel about subscription boxes? Which ones are you subscribed to? If none, what would convince you to start subscribing? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credit: Lootcrate

Related topics: Online Shopping, Subscriptions.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Wykedengel
    June 12, 2016 at 2:18 am

    I'm a gamer, so the Humble Monthly Bundle is right up my alley for less than a Starbucks lunch, I get several kickass games from both large and independent publishers. I keep what I like and gift what I don't. It's a win/win for all.

    • Joel Lee
      June 14, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Oh yes! The Humble Bundle is a really cheap way to get a lot of games at once. I wouldn't call it a sub box but it's definitely in the same ballpark. Thanks for mentioning it, Wykedengel!

  2. Bruce Lamesse
    June 2, 2016 at 11:32 pm

    Quantum Mechanix is an online vendor that creates and sells a good number of sci-fi, licenced merchandise. Most important to me is Firefly/Serenity. They partnered with Loot Crate to make a bi-monthly QMx Firefly subscription box called Cargo Crate. The reason I subscribed was because QMx was creating a series of mini-statues of the 9 main characters, and the Cargo Crates were the only way to get them. The interesting thing about creating items unique to the boxes, is that you can only estimate what the cost would have been on the vendor's website, and to be honest, I find some of the QMx website's prices both ridiculously high, and surprisingly low. So will it ultimately have been worth it? That's a fan by fan question. I wanted the statues. I was also pleased with the other items of the first box, so at the end of the day I will likely have considered it worth it. Besides, I got a year subscription; so the money's gone, there is only the box.

    • Joel Lee
      June 7, 2016 at 4:40 pm

      Yeah, the more "custom" and "exotic" a box's contents, the harder it is to estimate the actual value of everything you're getting. But as long as you're satisfied with what you got versus what you paid, I guess that's all we can really ask for. Thanks for sharing, Bruce. Cargo Crate sounds pretty interesting. :)

  3. michael
    June 2, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    I have a Loot Crate subscription, and of the two boxes I've gotten I liked one of them. It'll always be hit or miss, but considering that I get a shirt in each box that I'd normally pay $10 for if I wanted it it's not so bad.

    I was hoping that this article would actually compare the contents of various boxes to the retail cost. Loot Crate, for example, advertises $35 worth of collectibles for it's $16.00 price tag. So compare retail pricing to what you get and see if you're paying for discount collectibles or for the "fun" mystery. The article eludes to a comparison to DIY pricing, but I'd find it more helpful to see some research. Even one.

    • Joel Lee
      June 7, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      That would be a great article idea, Michael. Thanks for the suggestion. Are there any specific boxes you'd like us to try and compare pricing for? Not saying we'll definitely go through with it, but it sounds like a promising idea!

      • Michael Myers
        June 13, 2016 at 4:42 am

        Hi Joel,

        I think it was touched on in this article. It would be great to compare the actual value of the subscription boxes to their estimated value. For example, Loot Crate says that your $17.99 gets you $50 worth of items. They do point out with an * that this is the MSRP. As we all know, MSRP is usually ignored in retail. It just makes things look better.

        Some boxes have exclusive items in them, but it's usually pretty easy to compare their value when you look at like items on eBay or retail websites.

        Consider comparing the contents and their retail value in the following;

        Loot Crate vs. Nerd Block vs. Marvel Collector Core
        Graze vs. Nature Box vs. Love With Food

        There are different levels for each box, but they all have tiered comparisons. Marvel is bi-monthly, but Loot Crate has an upgrade bi-monthly option as well. The food boxes have comparable levels.

        It would be great to see the outcome.

  4. Tony K
    June 2, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    I've tried 3-4 of the "random junk" ones, and so far Japan Crate (which we've only gotten 2) is the only one that we've enjoyed at all. We're keeping the subscription for now, our girls love trying all of the candies and snacks. Loot Crate could be fun, but they cover such a wide range of genres the likelihood of getting something you'll actually enjoy is fairly low. I think I've only kept one thing I got from the 4-5 of those I stuck with.

    I just recently gave Minechest a shot because being Minecraft-only, it's more focused. And, since they just started this month, I thought they might put more good stuff in that one to drive up interest. But...

    I signed up 6 months ago for their premier box. Every month I'd get an email telling me "IT'S GONNA BE GREAT!!!". The month before, I got no less than 4 emails asking me to confirm my address.

    Last week, my box shipped, finally. They sent me two different emails to tell me this, and I still haven't gotten the box yet...oops, I just looked, it's finally out for delivery!

    Yesterday, I got an email that my subscription had been renewed.

    I get it, I signed up for a subscription, my fault for not looking closely enough at when I'd be able to cancel. But, why would I? I hadn't even gotten the first frigging box! Why would I renew something without knowing if I'd even want the second one? I'd also been pretty primed to expect an email letting me know renewal was coming because they never hesitated to keep me in the loop before.

    So, I cancelled within a few minutes of getting that email, and let them know I'd be speaking negatively of them whenever I was online.

    Frankly, if we ever stop JapanCrate, we're done with these. They're not worth the price.

    • Joel Lee
      June 7, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Sorry to hear that you haven't had a good experience with them, Tony. That's one of the reasons why I'm skeptical about most new sub boxes -- they're too unpredictable and you never know if they'll underdeliver and disappoint. If you do stop with the boxes, at least that's more money in your pocket. :)

  5. Jason
    June 2, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    My wife gave me a subscription to Loot Crate for my birthday last year, and she renewed it for me at Christmas. I won't lie, a lot of it is stuff I wouldn't go out and buy individually...and a lot of it isn't really for sale anywhere anyway; a lot of it is "loot crate exclusive". I've gotten several shirts that I like, and a bunch of toys that are absolutely useless - but I like having them anyway. They sit on our bookshelves with our comic books and D&D memorabilia. I think the biggest "pro" for me isn't on your list though, because its very subjective, and that is - its just fun. I never go look online at what's coming, it's always a surprise, and she and I open it together. I always give her one of the toys, or something from it, and we genuinely just enjoy getting it. It may not be something we can list as a 'wise investment' but I put it under the heading 'entertainment' and it's less money than we would spend on a trip to the movies. I don't really recommend it to people unless they have the extra money to splurge on something useless, and are, like my wife and I, entertained by geeky little nonsense toys and T-shirts you can't get other places. She got herself the Tokyo Treats box last month. Its a way for those of us in the US to get, like the article mentions, some snacks that aren't sold here. I could take it or leave it, but she's enjoying it. Its a LOT more expensive than Loot Crate, like twice the price, and we probably won't continue to get it, but it had some things in it we'd never tried before, and that's always nice. Except the squid candy.

    • Joel Lee
      June 7, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      Thanks for the insight, Jason! You're absolutely right that these boxes often have a huge "fun" factor attached to them. It's like a mini-Christmas every so often, especially with surprise-based boxes. But you're also right that sub boxes are a luxury. Hopefully most people realize that.

  6. Hector
    June 2, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    I use Bespoke Post and the value is great in my opinion. And they allow you to opt out any month that you would like to skip if there isn't anything you like.

    • Joel Lee
      June 7, 2016 at 4:32 pm

      Thanks for sharing, Hector. I really like the boxes that allow you to skip certain weeks or months! Truly the best way to go, imo.

      • Morrries
        January 29, 2020 at 7:36 am

        Hi, Joel Lee, it would be great information for me and
        we are also designing the subscription boxes