Subscription boxes can be awesome gifts for friends and family, 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 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.
Club W sends three bottles of fine wine to your door once every month. The wine is selected according to your own tastes, resulting in an experience suited just for your palate.
Costs start at $45 per month for 3 bottles.
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 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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
There are so many (maybe too many?) box-based subscription services nowadays.
— Rob Falkenrath (@rafalk89) May 2, 2016
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?
— Christian Karam (@ck4r4m) October 26, 2015
Digital identity theft is a huge problem today, especially after hearing about how so many companies are being hacked and exposing customer data. 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
At the end of the day, money management is a personal decision. 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