Do you use subscription boxes?

Which subscription boxes are really a deal?

In 2010, Birchbox launched their monthly subscription box. Maybe you subscribed or maybe you just saw the monthly “unboxing” on your friends’ Facebook feeds, but the company was clearly onto something.

Now dozens (if not hundreds) of companies — both large and small — offer boxes all tailored to suit certain interests. You can subscribe to boxes catering to foodies, video game enthusiasts, fashionistas, pet parents, or just about anything else you can think of. For a monthly fee, you get a box of goods curated by the company.

The fees range from $10 a month for small boxes (mostly comprised of sample products) to $100 or more for boxes including designer labels. And every month, what you’re getting is a surprise.

The anticipation is fun. The surprise is fun. But are you really getting a good value? After all, while you’ll use some (if not all) of the products every month, is it something you would have purchased on your own? To find out, we subscribed to a whole bunch of boxes for all kinds of different tastes…

1. Loot Crate

The subscription boxes from Loot Crate center around geek culture — video games, cult classic movies, comics, and other pop-culture items. Each month, the boxes feature a central theme. Each box costs $13.37 plus shipping and handling (about $20 total). I signed up for the “adventure” theme and got:

  • “Adventure Time” blind box figure in collectible tin (retail value $7.99)
  • “Minecraft” blind bag hanger ($5.99)
  • “Legend of Zelda” exclusive keychain and bottle opener
  • Exclusive “Legend of Zelda” T-shirt
  • Soundtrack from YouTube Series “Friend Zone”
  • Exclusive sticker and temporary tattoo packs

Determining the final retail value for Loot Crate is difficult, since many items are exclusively sold by the company. However, what you get seems to exceed the cost of the subscription. Overall, if you’re into collectibles, this seemed like a solid monthly box.

2. Taste Trunk

Taste Trunk serves foodies. Each month, you’ll get 4-10 full-sized items, depending on which subscription size you choose. The company offers four different monthly subscriptions: gourmet, sweet, BBQ, and health, which you can switch up whenever you want.

Subscriptions come in two sizes. For $23.99 (plus shipping), the premium subscription includes 4-8 items. For $28.99 (plus shipping) the deluxe subscription includes 5-10 items. I chose the premium gourmet box, which included:

  • Willamette Valley Mustards Balsamic Basil Vinaigrette (retail value $6)
  • Cucina & Amore Tomato-Artichoke Bruschetta ($4.99)
  • Food & Wine Sweet Hot Beer Mustard ($6.25)
  • Sticky Fingers Bakery Irish Soda Bread Mix ($5.99)
  • Himalayan Salt Block ($34.45)

By far, this was the most impressively built box. The box included ribbon and tissue paper wrapping, wax seals, and a recipe for every item. I used everything in the box and, considering the Himalayan salt block can be reused dozens of times, the value was great. Overall, this was a solid choice.

3. Julep

Julep creates their own nail polishes and a handful of cosmetics. By signing up for their “Monthly Maven” plan for $24.99 (plus tax in some areas), you get three nail polishes or cosmetics based on the style profile you chose. I received three nail polishes:

  • Margret: a cornflower blue
  • Kam: a mint green
  • Princess Grace: a pale orange

Overall, Julep has above-average nail polish colors and I got three compliments wearing Margret, but at $8.33 a piece, this subscription seems overvalued. I was also unable to reach anyone through customer service and had my plan automatically renewed while I was waiting for a call back. Considering the high price and the poor customer service, this subscription may not be worth it.

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4. Graze

Graze works a bit differently from other boxes. For one thing, the company lets you choose your delivery schedule (the default is weekly delivery). The company also makes their products rather than use third-party manufacturers. Each delivery costs $6 and includes a sampling of snack items. I ordered the starter “nibblebox,” which included:

  • Super Berry Detox blend
  • Summer berry flapjack granola bars
  • Smoky chipotle dip with rosemary breadsticks
  • Cracked black pepper cashews

While the names were impressive and the ingredients healthy, each snack is small — a little less than a handful. Most of the items I tried also seemed old. Overall, this seems like a collection of food stuffs you’d get in any gift box or sampler pack — and not something I’d want to eat weekly.

5. The Honest Company

The Honest Company develops and sells non-toxic cleaners, household supplies, vitamins, and baby gear. You have a choice between three bundles: the “diapers and wipes” bundle for $79.95 per month, the “essentials” bundle for $39.95 per month, and the “health and wellness” bundle for $39.95 per month. I signed up for a trial subscription of the essential bundle, which included sample sizes of:

  • Lemongrass hand soap
  • Healing balm
  • Face and body moisturizer
  • Shampoo and body wash
  • Multi-surface cleaner

If you’re interested in vegan, non-toxic, or organic products, you’ll probably be pleased with this line. But the monthly bundle may not be the best way to go for small households. You may not get through every bottle each month and end up with a sizable backlog.

6. Stunner of the Month

Stunner of the Month is a sunglasses subscription club. For $9 (free shipping), you get one pair of sunglasses shipped to your house. I received a pair of turquoise aviators, a fabric case, and a small sunglass repair kit that fits on a keychain.

While I liked the sunglasses enough to keep them as a backup pair, the quality was no different from any discount pair of sunglasses you’d buy at a big box retailer.

7. BarkBox

BarkBox is a monthly subscription box for dogs. For $29 a month (with free shipping) you get a box of toys, treats, chews, and other dog goodies. For an extra $9 a month, you can get another premium toy included in your box, and a portion of each subscription goes to help pups in need. My box included:

  • Megalast Ball from JW Pet (retail value $7.95)
  • Bocce’s Bakery Truffle Mac and Cheese treats ($9.50)
  • Healthy Dogma Duck Recipe Barkers treats ($7.95)
  • Mr. Barksmith’s Carrot Cake Smoothie ($1.19)

BarkBox was my favorite subscription box by far. I was able to pick the size of my pet, and select sturdier toys for my heavy chewer. The toy was excellent quality (and smelled like vanilla), the treats were all natural, and the smoothie was adorable. My dog has eaten or played with everything in the box.

The verdict

Honestly, not knowing what I’d get in each box was a lot of fun, and I was surprised by most of the boxes I received. I was also able to put almost everything to use. If you like the idea, it may be worth giving it one a try, but make sure you save money in the process.

Start by looking for a coupon code for your first box. Blogs like My Subscription Addiction and Subscription Box Mom do a good job of hunting down current codes. Try the boxes out for a month to decide if you want to commit, and then sign on longer for a discount. Most companies offer a discount for longer plans. For example, BarkBox prices are dropped to $19 if you sign up for six months.

Happy hunting and boxing.

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