Subscription boxes might have looked like a fleeting fad a few years ago, but the trend is shaping up to be here to stay. In 2018, Fast Company reported that there were 3,500 subscription box services as of October of that year — up 40% from the previous year. And now 2020, already poised to be a big year for the subscription box economy as a number of mega-brands including Coca-Cola, Walmart and Volvo broke into the space, has been a massive year for boxes as the pandemic struck. Subscription services like Blue Apron, HelloFresh and others specializing in the food and beverage space saw their sales skyrocket when folks were forced to stay indoors.
Consumers, either curious about exploring subscription box companies or considering adding another program to their current lineup, might find themselves easily overwhelmed. Deciding on a service can be challenging if only because there are so many to choose from — each with its own unique angle. When it comes to choosing a new subscription box, Chris George, co-founder of the Subscription Trade Association (SUBTA), recommends looking for boxes that give you “3 to 4 times the value of what you pay for the subscription, along with the amazing feeling of surprise and delight.”
Last updated: Dec. 29, 2020
Cost: $49.99 for seasonal (paying $49.99 every three months), with a delivery of one box per season; or annual, paying $179.99 upfront for four boxes delivered seasonally.
What you’re paying for: A customized range of beauty, wellness, fashion and fitness items worth a total $200-plus in retail value. You receive a seasonal box four times per year. Reviewers are pleased that you get full-sized products. There’s absolutely no question that you’re getting much more than what you would have paid if buying each item off the shelf.
Who will love it: Self-care junkies, fashionistas, beauty lovers and fitness addicts
What the experts say: “If you look at any list of ‘best subscription boxes’, FabFitFun nearly always comes in near the top,” Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com, told GOBankingRates. “I’m a subscriber and I can vouch for how awesome the box is. It’s quarterly, which means I’m getting one box per season with 8 full-size items and as an annual member, I get to customize 5 items in each box (rather than just 3). Having that much choice over each box is a huge perk to me, but even if I can’t (or don’t want to) pick something, I can always tell them to surprise me. They also have add-ons open up for each box customization and I’ve snagged a couple of extras that way for super affordable prices to tack on, like a lavender-scented sleep mask. If you don’t want to shell out the full amount for a seasonal or annual subscription, you can typically find their Edit boxes for around $30 thanks to a discount coupon.”
Cost: The month-to-month plan is $29.99 a month plus shipping and taxes. The three-month plan bills $86.98 every three months, plus shipping and taxes. With the six-month plan, you’re billed $167.94 every six months plus shipping and taxes. Boxes are sent out monthly, so 12 times a year.
What you’re paying for: A box typically includes a new YA hardcover novel signed by the author, a handwritten letter from the author, bookish goodies from small businesses and artists, a collectible enamel pin and a monthly magazine.
Who will love it: Young adult book lovers and literary ephemera collectors
What the experts say: “It’s good for ages 14 and up – you don’t have to be a young adult to read young adult,” Ramold said. “Even better, OwlCrate also has a box for middle-grade readers called OwlCrate Jr. (good for ages 8 to 12) that includes a hardcover book, letter and signed book or bookplate from the author; an activity, game, or second book; additional goodies related to the theme and collectible monthly sticker and magazine. On top of all that, OwlCrate also offers special edition book boxes, such as this year when it had an entire box themed around ‘The Invisible Life’ of Addie LaRue by VE Schwab for special purchase.”
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Cost: $54.95 for one box, billed quarterly. You can also opt for an annual membership and pay $199.80 upfront, which will bring your price per box down to $49.95. You get one box per season, so four boxes a year.
What you’re paying for: $250-plus worth of ethically made items. Each box contains six to eight products across a variety of categories such as jewelry, home decor, wellness and artwork.
Who will love it: Conscious consumers and folks on the lookout for new, ethically made products and sustainable brands
What the experts say: “The best thing about Causebox is that the items included are ethical and sustainably made,” Ramhold said. “Plus, the box itself gives back; Causebox raises awareness and concern for causes and charities each season, as well as partnering with organizations to do things like provide opportunities to at-risk women across the world or planting 10,000 trees.”
4. Fit Snack
Cost: A monthly plan is $28.90, billed monthly. The three-month plan option costs $83.70. Opting for the six-month plan will cost you $161.40 upfront, while the annual plan costs $310.80 upfront, which breaks down to $25.90 a month. You get a box a month.
What you’re paying for: You get seven to 10 snacks that meet high nutritional standards. Each treat meets at least two of the following criteria: non-Gmo, low sugar, gluten-free, raw, vegan, organic and all-natural.
Who will love it: Health nuts, fitness junkies and snackaholics
What the experts say: “Fit Snack is a great monthly snack subscription box for those of us looking for variety and healthy snacks,” said Bella Wanana, personal finance and lifestyle blogger. “In addition to the products that check many boxes for a healthy snack (e.g., high in protein and low in sugar), I also really appreciate the fact that the brand gives back to the community. They provide healthy snacks for kids in need for each box purchased.”
Note that there are many more snack subscription services out there if this one isn’t up your alley. Sandy Yong, aka The Money Master, suggests exploring Universal Yums, which specializes in snacks from around the world; Candy Club, which is all about candy, along with SnackNation and SnackCrate.
Cost: Pricing gets complicated with meal subscription services because so much depends on how many people you’re planning to feed and how often. HelloFresh starts at $7/a serving.
What you’re paying for: For roughly $60 a week, you’ll get two or three recipes (these depend on your dietary wants) and ingredients.
Who will love it: People who don’t mind cooking but don’t want to deal with grocery shopping or recipe research
What the experts say: “In my experience, I really enjoy meal kit subscription boxes,” Yong said. “I find them to be very convenient as the ingredients are portioned out for you and the recipes are easy to follow. It’s a great way to prepare a meal, typically within 30 minutes that is tasty and healthy. This is especially beneficial if you’ve got a busy schedule and you want to whip up a hearty meal that takes the guesswork out of everything.”
Cost and what you’re paying for: You can choose from a makeup box, a snack box or a beauty box — all of which boast vegan and cruelty-free items. The makeup box delivers you $100-plus in value via four or more full-size makeup products. It is $39.95 on a quarterly basis. The snack box totes 10-plus vegan snacks, meal items and beverages each month. The snack box can be purchased on a monthly basis for $24.95 a month, or you can pay for three months worth of boxes (that would be three boxes over three months) for $74.85, or pay for six months with $134.70. You can also sign up for 12 months of service and pay $258.60. The pricing schedule for the beauty box, which packs $60 to $110-plus value (via four or more full-size beauty products), is the same as it is for the snack box.
Who will love it: Committed vegans, or people looking to integrate more cruelty-free products into their life
What the experts say: Abir Syed, an e-commerce consultant and partner at the e-commerce consulting firm UpCounting, said that while selecting a “best” subscription box is tricky, he recommends Vegancuts, telling GOBankingRates that it “does a very good job in terms of offering a solid variety of products that are smaller scale and therefore less well known.”
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Cost: $23 a month if you commit to a year, $26 a month for six months and $35 a month on a monthly basis
What you’re paying for: $40-plus worth of dog toys, treats and chews
Who will love it: Dog lovers and, of course, dogs
What the experts say: “Since the pandemic, dog adoptions have soared so more and more homes will have a need for a subscription box like this,” SUBTA’s George said. “For just $23 a month they deliver you almost $60 in value.”
Cost: You can do the Basic for $29.99 a month, the Advanced for $59.99 a month, the Pro for $109.99 a month or the Pro Plus for $159.99 monthly.
What you’re paying for: You’ll get outdoor gear, emergency supplies and other survivalist favorites. The more you pay, the more you get.
Who it’s for: Adrenaline junkies, adventure scouts and people who expect to be stranded on a desert island
What the experts say: “Their boxes always include at least 3 times the value in the product than what you paid for,” George said. “Again since the pandemic, we are seeing more people hiking and participating in outdoor activities, this box is a perfect fit and will be in high demand in 2021.”
Cost: $14.95 a month, first month is $8.97 for new subscribers
What you’re paying for: A 30-day supply or 140 sprays of fragrance shipped monthly
Who it’s for: Perfume fans and those missing in-store cologne samples in department stores
What the experts say: “This one has been around for a while, but I imagine it’s going to grow in popularity even more now,” Ramhold said. “With the spread of the coronavirus, we’ve seen free samples of all kinds going away — including beauty items. And while perfume might not seem like it’s a high-risk item, many beauty counters in department stores and elsewhere are doing away with samplers all together. Fortunately, this subscription allows you to try out different scents (or blend them together for layers) for around $15 per month. There are scents for men and women, and each one is a designer fragrance from names anyone would recognize, like Prada and Versace. You can take a quiz to receive recommendations (it’s only 4 questions) and then choose which ones you want to try. This way you can try designer scents without making a huge commitment right away, so you’ll have time to see if you like them or if you need to continue looking for your signature scent.”
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Cost: If paying monthly, it’s $15 a month. Prepay $70 for three months, $138 for six months or $275 for 12 months.
What you’re paying for: Five full-size, brand name beauty products, delivered monthly
Who will love it: Anyone who loves beauty and makeup but doesn’t want to dabble in samples, preferring full-size products
What the experts say: “BoxyCharm is one of the only beauty subscription companies that gives you full-size products instead of samples, their December Box has over $205 in value at only $25 a month,” George said. “They have done a tremendous job in building a community within their brand and guarantee $125 in products for only $25 a month.”
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