Following on the heels of the success of Birchbox, there are alot of subscription based, monthly sample companies showing up lately. Most of us are a little hesitant to throw away our hard earned dollars on products we’ve never tried, so sample boxes become a great solution. They allow you to discover new products, new brands, and in some cases earn rewards or receive full sized products all without ever venturing into a mall or department store.
My first thought when learning about these monthly services, was “Why would I pay for samples? I get samples free with my online orders.” The beauty of the sample boxes is that they come with deluxe sized samples. What does that mean, you ask? A regular sample might be something like a little card with a drop of eyeshadow primer under a foil label, enough for one use. A deluxe sample is much larger, usually a little jar/tube/bottle that you could generally get three or more uses out of. With a deluxe sample, you can really incorporate a product into your routine and see how it holds up in your real life, not to mention how your skin will react. With the high cost of beauty and skincare items, trying before you buy is a huge bonus.
Trying before you buy isn’t the only appeal of sample services, though. Birchbox lets you review each sample to earn points that you can spend on full sized items in their store; you can even earn points when you shop, refer friends or send gift subscriptions. In my five or so months as a subscriber I have earned enough points using those methods to equal about $40. (You do the math here… $10 a month, 5 months means that I’ve spent $50 on the subscription but earned $40 back. Awesome!) Birchbox isn’t the only one with rewards though, Julep lets you use referrals to earn free months of your subscription, something none of the other companies that I know of will do. Some of the newer companies have no reward or review programs at all. So how do you know which one to choose? Let’s break it down:
Birchbox – My clear favorite, without question. The service is $10 per month and you get 4 or 5 deluxe samples. The samples are tailored to you based on a beauty quiz you fill out when you sign up, though admittedly sometimes they miss the mark. You can earn rewards for full sized products through their store, they often throw in treats or extras (like hair ties, bracelets, etc.) and they occasionally put full sized items in the box. Normally all of the samples are a reasonable or generous size anyway. They also have a really nice website and alot of how to videos, and if you decide to purchase the full size of items from your box, they ship for free that month. One last little benefit is that the packaging is really cute and the boxes themselves are sturdy enough to reuse. The only drawback is that occasionally they will include items like granola bars, chocolate or other food items, and while I get they are going for a ‘treat’ extra, I prefer beauty items. (I’m also not crazy about how often they include perfume vials, but I understand that most people probably enjoy those).
My Glam Bag – Also $10 per month. This is a new service and I have recently signed up and will be receiving the February bag. (You get the bag for the month after you sign up in this case, cut offs are different with each service). Glam Bag is created by, or at least promoted by, some of the well known beauty bloggers from You Tube. Their website is okay, but doesn’t seem to be updated that often and they have no store and no rewards as of yet. Their first bags went out in December I believe, and they often sell out and will not accept new subscribers for a certain amount of time, then re-open subscriptions. They have a beauty quiz for you to fill out, but instead of asking about your skin and hair it asks questions more related to your style and celebrities whose style you might like. Despite the quiz, so far everyone seems to be getting the same items, which is a bit puzzling. They seem to have quite a few kinks in their system right now, and their fb page has many complaints of people getting their bags late, not receiving a bag at all, or receiving 2-3 bags instead of 1. What bothers me the most is that I saw a post where they were asking for those extra bags back so that they could send them to people who hadn’t gotten theirs. Not only is that unprofessional, it’s gross to think they may be sending out bags that someone else has had in their possession and may have sampled or tampered with. Don’t cosmetic counters destroy returned merchandise? In spite of this, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that they get their act together before the February bags go out.
Julep Maven – Julep is the only beauty subscription I know of right now that revolves almost exclusively around nail polish. They do have a few other products like body scrubs and hair shine spray, but those are extras for the monthly nail polish boxes. These boxes are $20 each, but usually claim to be around a $40 value or more. As with the other services you will take a quiz, and in this case your quiz results will assign you one of their styles (ie: American Beauty, Bombshell, Classic, etc). Each month they put together a box for each of those styles, though if you don’t like the one for your style you can choose to receive one of the others. Referring friends can earn you a free month, and if you don’t like any of the boxes for that month you can either skip that month or have your box sent to a friend. They have a Julep store that you can buy previous boxes and other products from, and ‘Mavens’ (subscribers) are supposed to get a discount from the online store. Each polish retails for $14 and every monthly box contains at least two polishes and an extra product (one style has 3 polishes instead of the extra product). My issues with Julep are that it’s pricey, you have to cancel by phone, and one of the polishes chipped quite badly for me. That being said, they have some really pretty colors and it is the only monthly box for nail polish right now. They also frequently have codes to get your first box for $5, or sometimes even for 1 cent. If you don’t mind the potential hassle of cancelling by phone, there’s no reason not to try it. Also remember that if you want to skip a month, that must be done during a certain time frame. I’m still technically a member but have decided to skip the February box.
Beauty Army – This service is $12 a month, opposed to the usual $10. The difference with this subscription is that once you take your quiz, your are offered a selection of samples and choose the ones that you want. As far as I know they don’t have any sort of rewards program, but they do have an online shop to buy full sizes. From what I’ve seen on YouTube, their packaging looks nice – everything comes in a black box that’s lined in pink camouflage. Their one big drawback is that if you look at their brands list – it’s a little sparse. They have just over 20 brands right now, and alot of them are brands I’ve never heard of (although Befine, Cover Fx, and Strivectin do make an appearance). While I like the idea of choosing your own samples, I haven’t seen anything that makes me think this is worth paying an extra $2 a month to pick from limited brands and receive no loyalty rewards.
New Beauty Test Tube – This is kind of the mother load of subscription services. For $30, they send you a test tube full of samples. The down side? Aside from it’s $30 bucks, it only ships once every three months. It also includes a super thick magazine that they value at $10, and apparently it also includes some sort of giftcard. The drawback with things like this is that when they throw in a gift card, it’s generally like, $20 off from a site that has nothing under $50. I’m not saying for sure that’s the case here, just some food for thought. Another big problem with this service is that the thirty bucks does not include the $8.95 shipping, whereas all of the other services include shipping – but hey, somebodys gotta carry that heavy magazine I guess. When you sign up, you’re signing up for the whole year.. thats 4 tubes at $38.95 each, but presumably you could cancel whenever you wanted. They allow feedback, but no where does it state that it does you any good to review it – however you are getting the giftcard so that counts as a reward. Their packaging is pretty cool… it’s literally a big tube of stuff. Occasionally you can find the tubes on sale at QVC, and I think you have the option of the auto delivery or the single tube – and when buying from them I believe you can see exactly what you’re getting.
There are a few other subscription services available now but these seem to be the most popular. Personally, my choice is Birchbox, but I am hoping that Glam Bag turns things around and impresses me. Julep isn’t bad but I find it too expensive to get on a monthly basis, I haven’t tried Beauty Army at all, and I’m far too impatient to wait three months for a Beauty Test Tube. Whichever service you choose, it’s alot of fun to try new things and get surprise makeup and skincare in the mail. Just remember, no service is going to be able to please every single customer every month, so don’t expect to love absolutely everything. It’s all about weighing the costs and benefits and choosing what is right for you.
It’s not long.. it’s thorough! 😉