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Subscription Boxes: the Good, the Bad & the Pencil Pouches

Subscription boxes are a service sent directly to customers that's currently raking in hundreds of millions of dollars each year, delivering subscribers monthly or quarterly packages full of products in various categories. The perks of subscription boxes from a consumer standpoint include:

  • Trial offers of high-end products

  • Exposure to new products and brands

  • Relatively inexpensive/discounted access to an array of products

As someone who has been a subscriber to one or more subscription boxes, I have seen both the benefits and the downsides.

You are probably familiar with some of the more well-known companies in this category such as Ipsy, Birchbox, ThredUp, Chewy and HelloFresh. These companies deliver monthly boxes containing items supposedly tailored to the subscriber’s needs and interests. I was an Ipsy member for nearly an entire year before canceling my subscription. The rush of receiving a package in the mail full of goodies was what drew me in for the first several months, anxiously waiting for whatever fun skincare or makeup waited for me inside that pink metallic envelope. After about the third month, the magic began to wear off. I started getting the same products in my bags, lower quality items and more regular, everyday brands. Bags began to seem less tailored to my interests and became very generic.

I recognize that what these companies thrive on is brand deals with intention of upselling you into full-size products, but when most of the trial size products I am sent are drugstore brands, I could not help but feel my money could be better spent picking out my own full-size NYX or Pixi lipstick in shades I already know work for me. Not all these products were bad, though. Rather than having an entire bag of exciting samples, I began to receive mostly mediocre bags with one decent sample. In my experience, the quality and personalization of subscription boxes deteriorate over time. Soon, you are left wondering whether to cancel your membership or to wait for your next delivery in the hopes that this month’s box will have better products.

Subscription boxes are not a total waste of money, in fact, many have introduced me to some of my current favorite products. The catch is that none of these products are outside of brands that I would come across regularly or that are already considered “cult classics” in the beauty industry.

Another problem that came with subscription boxes was the clutter. Receiving a bag or box of mostly subpar items means throwing out or giving away rejects, so they do not sit and litter your home. The downside to this is that after discarding unwanted items, it essentially feels like you spent $10 on a trial size mascara. The amount I’ve spent on these makeup subscription services in a year makes me question – could that $120 be better spent purchasing these already well-known cult classics instead of waiting for trial sizes? Also, what am I meant to do with all these mini decorative bags? A girl can only have so many pencil pouches.


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