Subscription Boxes: Epic Disenchantment

We don’t do a lot of ~trend talk~ on this website, but occasionally I exercise my Power Over Your Inbox/Feed/Social Network Content to pull on your coat about something or other; my version of Peter Griffin’s “Grinds My Gears,” if you will. Today, it’s about the bunny-esque population of subscription beauty boxes. They trickled in slowly and now that a few months have passed, we’re wading through more beauty boxes than we can handle.

I remember when I first heard of this concept. Birchbox was my introduction to the Box Of Tiny Cosmetics idea and I really, really liked it. I was the type of kid who wanted to go to Costco with Mom expressly for the samples. Beauty counters in the mall were uncharted land, ready for my conquest. Little tiny things, I liked them. This would eventually lead to a hardcore office supply addiction, but that’s another story for another post.

birchbox beauty subscription box

I immediately signed up for Birchbox with my best friend at the time. The first month or so was great (I even showed off my Birchbox haul during the happier times), then things started to go sour. My boxes weren’t arriving within the predicted amount of time, the products were becoming more and more abstract and irrelevant (a mascara guard, really? Spoiler alert: it’s a business card with a curved edge, come on), not to mention late. A month went by without a box, then my friend experienced a no-box month, yet the charges managed to withdraw from our accounts seamlessly. After some pretty embarrassing customer service experiences, we both cancelled our memberships, which was a battle in itself.

Then, I tried Julep Maven. My initial trust-seed was planted because they operated out of my hometown, Seattle (right up the street, in fact) so I could find them if ever they tried to scam me… and I’m pleased to say that Julep didn’t end up scamming me. The catch with Julep is in the cancellation. There is no way to cancel your account online, you have to call their offices in order to cancel – but that’s not the catch. The catch is that no one picks up the freaking phone. So I’m sitting here adding “SKIP JULEP BOX” to my calendar as a repeating monthly event (because you only get a 3 day window to skip each month) and trying to cancel my damn subscription. I effectively cancel my membership months later (and about 4 accidentally un-skipped boxes) when my credit card expires. After that, they sent me “unable to process payment” emails for months until I was finally set free.

I did a giveaway for one of the Julep boxes from a month when I forgot to skip. 

Then, we got hearts in our eyes over GogoGirlfriend. The number of eco-friendly and organic products they included made us lusty with desire. My friend and I both signed up, once again, and the first box was cute. It was likely just the novelty of a new experience, in retrospect, but fun nevertheless. The next few months, however, were… uh, nonexistent. When we realized that the money was leaving our accounts, but no boxes were arriving, we contacted and asked for a refund. Instead of giving our money back, GGG offered free… boxes. The same boxes, I assume, as the ones they weren’t sending. They also were keen to remind us that our payment was for a “membership” to GogoGirlfriend, the boxes were just a “free gift.” This should have been red flags, everywhere. End result: cancelled membership. (Good on us, as it now appears that GoGoGirlfriend may have been a total scam.)

I was scorned for a long time. All of these piddly boxes started to sound the same. Pitch after pitch for “beauty this” and “sample that” – jaded, jaded, jaded. I stopped caring. Then, another subscription box offered to send us a box to review. I agreed. It took a while for it to get here… I forgot it was coming. When it showed up, I remembered that little glimmer of excitement that I felt with the previous boxes and allowed myself to get eager about it. It had been a long time, maybe these people were different!

READ  Budget Dupes for the Anastasia Beverly Hills Subculture Palette

I opened the box only to find that 80% of the samples were tiny, single-service packages – all of which, I’d received in GoGoGirlfriend and Birchbox boxes.

It’s still sitting on the chair, covered in all of its frilly, paper innards, samples still unopened and untouched. I’m so over it, you guys.

Is There Any Hope for the Future of Subscription Boxes?

I really, really want to like these brands. Like I said, the idea of a subscription box is magical to me! Give me all of the surprises in the mail, please. What more could a grown-ass woman ask for than tiny, magical samples and a brightly colored box?

If you ask me, there is hope. Despite the overall tone of this post, my optimism is growing. There are two sites, CrateJoy.com and MySubscriptionAddiction.com, which have many authors who review and rate thousands of boxes. On top of the quality control aspect, they actually show you what’s inside of each box each month. Yes, subscription box voyeurism – that “addiction” is not a euphemism. Seeing inside subscription boxes that you aren’t signed up for will let you know right away whether or not it’s worth your time. None of this “wait and see” garbage. It’s your money, if they want it, they need to earn it!

popsugar subscription box unboxing
An image of a PopSugar Must Have box ($39.95/mo.)- one of the good ones.

There’s a light at the end of this tunnel. There are some spectacular people out there doing some really creative, exciting things with internet-fueled, direct-mail subscription boxes. Beating out the big advertising budgets of the corporate competitors is often their biggest challenge, and maybe we can help.

I am going to try to hunt down some decent, time-tested, high quality, and affordable subscription boxes (in all categories) to hopefully help some weary, sample-loving thrill seekers find their light at the end of the fun-sized perfume.

What has your experience been with subscription boxes?

Are there any that you subscribe to and adore? Any horror stories?


This post is part of our Shop Talk series, where we rant and rave, bitch and boast about our beloved fashion and beauty industry. Click on the banner above to see other posts in the series.

  • I’ve found that GoodeBox (which has all organic and non animal tested products) is great. it’s a bit more expensive then BirchBox (at $16 rather then $10) but my boxes the last two months for which I’ve subscribed have been great and they give more then just one time use samples as well as codes to get the products they have included for cheaper then regular price. I would definitely say you should check it out its great!

    • Ooh, I will definitely check it out… Thank you!! :)

      • Tiffany

        Let me know how GoodeBox is if you end up trying it out, seems like something I might be interested in! :)

  • Cait

    I signed up for Birchbox the day before this post was published. I’m now holding my breath in the hopes that I have a better experience than you guys did!

    • You know, I saw their ratings on SubscriptionBoxes.com and it was pretty good! I think they must have improved their service. We jumped on them on their first year of life, so it’s possible they’ve matured! I hope you’re experience is better. :)

      • Cait

        Just got my first month and I’m a bit disappointed. A free razor that I already own, fashion tape, a perfume sample, lip stain sample and a full size eyeshadow stick. I was hoping for something more impressive, they are all products that I’ve used before and I’m not exactly a product junkie! I give it two more boxes before I cancel.

  • Tupou

    I’m in my 2nd month of Birchbox and so it hasn’t wow’ed. I’m guess I’m still a subscriber because I’m waiting for an awesome box like some ladies have received. If my next box isn’t satisfactory, I’m cutting them and going for Julep :)

    • Oooh, yes!! :) (If you ever have a spare buck to try out Julep’s 1 cent box, you totally should! Then you can give your friends your referral code and rack up the free months – for every two friends that sign up, you get a FREE MONTH! Seriously! Cheapest subscription box ever… haha!)