Subscription Boxes: What Are They and How Do They Work?

Shopping is supposed to be a fun activity: a way of treating yourself for a job well done, or cheering yourself up when you feel down. For some, it’s a regular ritual to walk from store to store, try out items, and eventually pick out stuff to take home. If you want to skip walking and interacting with actual salespeople, there’s always online retail therapy. But what if you want to skip choosing which items to get, too? You might think you don’t like shopping; but maybe it’s just option paralysis, or maybe it simply takes up too much of your time. Would you enjoy it more if the process were easier? Wouldn’t it be amazing to routinely get new stuff that you love in the mail, without wasting hours looking at products at a physical store or a website?

If you answered yes to the last two questions, you might want to try your luck with subscription boxes! Companies from many industries offer this; it’s a way to market wares effectively, by getting you to regularly receive and try an assortment of products for a fee. Set it up so you get a monthly, quarterly or otherwise recurring package delivered to your doorstep; filled with items that are interesting, exciting and sometimes even handpicked just for you.

Discovery and Convenience

Subscription boxes offer you one or both of these two experiences: discovery and convenience. These are part of their appeal, and what make them so popular these days; on top of the wide variety of choices and how easy it is to sign up for one.

Looking to try something new regularly, but just don’t know where to start? With a subscription box plan, you can be sure that you’re going to get a set of items that you’re going to enjoy, but also be surprised at the same time! You may appreciate the variety of what you get and then just simply move on, but in some cases, you might find that a featured product is noteworthy enough to be your new favorite thing. A good example of this is the monthly Box of Awesome subscription offered by Bespoke Post for men.


Bespoke Post Boxes

Subscription boxes from Bespoke Post highlight the discovery experience.


Are you a creature of habit, bound by necessity? Subscription boxes can help you with that, too! If you want to always have a particular kind of product on hand, but don’t want to have to remember to get them whenever you do your errands, just subscribe to a service that will do all the work for you. Good examples of this are food subscriptions, like the one Graze offers.


Graze get started

Subscription boxes from Graze highlight the convenience experience, while introducing you to new and healthy snack options.


A Box That’s Right for You

Whether you’ve got a hankering for something unexpected or you’ve settled into a comfortable routine, there is a subscription box out there that’s perfect for you. It just depends on which side of you is in need of retail satisfaction. Hate shopping for clothes but still want to look stylish and trendy? Personal styling services, such as those offered by Trunk Club, can help–and they offer subscriptions for both men and women! On the other hand, beauty box subscriptions, like those offered by Julep and ipsy, are good for makeup lovers. A guaranteed monthly stash of products–even if some of them are small, sample items–can satisfy even the most obsessive of enthusiasts, and actually even help control their spending habits.


Beauty subscriptions like ipsy allow makeup lovers to treat themselves monthly without overspending.


If there’s a box that’s right for you, there’s a box that’s right for those you love, too. Are you a parent? You’ll be happy to find out that there’s a whole array of subscription boxes for children; clothing ones like what FabKids offers, book subscriptions like GiftLit’s, and a lot of activity and toy subscriptions. Even pet owners can find a box for their fur babies. If you have a dog, for example, something like BarkBox might be right up your alley.


BarkBox makes sure that even man’s best friend has a subscription box option.


Brand Curation and User Customization

Let’s say you’ve figured out what kind of subscription box you want. Unless you specifically want a mystery box–bigger services like POPSUGAR Must Have and Birchbox sometimes offer this; it’s the ultimate in surprise and discovery, but usually not great value for money–the usual concern is how to control the content of each box. Again, subscription boxes offer you one or both of these options: brand curation or user customization.

Curation-based subscriptions are typically those that offer the discovery experience, as well. Usually, boxes like this are put together by following a theme–like what Mouth does–or in the case of Quarterly, even assembled by celebrities. Customizable subscriptions are precisely what they sound like; you get to choose everything in the packages that get sent to you.


Quarterly’s subscription boxes are fully curated.


Truth be told, though, the best subscription boxes offer the best of both worlds: curation when you can’t be bothered to customize, and customizations when curation just doesn’t cut it. Many services ask you to fill out questionnaires or surveys, and sometimes even ask you to rate the products sent to you on their sites, so they can keep track of what you do and do not like. They may offer you a way to completely fill your box with what you want, but because they have a record of your preferences, it’s easy for them to step in when you don’t have the time to make your choices. Winc’s wine subscription is a great example of this–and it even allows you to skip months when you feel like you don’t need a box sent to you.


Winc’s wine subscription is completely customizable.


How to Subscribe

Each company handles the subscription process a little differently, but generally it all follows the same pattern. They will ask you to provide the usual details: name, email, password, address and billing information. If it all checks out–if your address is within shipping coverage and if your payment method is acceptable–then you’ll be taken to the next step. Some subscription boxes may need extra details to confirm; for example, if your box contains alcohol, you’ll need to be over a certain age to receive it.

You’ll then be asked to choose a subscription plan; although some services will only have one. Typically month to month payments cost more than if you were to prepay for a longer period of time. A trial or sample box for a much lower price than the usual monthly fee may also be available for some subscriptions; it’s a good idea to take advantage of these so you can assess whether the subscription fits your lifestyle without necessarily having to commit. There are also companies that offer referral programs that may reward you and your referred friends anything from store credit to a free month’s subscription. It’s worth doing that, as well, especially if you’re already convinced that you want to subscribe long term.

Sit Back and Relax

After subscribing online, that’s it! You’re done. Depending on which subscription box service you pick, you’ll either have to check at least once a month to choose or confirm your box’s contents, or just wait for your box to arrive in the mail each month (or however long the interval you pick is–some services allow you to customize even that).

Subscription boxes are a great way to circumvent actual in-store shopping, but more than that, they’re also a great way to motivate and treat yourself regularly–and you’ll always be within your budget. It’s also a clever way to get to try samples of things that you’re not sure are worth getting full-size versions of; like food items or makeup products. And if, for any reason, a month’s offerings aren’t quite to your liking; take comfort in the fact that these beautifully packaged, brand new items can also be used as great all-occasion gifts.