Subscription boxes: A gift on the doorstep

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Graphic by Zoë Berg

Imagine checking the mail one day and seeing a package, opening it and finding a personalized gift. Now imagine this happens every month. Every month you get a gift box full of surprising, or not-so-surprising, items tailored to your wants and likes. This is what happens for users of mail order subscription boxes.

Subscription boxes have become a trend, delivering everything from beauty supplies to pet supplies, food to books, geeky items to fitness items and much more right to the subscriber’s doorstep. The trend began in 2010 with Birchbox, which includes five sample beauty products for $10 a month, according to Birchbox’s website, at The subscription box has now grown into a multi-million dollar industry, according to Shorr Packaging Corp.

When Birchbox began it had about 600 subscribers. The company now has more than 800,000 subscribers, which is equal to $96 million in annual sales, according to an article on Since Birchbox began in 2010, thousands of monthly subscription boxes have started. There are more than 1,800 subscription boxes listed on My Subscription Addiction is a blog started in 2012, originally created to review subscription boxes that now acts as an online directory, breaking down the many subscription boxes into categories and giving a brief description and price for each.

Subscription boxes typically range from $10 to $40, with some higher end boxes reaching $100 or $200. According to Shorr Packaging Corp., subscription box sales have grown by 3,000 percent in the last three years, with the number of subscribers reaching 21.4 million. Subscription boxes are also popular on the University of Indianapolis campus. Sophomore exercise science major Noah Smith subscribes to the Dollar Shave Club for $6 a month.

“So you can go online to Dollar Shave,” Smith said, “and look at different razors that they have and different gels and scrubs and stuff that you can put on your face. And you can order what you want, set it to different frequencies.”

Smith gets his box every month but said it is possible to get one every other month as well.

“I don’t have like an overabundance of it or I’m not desperately in need of it,” he said. “It comes exactly when I need it.”

Another student who subscribes to mail order subscription boxes is sophomore psychology major Noah Hinkley, who gets Ipsy for $10 a month. He said the company sends out different beauty products each month tailored to the customer’s preferences.

“It might be makeup. It might be skin care. It might be shampoo samples,” Hinkley said. “They let you fill out a questionnaire about things you like, different brands you like, what your skin type is, so they can send you better things. And every month they send you five random products that they’ve selected for you in a bag, a really cute bag that they design differently every month. And then you get to review the items that you got, and based on your feedback, they’ll alter what they send to you in the future.”

Both Smith and Hinkley received recommendations about their subscriptions. Smith said his roommate suggested it to him, and he is glad he tried it.

“Before I started using Dollar Shave Club, I just had an electric razor that I used, and I didn’t really like it that much,” he said. “But now that I actually use the handheld razor,  I think it’s a lot closer cut.”

Smith said he thought Dollar Shave Club sounded like a good deal when it was recommended to him, and he now really enjoys using the products he gets.

“I use their shave butter,” Smith said. “It’s not like normal foam or gel. It feels like butter. You rub it on your face, and it’s like, ‘aw, it’s so soft.’”

Hinkley had a coworker who recommended Ipsy to him this year. He said he enjoys being surprised by what they send him each month, and usually does not open the preview email, although he said his favorite part about Ipsy is its review program.

“I like that you can get points for reviewing things,” Hinkley said. “Like at the end of every month, if you review everything you get you accumulate points and can use those for additional free gifts. And also the reviews you leave help them send products that you will enjoy more.  I like how you can give them feedback, and they’ll send you better things.”

Hinkley said that Ipsy, like many other subscription box companies, offers a discount if subscribers subscribe for a year at a time.

Subscription boxes also extend to larger companies and chain stores. Walmart, Starbuck, Aidis,  Amazon and Macy’s are just a few of the larger brand names that have gotten involved in monthly mail order subscription boxes, according to Shorr Packaging Corp. Hinkley said he enjoys not having to go to the store for beauty products, which could also explain why retailers have become involved.

“I think it’s just really cool to get … a nice little rewarding surprise every month,” he said. “So it used to be that I had to make lists—like ‘oh, I need this,’ ‘I need that’—and have to go out and buy them [the products]. But generally, if you have a subscription, [it’s] everything you need plus some fun stuff, and it’s kind of a surprise.”

Smith and Hinkley both feel subscription boxes are a worthy investment and enjoy getting them in the mail each month. Smith said receiving a package is one reason he likes getting Dollar Shave Club, and he thinks others may feel the same way.

“I think probably the biggest reason that they are popular is that people like getting stuff in the mail,” he said. “And you know, in our day and age, people don’t really get boxes or letters in the mail. Everything is on everyone’s phones. So it’s nice to actually get something tangible.”

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