Years ago, if you had a subscription to something, it was probably for a magazine, newspaper, or compact discs (remember “eight CDs for penny?”). Today, it seems you can subscribe to just about anything via a subscription box and maybe even save a little money to boot. Dinner, razors, new outfits, cleaning supplies – you name it, there's probably a merchant out there with a subscription box to suit your needs ... or wants, whims, and wallet!
The subscription box market is so hot, in fact, that it has grown 100 percent per year over the past five years, according to a recently-published study on the habits of e-commerce consumers by technology consulting firm McKinsey and Company. What’s more, these subscription boxes can actually be a great way to save money on everyday essentials, new product releases, and specialty items.
Here are six ways signing up for a subscription box can benefit your bottom line:
- Better budgeting. Every household has certain items that need to be replenished regularly. Toilet paper, cat food, baby care supplies, toothpaste, the list goes on. The cost of these items can add up quickly, especially when you realize mid-diaper change that you are actually, um, out of diapers. A subscription box to the rescue! Several companies offer “subscribe and save” plans that provide sizable discounts when you sign up to have your most-used items shipped to your door at regular intervals. This means that you’ll know up front how much you are going to spend per month on said items. And, since you’ll be less likely to run out of something at the most inconvenient time imaginable, you won’t be paying a premium for your products on a late-night run to the store. Boxes to try: Amazon Subscribe and Save, Dollar Shave Club, The Honest Company.
- Try before you buy. Love being first in line to try the latest innovations, but don’t want to fork over the cash for an item that isn’t tried and true? Subscription boxes provide the opportunity to try the latest and greatest —with no commitment and very little risk — for a fraction of the full retail price. Fitness, fashion, and beauty-themed boxes often contain full-sized products (shampoo, mascara, skin care), brand-name customizable accessories, and samples of higher-end and luxury products you might pay an arm and a leg for elsewhere. In fact, often these items are worth more than the cost of the subscription itself, which translates into a huge discount for you. Boxes to try: FabFitFun, Birchbox, Ipsy.
- Free (or discounted) swag. There’s no free lunch, but there could be a free subscription box out there with your name on it. Several vendors offer first-month-free promotions you can usually cancel anytime, which give customers the opportunity to stock up on things like healthy snacks, skin care, coffee, cleaning products, and contact lenses without breaking the bank. Many companies offer referral bonuses as well (i.e. refer a friend and receive $10 or $25 off your next box). Not only that, you might even find coupons and surprise bonus products inside some boxes. Boxes to try: Julep, BarkBox, HelloFresh.
- Baby steps. If you are considering trying something new — like adopting a “greener” lifestyle — but don’t know where to start, a subscription box could be just the ticket. Instead of the sticker shock that comes with replacing all of the cleaning and personal care products in your home in one fell swoop, a box allows you to slowly swap out products over time for a minimal monthly investment. The concept applies to food, too. Maybe you want to go vegan, but are concerned about the upfront cost of a grocery cart full of vegan fare. Subscription meal kits cover all dietary bases, from pescartarian to paleo, allowing subscribers the opportunity to experiment with dietary changes in an affordable and realistic way. Boxes to try: MightyNest, Sun Basket, Vegan Cuts.
- Time is money. The dilemma: you need new clothes. The other dilemma(s): you don’t have time to shop and your wardrobe budget is tight. The solution? You guessed it, a subscription box. When you sign up for a clothing subscription box, stylists review your personal profile and send a box full of curated items (i.e. pieces that are tailored to fit your taste, your sizing, and your lifestyle) directly to your home. You try them on, then return what you don’t want. No traipsing through the mall, no impulse buys, no extra trips for returns and exchanges, no hiring a babysitter so you can shop without kids in tow. All this can add up to money in your pocket (money for more clothes, perhaps?) and a wardrobe that actually works. Some do charge a small styling fee that is later applied to your purchases, but you only pay for the items you keep. Plus, return shipping is often free. And if you’re wondering whether these boxes are always filled with high-end or designer outfits, the answer is absolutely not. Boxes are available in a variety of price points. Boxes to try: Stitch Fix, Gwynnie Bee, Trunk Club.
- Greater gifts. The cost of gift giving can add up quickly, even when you set a modest per-person budget. Subscription boxes are a great way to help that budget stretch. The most obvious, of course, would be to give a friend a box (some are $10 or less!). You can also order boxes with themes your loved ones like and ship them to yourself. You can then use the items inside for birthdays, holidays or just-because gifts. You’ve saved money on the gifts themselves, and you’ve also saved money on the gas it takes to drive around looking for that perfect present. Boxes to try: LootCrate, Tinker Crate, BOXYCHARM.
Dawn Weinberger is a freelance writer in Portland, OR.