Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: Makeup Sample Subscriptions

Do you like getting packages in the mail? I know I do. It's kind of like opening a present, even if you already know what's inside.

I love packages, and I also happen to love makeup samples, so when I heard that Canada was starting to get makeup sample subscriptions (much like BirchBox in the US) I was maybe more than a bit giddy. If you haven't heard about these subscriptions, here's how they work. For a minimal fee (about $10-15 a month depending on the subscription) you get a box with several beauty product samples in it, often with one of the products being full-sized. Generally you don't know what you're going to get, but in the case of some services you can fill out a profile to help the service customize your samples slightly.

For the geeks in the audience, it's like those blind box toys you can get from Japan. You have a gist of what you're getting, but you don't know exactly what you'll find.

Over the past few months I signed up for several boxes... you know... in the name of science!
Behold my boxes, in all their glory!
Seriously though, in theory these boxes seemed like they could be a good way to discover new products for a relatively small cost. Now that I'm several months in, though, I can tell you that not all of these subscriptions are created equally.

Here are my reviews of the 4 major services I've used. The pictures for each are photos of the actual boxes I received in March. For the purposes of full disclosure, I should mention that the links I'm posting to these services are my personal referral links, where available.

Service: Glymm
Cost: $10 + tax (So, in reality, $11.30)
I've been using this service since: October 2011

This is the first subscription I tried, and also the first subscription I've dropped. It was fun to get my first boxes, but I was always disappointed with the colours of products I received. I quickly discovered that I needed to lie in my profile to actually get flattering colours, but even after that I still received products that didn't suit me (I've gotten two, count 'em TWO, tubes of clear lip gloss. Seriously! What would I do with clear lip gloss). I've also had shipping issues (although this was likely more due to Canada Post than anything else) AND billing issues (they forgot to bill me for two months, and then suddenly billed me for three shipments in a row without warning me).

Also, the samples in the last two boxes have gotten a lot of bad feedback on the beauty blogs. I'm apparently not the only one who has been disappointed with what I've received. There's a lot of comments online about the boxes not providing the same level of value as other services, both in the number of products and the brands. I'd have to agree with the other bloggers on this one. February's box came with a single sheet of blotting paper as one of my samples. That isn't remotely enough to let me test it out.

The one perk with this service is that with every month's box you get points to spend on their website (you also accrue points for buying items from their online store). After a few months you can easily collect enough points to get $10 off an item. Shame the shipping costs are so high though.

Glymm seemed good without any comparisons, but now that I've got other subscriptions it just isn't up to snuff. I can't recommend this one at all.

Service: Luxe Box by Loose Button
Cost: $12 + tax (So, in reality, $13.56)
I've been using this service since: December 2011

Honestly, I wasn't too crazy about this service at first. The brands they carried leaned much more towards drugstore brands than that luxury brands I had expected (think brands they carry at Sephora). Luxe Box has also had some issues with their website. They started a program called First In Line, in which you were able to pick out a specific item from a selection of four options. Great idea, right? Well, the numbers of each sample type were limited, so people would all log in to the site as soon as the month's First In Line link became active, causing their servers to crash each time. It was deeply frustrating.

I was this close to cancelling when they started turning around. My March box had two Cargo products that I liked a lot, and it seems they're legitimately working on better solutions for their First In Line program (in April, after yet another server crash, they had us all sign up for one of several selection time windows, with each window allocated the same number of products). I think the service is still too heavy on perfumes (something to note if you have allergies), but it is getting better.

I'm giving it another couple of months to see if it's worth keeping.

Service: Topbox

Cost: $10 + tax (So, in reality, $11.30)
I've been using this service since: March 2012

I signed up for this back in December, but they've had a backlog on subscriptions. This means if you sign up today you likely won't start getting a box for a couple of months. It's annoying, but likely smart as it's allowing the company to expand comfortably and keep the quality of the service high.

I've only gotten two months of the service, but I'm happy so far. The samples are fun products, with an interesting range of brand names and types of products. I've also looked at other people's boxes from previous months and what they received was also rather decent.

Worth trying if you like a range of products and can stand waiting for a few months to actually start receiving anything.

Service: Glossybox

Cost: $15 (taxes are included in this one!)
I've been using this service since: March 2012

This one is a relatively new subscription as their debut box came out in February. The brand isn't new, though. The service has been running in several European countries for awhile now and has a stellar reputation there. Thankfully Glossybox appears to be living up to this reputation.

While Glossybox is the priciest of the lot (although not by much once you factor in taxes), it's also currently my favourite. My first box came with multiple full sized products AND I've liked them all (even the bizarre Evian aerosol that seemed rather useless at first). It's the first box I've received where I've liked everything, from the product quality to the colours.

If Glossybox can continue to keep up this level of service, it's a must have as far as I'm concerned.

In Summary
All in all I'm enjoying these services, but I can't recommend subscribing to them all. As you can see above, the monthly haul you can get is pretty impressive. But all four services cost $51.16 a month total, which is a lot to spend on beauty products you didn't pick out yourself. It's also a lot to spend if you don't actually like everything you're getting.

I've scaled down to 3 subscriptions, but ideally I think it's most cost effective to go down to 2, or maybe even one. At that number you're still getting a decent range of products and getting all the fun of random samples sent to you, but not spending nearly as much. I'm sticking with the three I have for now and will make the final cull during the summer.

As these services are starting to be the next trendy thing, I'm sure we'll be seeing more spring up in 2012. I know I've seen ads for two other services, but the reviews of both seemed so weak that I didn't even want to try them out. Should any better ones pop up, though, I'll likely test them out for a few months and review them on this blog.