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Are Subscription Boxes Worth Your Money?

Person unwrapping a gift tied up with a red ribbon

These days, there are subscription boxes for pretty much anything you can think of, from gear for fishermen to dog snacks, but they can be quite costly. Plus, it’s always a gamble whether or not you’ll like what’s inside. So it raises the question: are subscription boxes even worth paying for to begin with?

We dove in and explored what exactly a subscription box is, what their myriad pros and cons are, and whether subscription boxes of any variety—and at any price point—are worth forking over your hard-earned money for. See what we uncovered.

Update, 3/16/22: Verified content and links still good.

What Is a Subscription Box?

Digital tablet and makeup subscription boxes on pink table

A subscription box delivers all kinds of goods on a regular basis. It’s like a magazine subscription, but instead of glossy paper, you get boxes of cool stuff. As we mentioned above, they can span all kinds of interests, like food and drink, pets, beauty, clothing; and hobbies like books, vinyl, plants, art, and video games. There are even niche boxes out there for moss, pickles, seasonal wreaths, and grass-fed butter.

To get started, you’ll look up a general product category, like clothing subscription services. From there, you can peruse the specific options within it. Clothing subscription boxes, for example, have general options that appeal to most people as well as more niche options, say, for vintage menswear, patterned socks, or designer clothing rentals, so you can find something that fits your personal style.

Sometimes, subscription boxes are offered directly from a single company, while others contain carefully curated picks from several companies at once. It’s typical for these services to offer two or three plan options, which usually end up encompassing a variety of tastes or hitting each low and high price points, to appeal to as many people as possible.

Most boxes offer a range of delivery frequency options for you to choose from as well. The default is usually monthly delivery, but depending on the box, you might also see options for delivery as often as every week, or as spaced out as once a quarter or season. The boxes are also widely available to ship as gifts, which makes them perfect for both birthday and holiday shopping ideas.

The Risks of a Subscription Box

Courier showing damaged box
Motortion Films/Shutterstock.com

The most obvious risk you take in signing up for a subscription box is ultimately not liking whatever’s in it. Although you’re able to control the category and type of box you get, you won’t know what’s in it until it’s paid for and shipped to your doorstep. And paying for stuff you don’t want or like just isn’t fun at the end of the day.

There’s also the possibility you’ll only like one or two things in the box and be left with a bunch of other stuff you don’t really care about. There’s also a chance everything in the box will be total junk, not even worth five bucks, let alone whatever you paid. That’s just not a good value, and nobody needs unwanted junk lying around their house.

Items in your subscription box could also arrive broken or damaged or in the wrong size, so you’ll need to factor in the quality of the company’s customer service and their policy for returns and exchanges. Every site makes it easy to sign up for their box, but if it’s also tough to find the FAQs, talk to a support representative, or initiate a return, it’s probably a red flag. The best subscription boxes also give you the option to pause the service for a month, when you need a break, or to cancel it for any reason.

We recommend taking a moment to browse the website of any box you’re considering before signing up. This way, you’ll be in the know about everything that’s included, and you can ensure that customer support features are easy to access and that past customers have been satisfied with what they received in their boxes. You can also watch various unboxings on YouTube or look at related hashtags on Instagram to get a better idea of what was in past boxes.

The Rewards of a Subscription Box

Excited person happy about the gift they just opened

Enough with the doom and gloom—let’s focus on the good things subscription boxes can bring! Even if you were the one who signed up for the dang box, the element of surprise is still there as you don’t know exactly what you’ll be receiving. Who can say no to a dopamine rush?

Subscription boxes are an outstanding way to try something new and to learn about products you might otherwise have never discovered (and hopefully come to love). No matter how clever or knowledgeable you are, there is always something out there you still haven’t discovered. What’s more exciting than that?

Some subscription boxes will have you take a short quiz before you sign up. This allows the service to learn what you like and don’t like, which allows them to tailor what they send to you. When items are handpicked and curated by experts, it’s often a better value to you specifically. Plus it makes you feel special, and what’s not to like about that?

One of the most exciting features of subscription boxes is the potential to give you something absolutely amazing for an incredible deal. These boxes have the ability to bring unique items to your doorstep and offer big savings. You could end up receiving something in a box that ends up costing you less than it would have if you’d bought it separately. Who doesn’t love a good deal?

Depending on the box, it could be convenience that you get delivered to your doorstep each week or month, rather than something quirky and exciting. Meal kit subscription boxes, for example, save you time (and sanity). It’s one fewer thing to stress about, and it means you won’t have to leave the house or take time off work to go shopping for food and household supplies. Though you might end up spending a little more on a meal box than if you cooked food from scratch, the time you’ll save on cooking and planning meals is worth the difference. And frankly, that’s exactly what we all need this year, especially with COVID-19 still at large.

The Verdict: Are Subscription Boxes Worth Your Money?

What makes a subscription box a good deal is the value it provides you. Regardless of how much it costs or what’s inside, it needs to be worth your money and make you happy. The contents of the box should also provide value to your life, giving you something you actually like and will use on a regular basis.

Whether or not these boxes are worth it depends on a few other factors as well, like your budget and expectations. After all, subscription boxes are kind of a gamble, like going to a casino. You know what’s at stake and what you could win, but you also know you could lose. And it’s not something you need to or should spend your money on; but rather it’s a luxury and a fun way to spend a little disposable money.

So if you’ve been scrimping and saving your money to afford a subscription box, there’s more at stake for you. A box that delivers goods you actually like is worthwhile in this situation, but a box that misses the mark will be a horrible deal, no matter how you spin it.

However, if you just want to try new things, yes, subscription boxes are worth it. They are meant to be fun and provide a convenient service. Subscription boxes are an easy way to do something nice for yourself or someone else in your life, or to try something new, and that’s always a good thing.

Suzanne Humphries Suzanne Humphries
Suzanne Humphries was a Commerce Editor for Review Geek. She has over seven years of experience across multiple publications researching and testing products, as well as writing and editing news, reviews, and how-to articles covering software, hardware, entertainment, networking, electronics, gaming, apps, security, finance, and small business. Read Full Bio »