Monday, September 8, 2014

Research Frenzy: Mystery Appeal Beauty Subscriptions

Folks my age will remember Quindon Tarver's hit song, "Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)."  One of many pieces of advice given is the gem, "Don't read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly."  Though the lion's share of the blame there lies in photoshop and single body type model selection, I've noticed that the more I research makeup, the more I feel like I need to wear more of it.  Makeup can become a compulsive, recurring expense.  It's an incredible drain to keep up an inventory of trendy, fresh makeup in the colors and styles that reflect my personality and compliment my natural coloring.

It's only logical that people would turn to low cost monthly subscription boxes to try to take some of that pressure off and try products that might otherwise be beyond reach.  I wanted to know which of these boxes would be the best deal, and whether I should be subscribing to these kinds of services, and I think I got some very solid answers out of this analysis.  I looked at boxes that cost between $10-$21 before any coupon prices or longterm subscription benefits.  I watched a lot of unboxing videos.  Like, ridiculous numbers of unboxing videos.  I'll include a video for each company to show you what an actual unboxing looks like for each of these boxes, but you should rest assured I didn't come to any hasty conclusions by just watching one video of any one company's box.  I'll show the price for a month's subscription to each box as well as the number of Facebook likes each company has.

1.)  Luna For You
Cost:  $10
This is one of the lesser known companies.  I've noticed compared to other companies, the samples I've seen are more likely to be full sized products.  Most of the products in the box tend to be cheap, easily obtainable drugstore cosmetics, so the value of this box is not all that great.  The items in here are not likely to be high end department store or specialty cosmetics.  Personally, I feel like you'd be getting a better deal by going to your favorite low end retail store and picking out some low cost nail color, lip color, and/or eye shadow in colors you picked out.  Sure, you get a higher ticket value (this youtuber estimates a value of $39 for $10) by buying this box, but what if you don't like those colors?  I'm not convinced that that eyeshadow is worth $23, not because I think that brand might be available for less somewhere else but because I wouldn't pay that.  I will say that the color and product choices on this box are more in line with how I wear makeup and which colors and styles I would pick for myself than some of the others.

2.)  Boxycharm
Cost:  $21
This box is the best value.  It shouldn't be at all surprising that you get more valuable stuff in a box that costs $21 than in a box that costs $10.  Allegedly, you can get over $100 worth of products in there, and that would be a really good deal if it were consistent and generally items you'd use.  The problem here is that I would not pick any of these products out for myself.  One of the obvious issues with purchasing subscription boxes is that the contents are a surprise picked out for you by whoever curates the box.  This person does not know you, and is making a selection for thousands of people, so a lot of the choices they're going to make are going to be very generic (not in terms of brand, but in terms of style).  You'll see a lot of black eyeliners, black mascaras, common lip colors, neutral eye products, and seasonally appropriate nail polishes.  Some people would rather have these items, but you won't see a lot of edgy personal statement products in Boxy Charm boxes.  You're not going to get a lot of Urban Decay or MAC cosmetics in this one.  The boxes tend to be themed each month, and they have box themes like wedding and mother's day.  While those themed boxes have items that are appropriate for everyone, there's certainly a tendency in this box towards a more mature, conservative look, which is something I tend to resist.

3.)  Birchbox
Cost:  $10
This company is extremely popular.  The boxes I looked at were all pretty generic.  I mean, the brand names are good, but I haven't seen any products that I just went to myself, wowza, I need that.  Supposedly, there's a degree of personalization with these where you can rate past products and they'll sort of send boxes you'll be more likely to like.  I don't know how successful that effort is or how exactly they correct for products you hate.  I did see a few different versions of the August box.  This service allows you to accumulate points by reviewing makeup or buying through them.  The samples seem.

4.)  Beautybox
Cost:  $12
This box seems to be mostly facial and skin care products.  It just seems like a great big box of regret to me, but then again I've never bought dry shampoo before, so maybe I'm not the target audience here.  I can't imagine spending $12 on this stuff intentionally, if somebody were to offer the box to me and show me the contents.  I love this Youtuber, though, she's hilarious and honest.  I have a lot of respect for her series "Does this Thing Really Work?" in which she buys things like As Seen on TV items and tests them on camera so her viewers can see whether they really do what the company says they do.

5.)  Ipsy Glam Bag
Cost:  $10
This box of products comes with a cosmetic bag.  I can't tell you how many cosmetic bags I've given to thrift stores over the years.  The samples in this bag tend to be fun, trendy brands, but the sample sizes are generally very small.  Sometimes the stuff in these is pretty intriguing, but I don't feel like I'd pay $10 for what I'm seeing in these videos.  I'd rather just pay a little extra and buy the full size Urban Decay Mascara.  One advantage to this company is that it is more personalized.  I filled out their questionnaire, it asks questions about complexion, eye and hair color, and style preferences.

6.)  Beauty Army
Beauty Army is highly personalized.  You fill out a questionnaire and they select a dozen or so items from which you may select 6.  The samples you get are generally tiny.  This is probably the worst value out of all these services.  But they tell you exactly what you're going to get and in what sizes.
You're not getting a good deal, but you know that going into it.

7.)  Glossybox
Cost:  $21
This box costs as much as the Boxycharm box, but includes fewer full size products.  Maybe the brand names are trendier and better, but I don't see anything here I would use.  I thought I was apathetic to the Boxycharm box, but I have to say, this box makes them look really good.

 And there's certainly many, many more services like these.

Basically, you're buying a pig in a poke.  It might be a tiny little pig or it might be a big healthy pig, and the only way to find out is to open the box.

The most common complaint I've seen is that nobody wants to pay for packet samples that would from other sources be free.  Another common complaint is that the goods inside these boxes sometimes don't seem age appropriate for the users.  I've heard people say things like, "This would look good on my grandma."  Cruzan Rum said the nail polish she received in the February BeautyBox 5 would be more appropriate for a 5 year old.  Another common complaint with these subscription boxes is that sometimes liquids contained in the box come open during the shipping process and ruin the rest of the contents of the box.

The Verdict:  True confession, you guys.  I've never bought any shape or form of makeup primer.   I've also never bought any type of highlighter for my face.  Maybe this means I'm just not the target audience for curated makeup sample boxes.  But I feel like I could get a much better value for the same money picking out my own cosmetics.

Okay, let's say I have a subscription to Ipsy for 6 months.  That's $60.  I might have gotten a few full sized samples in that time, but for the most part, I probably would receive sample sized products, some of which I wouldn't even use.

Why wouldn't I have just taken my $60 to Macy's online and bought $35 worth of Este Lauder products?  If I were to buy $35 worth of Este Lauder right now, I would receive a free bag of additional products, most of which are full size and the remainder of which are a substantial size.  I could get two tubes of lipstick in colors I selected for myself that I would definitely actually use, and then I would also get a bunch more product.  Granted, you can't buy exactly $35 worth of product easily, but assuming I spent a total of $50, I'd still be getting more useable fullsize products in my style and color than I would out of 6 months of any one of the major $10 subscription boxes.  Except maybe Luna For You, but the value of the products in Luna for You isn't consistently comparable.  The Este Lauder thing is a temporary deal, but there's almost always some kind of sale like this going on.

And it's not even just Macy's or just Este Lauder, many major department stores and brands have special deals like this where if you buy a certain amount of makeup they'll give you full or substantial sized bonus items.

Or, I could just buy cheaper makeup.  Avon's online outlet store has some incredible deals sometimes on makeup colors that are out of season or discontinued.

Or, I could just go ahead and buy the brands and colors I need for full price, but only when I need them.  I could set a $60 makeup budget for 6 months with the same money I'd be spending on Birchbox for six months, and I could buy items I want to try and things I need to replace.  I could even wait for sales or look for coupons on products I know I want.  Then I could actually try to use the makeup I have before it goes bad and I have to throw it away.  All too often, I end up throwing away products I just patently never got around to using.  Imagine how much worse that would be if people kept sending me shades of lipstick I don't use every month.

I need to swear off buyers remorse, and part of that is not allowing other people to spend my money for me.

Makeup subscription boxes are probably a great deal for some people, or maybe they're worth the cost of admission in terms of entertainment value.  Maybe the surprise itself is worth $10.

I feel like a lot of people end up buying these things expecting more than what they end up with.  When I look at some of the professional quality Youtube videos available on these products, I see that many of these users seem excited about things in the box, and I wonder how much of that reaction is genuine.  There are certainly many more honest videos than dishonest ones, but I'm sure there are some videos out there that could be produced by paid spokespeople that pass for unsolicited product endorsements.  Also, many youtube users receive free products to review on their channels, and some users may feel they need to be grateful for the gifts.  Look for reviewers you trust before you purchase a product.

Bottom line, I won't be signing up for any makeup subscription boxes, but I sure was tempted by a couple of these, particularly Boxycharm and Ipsy.  If you're considering signing up for these boxes, do your research so you have a strong idea of what you might get.  Keep your expectations low, and let me know how it turns out.

Let me know in the comments if you feel like makeup subscription box services are a good deal, and which services you have experience with.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Research Frenzy: Mystery Appeal

I remember a few years ago there was a big mystery box fad on E-bay.  People would bid up assorted boxes of junk.  In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom*, there were several people who were known dealers of randomly assorted Buffy merch, including props, sideshow figures, and autographs.  I never ordered one of those for a number of reasons, but it was interesting to see how much they would go for.  Use to, you could search E-bay for mystery boxes and it would come up with hundreds of general ones as well as the four or five Buffy ones that were generally on there.  For the purpose of this post, I searched E-bay today to see how those are going now, and there are only 33 on the whole website.  Buying and selling random assortments of junk on E-bay is clearly not in vogue.

But that isn't to say that mystery boxes themselves are any less popular.  I just attended Dragon Con last weekend, and I can't tell you how commonly dealers there featured mystery boxes and grab bags on their tables.  Five dollar Chinese takeout boxes stuffed with rings, pins, earings, and hairbows.  Ten dollar boxes filled with old TV guides, pins, and refrigerator magnets.  Mystery boxes are a reality of cons.  Sometimes they're a good deal, and you can get some really neat stuff in there, and sometimes you get stuck with a box of old TV guides you have to either throw away or carry back to your room.  I'm clearly not bitter about that at all.

The reality of mystery boxes at cons is that they're generally filled with things that don't sell fast and that you probably wouldn't buy if they were sitting on the table.  Overstocked merchandise.  The dealer's buyers remorse package.  I've certainly purchased good mystery boxes from crafters, and I wouldn't doubt a box from a snack vendor might be enjoyable.  After my box of old TV guides, though, I'm very skeptical about the whole con mystery box experience.

Traditional mystery boxes have a cousin.  SUBSCRIPTION BOXES.  A plethora of companies offer to send an assortment of goods related to a topic.  The quality of these boxes are as diverse as their content.  Previously, I was a recurring customer of LOOTCRATE, which is a geek themed box of pop culture related items every month.  Sometimes I'd get a T-shirt, or some Funko toys, usually there'd be some candy in there and some stickers.  It's fun to get a box of random junk in the mail, everybody loves opening things.

I cancelled my subscription a while ago, because it occurred to me that I would rather pick out $20 worth of stuff that I actually wanted every month than have a randomly selected assortment of items with a retail value of $40.  I'm generally a better shopper than other people.

And then this happened.

Look at that little Groot funko figure (AND HOW MUCH IT'S GOING FOR ONLINE) and you'll see why I had some second thoughts.  I mean, back when I was getting LOOTCRATE regularly, I could E-Bay most of the stuff in the box and then I'd end up with a neat t-shirt or something and the box would mostly pay for itself.  Lots of the items they put in these things would make fine gifts for kids or friends, so the regifting possibilities are endless.  So, I'm going to give that a second shot, I'll post how that turns out this month later (or maybe I won't).  Regardless, I've renewed my subscription.

That got me thinking about whether there were other subscription services like Lootcrate.  

The video above will give you a pretty good idea of how the Loot Crate compares to other nerd subscription services.  There are also horror subscription boxes, like the Box of Dread.  The dude in these Box of Dread unboxing videos is pretty cool, I don't know what it is about him, whether it's his assortment of horror collectibles in the background or his enjoyment of mystery items, I don't know.  He's just very amusing to watch.  Maybe it's his inflection when he says phrases like "trophy heads."

Not all subscription box services are related to fandom at all.  There are mystery boxes for every lifestyle.  It could just be that I'm a huge nerd and I don't understand other people's mentalities on receiving random boxes of junk, but not all of these are created equally.  If you've read many of my past posts when I've gone way off topic, you'll know that when I start getting interested in a topic like this, I REALLY get interested and just research constantly.  I want to see people receiving awesome stuff they're very excited about.  I also want to see total trail wrecks.  AND THERE ARE SOME DOOZIES.  I'll post a playlist of those a little later.

That's what I've been researching this week.  Let me know in the comments if you're into subscription boxes and mystery boxes, and what your experience has been.  Maybe you have some favorites you'd like me to try, or some cautionary tales.

*A Fandom is like a fan kingdom, it includes all people who are fans of a property and all of its derivative works (like fan fiction, fan art, tumblr blogs, etc).