Sunday, November 27, 2011

{sunday roundup} battle of the beauty boxes

UPDATE (April 2013): Please read my most recent post on Glymm before ordering from this company.

every once in a while, i go through the phase. or should i say, the dreaded phase... when all i want to do is spend money. in trying to understand my spending patterns, i recently reviewed 5 years of my finance spreadsheets. yes, i'm anal and will painstakingly record every single expense no matter how minute. i'll even record picking up 10 cents off the ground. i categorize it as "income - other" - really, i do.

so i looked at 5 years of spending - specifically on clothing, accessories, and beauty products. while overall, my spending has been very haphazard, there were 2 patterns that emerged:

1. in most years except for 2011, i spent the least in the winter months (i.e. january to march). i typically hole up in the winter so i don't go to a whole lot of stores... however, this year, i spent a lot of money shopping online, purchasing big ticket items. either i like the convenience or i like getting mail. probably both.

2. in all years, i spent very little in january and september. january is easy to explain - that's the month for new year's resolutions. but why september? i don't have an inkling.

anyway, in an attempt to simultaneously satisfy my urge to shop online, have convenient access to new stuff on a regular basis, and receive packages in the mail, i signed up for a couple of beauty sample subscription services. i actually had more goodies to share on this {sunday roundup} but the post got so long that i decided to save the rest for another sunday.

first, a little bit about how i came across these subscription services.

as i was looking for reviews of the urban decay naked palette, i came across a youtube video featuring a november birchbox. i had never heard of birchbox so i contemplated not watching the video but i clicked it anyway and was astounded by the concept.

for $10 a month, including free shipping, birchbox will send you 4 or 5 samples of high end beauty products. you never know what you're going to get but the boxes are customized according to a beauty profile that you fill out online. at first, i thought the concept was a little cheesy... i mean, you can get samples for free from sephora or the bay. however, the samples you get from birchbox are "deluxe" size and are occasionally full sized products. slowly i became more intrigued.

as i explored the birchbox website, i lamented to the boy about the subscription service not being available in canada. until i googled "birchbox in canada" and, lo and behold, we have three different subscription services available to us! i did lots of research and eventually decided to subscribe to topbox and glymm... read on for my rationale:

// price //

topbox - $10 per month
glymm - $10 per month or $110 per 12 months
luxe box - $12 per month or $120 per 12 months

all include free shipping but we canadians need to add a little to the list price for the tax man. i decided to subscribe on a monthly basis because i want to be able to cancel my subscription at any time. luxe box is the most expensive on a monthly basis. i don't mind paying a little extra but based on the other points of comparison, i didn't feel the price differential was justified.

// brands //

the following brands were listed on the company websites:

topbox - benefit, stila, deborah lippman, lise watier, etc.
topbox is the newest company so it does not seem to have agreements in place with very many brands yet. topbox is very secretive about upcoming brand partnerships; however, the company prides itself on delivering only high end samples. you'll see why this is important as you read on. in addition, topbox does not include fragrance samples... this is a good thing for me but may not be for others.

glymm - beauty blender, butter, borghese, la roche-posay, lise watier, o•p•i, orlane, oscar de la renta, etc.
tons of brands on this site and they all look to be reasonably high end. i didn't recognize a lot of the brands listed (i only named the ones i know) but, in a sense, that's exciting because you can try a wide range of goodies. i'm a little nervous reading that glymm included an annabelle smudgepaint in the november box - while i like annabelle products (been using the eye shadows and lip liners for years), they are definitely not high end. it would not take a significant investment to go to my local drug store and pick up a few products to try. i am looking for high end products from my subscription but i know others don't mind full size samples of drug store brands.

i am also really excited about glymm for men! my hubby would love this!

luxe box - lancome, benefit, stila, shiseido, bobbi brown, clinique, nars, etc.
when i initially saw the brands listed on the luxe box website, i almost started drooling. that is, until i watched some youtube unboxings and read some reviews. the november luxe box included brands like essie and elf... while these products may be very good, i wouldn't classify them as high end. also, from the reviews i've read, it seems that luxe box includes the same brands month after month (i.e. lise watier three months in a row). personally, i would prefer to receive different brands each month to try a wider range of samples.

// number of samples & size //

topbox - 4 deluxe samples per month
glymm - 4-5 deluxe samples per month (the faq show 3-5 but i am pretty sure it is 4-5)
luxe box - 4-5 deluxe samples per month

upon initial review, it seems that you actually get less with topbox. however, as i did more research, i found that topbox included 2 full size products in november! the caveat to this is that a whole bunch of free november topboxes were sent out to bloggers so they could "review" the company... so it will be interesting to see whether topbox will continue to include full size samples.

i also came across this really interesting review comparing the regular stila lip glaze to the "deluxe" samples provided in glymm and luxe box... just scroll down to #4 for the stila comparison. glymm appears to have provided the size included in the stila holiday pack (which is the perfect size for me). the sample provided in luxe box was considerably smaller. basically, this means that "deluxe" samples can mean very different things!

// availability //

topbox - february (december and january are sold out)
glymm - december
luxe box - december

i had actually decided to only sign up for a monthly subscription to topbox but then i found out that december and january are already sold out. i didn't want to wait that long so i decided to sign up for a monthly glymm subscription to cover december and january. depending on the glymm boxes for these months, i may choose to keep both subscriptions.

update: apparently topbox is now sold out until march!

// packaging //

topbox - cardboard tube with no logo
my favourite packaging is topbox. not only do i like the concept of an environmentally friendly cardboard tube, i also love that there's no logo so i can re-use it for a variety of different things.

glymm - bright pink glossy box with logo
upon first glance, i did not like the glymm packaging; however, it got rave reviews from bloggers so maybe it is more striking in person?

luxe box - black and cream/white box with logo
luxe box has very nice packaging - it has changed recently but still remains quite classy looking. i think luxe box has the best marketing materials in terms of graphic design (such as beautifully designed cards describing the samples). very clean and sophisticated.

// customer service //

it is refreshing to see that all three companies appear to have excellent customer service!

topbox had an issue with the shipment of the november topbox. frustrating for sure but it seems as though the company is keeping subscribers updated about the status and will include a 5th sample in the topbox to smooth over the delay.

i love that glymm includes a little jar of jelly bellys every month. super sweet! there is also a really cool points system. you earn points every time you review a product or refer a friend... and you can use the points towards the beauty shop on the glymm website!

luxe box
luxe box seems to be the most personalized in terms of packaging, which definitely adds to the cost of producing the box, but it's nice to not feel like an anonymous subscriber. starting in november, luxe box included a personalized sticker within the box. these types of thoughtful touches may sway me to subscribe if i end up cancelling either topbox or glymm down the road.

i recently read that luxe box included a full size sample of moroccanoil styling cream in the november box but it was expired. eeps! but apparently luxe box will be sending out replacements plus a little bonus... so the issue is being addressed.

// web presence //

all three companies have excellent facebook and twitter presence.

somewhat of a bare bones website. i filled out the beauty profile but i could not access it again to make any changes... instead, i'd have to fill out the whole survey again. there is no points system or beauty shop set up yet; however, there is a referral program via which you can earn a free box for every friend you refer. not bad!

excellent website - the best of the three. my beauty profile was saved plus i can access it and make changes. i love that i can easily see how many points i have. there is also an extensive beauty shop where you can buy full size products of the samples you love. if not doing so already, glymm should definitely use this competitive advantage to negotiate more exclusive samples.

luxe box
website seems pretty good. i haven't signed up so i'm not sure what type of member login site is available. there does not appear to be any beauty shop in place yet.

// summary //

part of the fun of birchbox is that people receive different samples according to their beauty profiles... this makes the youtube unboxing so interesting to watch because you can see someone else's birchbox, which may contain entirely different samples! however, in canada, these types of subscription services are still in relative infancy so it seems like everyone receives either the same box or one of two boxes. i think it will be a lot more fun once the samples start to diverge... however, it will be difficult to maintain "fairness" in the eyes of subscribers.

while i've elected to start with monthly subscriptions to topbox and glymm, luxe box appears to be the most popular sample subscription service at this time. as i continue to watch more unboxings, perhaps i will be tempted to subscribe to luxe box as well... however, i would not be surprised if more companies start offering this service so i am going to draw a line in the sand right now to only subscribe to a maximum of two. after all, i'm trying to reign in my spending!

i think the key success factors for beauty sample subscription service companies will include the following:

1. attract and retain subscribers by negotiating exclusive partnerships or exclusive samples (size or colour).
2. entice beauty companies to participate by supplying them with data based on subscriber reviews of their products.
3. meet the needs of subscribers and beauty companies by facilitating online purchasing of full size products.

once i start receiving my boxes, i will post some unboxing videos. i have a feeling it will be difficult, if not impossible, to compare the boxes on a monthly basis... especially since different people expect, want, and value different things... but i will do my best to let you know once i get a sense of which i like better. :)

p.s. if you are interested in ordering topbox and don't mind me sending you a link so i can get one month's box for free, please let me know. :) also, if you use this link to subscribe to glymm, i will earn 50 points!

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