We can all probably agree that the best part of make-up and beauty stores like Sephora is getting free samples on your birthday or when you rack up enough points.
For one, it’s fun to try new beauty products.
It’s also really helpful to get to sample a new beauty product before you pay full price for it.
Skin, make-up, and hair products can all be so much fun, but most of us know by now that not all beauty products work for everyone.
It’s a huge bummer when you pay $50 for a new face cream only to find out that it gives you hives, or to spend what feels like an arm and a leg on a foundation only to realize that it doesn’t actually match your skin tone.
Yeah, we know there are the testers at most beauty retailers but using a small amount of a product one time isn’t going to give you a good picture of whether or not it works for you – especially when you’ve already tried 10-15 different lipsticks, bronzers, or body lotions. It all starts to blur together.
And don’t even get us started on perfumes. By the time you’ve sniffed your fifth sample of perfume within a three-minute period your head and nose feel like you’ve been sniffing a Sharpie for a little too long…
Well, there is a company that wants to make it easier for you to try beauty products.
If you’ve spent any time at all on social media, you’ve probably seen some sponsored content for BirchBox – the original beauty box.
So, we know that it’s a pretty well-known company. But what we are really interested in is if it’s worth it to pay to get a box of beauty samples every month.
What Is BirchBox And How Does It Work?
Established in 2010 by Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, two Harvard Business School Grads, BirchBox is an NYC-based online monthly subscription beauty service.
Each month, subscribers receive five sample-size beauty products in a box delivered right to their homes. The boxes include skincare, hair, make-up, fragrance and other beauty-related products.
It’s kind of like a little box of indulgent self-care.
And, as we touched on previously, BirchBox wants to make it easier for you to find beauty products that you like. You shouldn’t have to waste your life (and your wallet) trying to find the perfect under-eye cream, or whatever you’re looking for.
To get started, you first enter your e-mail and then click whether you prefer to receive beauty or grooming products (the grooming program is marketed specifically towards men).
Next, you fill out a little profile and answer some questions about your beauty preferences. The goodies you receive in your boxes will be based off your answers.
For example, they ask about your complexion and skin tone, hair length and how you style it, and what types of beauty products you can’t live without.
Then you receive your box full of products from brands you’ll recognize, and more niche brands. You can explore all of your new samples and figure out what you like and what you don’t. Each box also comes with a little card that details how to use each product and lists the retail price for the full-sizes of each.
For your first box, you can expect for it to show up about 10 days after you place your order. After that, however, the boxes typically ship by the 10th of each month.
After your first month, you can start choosing one item per month to receive in your box. You can also review the products you received to give them a better idea of what to send you going forward.
If there is anything you discover you need to make a permanent fixture in your beauty routine, then you can head back to the BirchBox site or mobile app and buy the full-size version. For every $10 that you spend in the shop, you’ll get $1 back in points as part of the loyalty program – which we’ll brief you on in a bit.
That’s the general idea of the beauty subscription service, but now let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
How Much Does It Cost?
It’s actually quite affordable.
You only pay $10 per month to receive those five beauty samples, and there are a few different payment and subscription plan options.
If you want to just go on a month-by-month basis, then that is perfectly acceptable. You’ll just be billed on the 1st of each month.
Otherwise, you can opt to do three-, six-, or 12-month plans. If you decide to do three or six-month subscriptions, then you still pay $10 per month but you are billed for the entire duration of your subscription up front. So, you’d pay $30 or $60 right off the bat instead of $10 each month.
You can also do a 12-month plan, which earns you a little discount. You end up getting $10 off when you commit to a whole year of BirchBox deliveries (i.e. you pay $110 instead of $120). Again, you have to pay up front for this plan.
For these multi-month plans, your subscription will renew once you’ve completed the final month of your plan. In other words will also b youe billed again when your reach the end of your three-, six-, or 12-month period, unless you specifically turn off auto-renewals or opt-out of a subscription period.
Tell Me More About The Products
The products you actually receive in your box will vary each month depending on your beauty profile and the reviews you provide each time you sample new products.
The surprise is definitely part of the fun!
But you can expect to see brands that you might find on the shelves at ULTA or Sephora, like R+Co., Smashbox, Malin+Goetz, philosophy®, etc. And, as you know, you can also go back and purchase full sizes of the products you liked.
BirchBox has also started offering Discovery Kits that you can purchase separately from your subscription. These kits are an assortment of products related to a general “theme,” for lack of a better word. And, they are usually at a majorly discounted price.
For example, there is a “Serums Starter Kit” that includes seven different sample-size serums from different brands like Kiehls, Dr. Jart+, and Estée Lauder. It’s a $62 value and but it only costs $20 at BirchBox.
Other Discovery Kits you might see are an “Intro to Dry Shampoo Kit” or a “Care for Your Curls Kit,” as well as kits specially curated for each month.
The company also offers special edition boxes, and has three of its own exclusive beauty brands: Arrow, Love of Color, and Parlor® by Jeff Chastain.
The Loyalty Program And Other Bonuses
The minute you create a BirchBox account, you can start earning points that go towards future full-size purchases and gift subscriptions. You earn points on any purchases – so you can earn points without having an active subscription as long as you have an account.
You earn 1 point for every $1 you spend shopping and gifting subscriptions, which amounts to 10% back of purchases. You also earn 50 points when a friend you’ve referred signs up for a subscription.
The more you shop, the closer you get to being inducted into the VIP Aces tier, which gets you more benefits.
As a VIP Aces member, you get 1.3 points for every $1 you spend (so that’s 13% back on purchases), 50 points when a friend you’ve referred signs up, and free standard shipping on all orders.
You also get free two-day shipping on orders of $100 or more, early access to samples, priority customer service, and frequent surprise promotions and bonuses. To unlock the VIP Acces benefits, you must spend at least $300 in one calendar year.
Everyone – not just VIPs – also gets free standard shipping on orders of $50 or more, and free two-day shipping on orders of $150 or more.
Keep in mind that Loyalty Points only count towards full-size items in the shop, and they are valid only for six months.
BirchBox also consistently offers a bunch of different promo codes for both the subscription service and the shop. These codes can get you discounts, free gifts with purchase, and limited time beauty offers while they last. You can check back regularly for updated codes on exclusive deals.
The company is also known for throwing out little extra discounts here and there. For example, when we visited the site, there was an additional 15% discount on your first order when you sign up, as well as 25% off all subscriptions for a limited time.
Basically, BirchBox offers rewards programs and other discounts just like major beauty retailers, but you also get to try a bunch of samples each month.
How Does It Compare?
Well, the thing is, the concept behind BirchBox isn’t unique.
There’s Ipsy, which also charges $10 per month for a box of five beauty samples – and it has slightly higher ratings than BirchBox. We’ve also heard rumors that the sample sizes are slightly bigger with Ipsy.
And now, major retailers are hopping on the subscription bandwagon. Play! by Sephora sends you five free samples a month, plus a beauty bonus and a collectible bag for the same $10 per month price.
Inside every box you also get a pass you can bring in store to redeem for 50 bonus Beauty Insider points and a free one-on-one tutorial. There are also “Play! Dates” where you and a friend go to a store and play around with products that complement the ones from your box.
There’s also a “Play! Book” with also sorts of beauty tips and tricks, and access to exclusive video tutorials.
So, you get just as much or if not more, from these other beauty subscriptions. And if you’re already a dedicated Sephora customer, for example, it’s not likely you’ll make the switch to BirchBox.
Public Perception Of BirchBox
First and foremost, BirchBox has made shopping for beauty much more accessible since its inception.
People who may have previously struggled through finding the right products for them got an opportunity to explore their options at a relatively low cost.
So for some people, especially huge beauty fanatics, BirchBox is the holy grail of subscription boxes because they get to play around and try new products.
The element of surprise adds an extra layer of excitement because you get products that you might not have tried otherwise or maybe have wanted to try, but couldn’t justify paying for the full size. On the other hand, customers also love that you can pick one product each month so you can try out something you’ve had your eye on.
Sadly though, the excitement and element of surprise kind of wears out for some people, especially after they’ve received lots of boxes and don’t get as many products they like or get repeats from past boxes.
Another downside is that you do can end up with drawers full of tiny sample sizes. Okay, for some people this maybe isn’t a downside. But if you have a lot of sample products that you didn’t like very much taking up a lot of space, then they’ll probably just end up in the trash.
Also, people have noted that BirchBox focuses mainly on the customer who focuses on skincare and hair products, but who likes to play around with makeup every now and again. So those who have signed up expecting a ton of cosmetics have ended up disappointed.
Our Verdict On BirchBox
This beauty subscription box seems like a 4 out of 5 stars situation.
The products are ones many of us recognize and covet, there are great rewards, you can manage your samples and buy the full-size version all in one place, and the subscriptions are quite affordable.
However, we can see how it can stop being beneficial after a certain point. Namely, if you’ve received tons of boxes and are seeing some redundancies, or if you’ve solidified your beauty routine and no longer need to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.
So our advice to you is to think about what you want to achieve with a beauty subscription box. If you want to try new skincare and hair products, but don’t know where to start, then BirchBox is probably a good option for you.
But if you want more makeup then you probably want to do some more research. Or, if you already have a solid bank of rewards points from a loyalty program at another beauty retailer, like Sephora, then you should just sign up for its subscription program.
All in all, however, BirchBox is a solid choice for someone generally looking to explore beauty.