A Year of Birchbox: A Full Review of the Subscription Service

Last Christmas, my husband gifted me a year subscription to Birchbox. Now that my year is complete I wanted to write a review with everything I could think of (I had some input from some of you, too) about my Birchbox experience.

What is Birchbox? Birchbox is a beauty sample subscription service. It is like your monthly subscription to Cosmo or Allure only it's a box full of beauty samples. These samples range from cosmetics, to nail polish to bath and body.

Here is what the Birchbox website had to say: "Join Birchbox and receive monthly deliveries of high-end beauty and lifestyle samples from top brands. It's the best way to discover new products and buy with confidence."

What is the cost? You have the option of joining monthly, yearly or giftting a subsrption. A monthly is $10 and you can cancel at anytime. A year is $110 and you get one box free. Shipping is free.

What attracted you to Birchbox? I first heard about Birchbox from beauty bloggers. I thought the concept of receiving high-end beauty samples was great.  I went on the website and their advertising drew me in (more on that later). I live in a small town and have very little access to high-end brands so I thought this would be a good way to try some things out before buying.

When did your boxes arrive? My husband subscribed in December 2011 and my first box delievered in January 2012. Each month, my box delievered around the middle of the month. The website indicates that shipments go out by the 10th of the month. 

What was the packaging like? Each box is delieverd with pink outter box for protection. The Birchboxes themselves are about the size of a paperback book. I was surprised by this because photos online made them appear much larger.  The products are generally wrapped in or concealed under colored tissue paper. I think the packagaing compact and minimal. I have seen people upcycle their boxes for makeup storage. I wish I would have saved mine!

How is the customer service? Every month, Birchbox will send you an e-mail that your box has shipped and include a tracking number. In November, with hurricane Sandy, they alerted me that my box would ship later than normal. I thought that was a nice heads up. I never called the customer service number so I cannot comment on that. However, at the end of my subscription I e-mailed to make sure the subscription would not automatically renew. I received a response within 2 days and it was from a real person. For me, the customer service was good.

How do points work? Birchbox has a points system that can be used as "cash" to purchase products on the website. For every $1 you spend on Birchbox.com you get 1 point. For every review you write of a product you receive 10 points. However, these reviews have to be completed for the products you received in your box for that month. For example, in June I received theBalm Stainiac and did a review in June on it, so I received 10 points. If I had done the reveiew in July I would not have been awarded the points. One month, I was sent an expired product so Birchbox credited me, and everyone else, 100 points. You can also refer a friend and get 50 points. 100 points is equal to $10 to spend on Birchbox.com. Points have to be in 100s otherwise you do not get the full amount. For example, I have 170 points but only get $10. Unfortunately, these points cannot be used for a monthly or yearly subscription. I ended up using my points towards a Zoya nail polish.

What did you get each month? Generally, I received 4-5 samples and 1-2 bonus items. The bonus items are called lifestyle extras. You do not get to choose your samples. They are randomized. You can watch their preview videos to get an idea of what is coming that month, however it is not always accurate. One month, I watched the video and only received 2 of the mentioned items. I also noticed I rarely received the same box as other bloggers. Sometimes you will get a full sized item but usually they are sample sized. Generally, my boxes were full of bath and body samples with 1 cosmetic sample. I noticed the intro box is a hodge podge of past items. Below I have included a photo of each of my boxes (under the photo is a link to my blog post about it):

Did you notice a trend of what you were receiving? Yes. I always received a fragrance. I also received several shampoos, lotions, lip products and skincare items. Often times, the lifestyle extra was edible or drinkable.

What was your favorite box? My favorite box was Decmber because I received a full sized lip gloss, a BB cream and a shampoo sample. While those items were not my favorite after using, I thought it was a well put together box because it covered a range of beauty products. I also enjoyed June because of the Stila bronzer and theBalm Staniac.

What was your least favorite box? April and August. Those were the two months I considered canceling. April was the month I was sent an expired product and laundry detergent. In August, I was sent hand soap. In my opinion, no one who is signing up for a beauty box is waiting for the latest detergent and hand soap.

What items did you like? Orofludio, beautyblender, Essie Luxe Effects polish, Zoya polish, Color Club polish, Stila One Step Bronze, theBalm Cosmetics Staniac, Gloss Moderne conditioner, and Viva La Juicy La Fleur perfume.

Which items were duds? Essentially everthing that wasn't mentioned above. I tried most of the products but they were of poor quality or useless. 

How many full sized* products did you receive? 6

*full sized=I received the amount of product I would have had I purchased it on my own. For example, although I received a "full size" Comodynes Self-Tanning towel, I received 2 of them. If I would have purchased them on my own, there would have been a box of 8.

Any products you would consider purchasing after trying them through Birchbox? Yes. I will probably buy another beautyblender. Since trying Zoya, from my first box, I have purchased 3 more bottles. I will also purchase more Essie polishes. I would consider buying a bottle of Viva la Juicy. Whle there were several products I liked, most of them are items that I only use from time to time. They will not become regulars in my routine.

What did you like about Birchbox? I found it exciting to see what was coming. I tried not to watch the videos so I would have no idea what to expect. I am a beauty junkie and love to try products so for me that was an allure. I also enjoyed seeing what other bloggers received.

Review: Remember when I said I would come back to the advertising? Well here we go! I started seeing the Birchbox craze in Summer/Fall of 2011. At that time, it appeared people were getting some good samples. When I went on the wesbite and saw the "sample" boxes I was excited to see Nars, Redken and Stila. I thought "hey this will be a great way to try stuff I don't have access to or can't afford!" The way boxes were marketed made it appear, to me, that we would be getting high-end or well known brands. Upon looking into Birchbox, many times, their spokes people would say, '“We realized that when people walk into Sephora, you opt out of making a choice to learn more because there is so much to choose from,”' [Katia Beauchamp] said."-Jenna Wortham for The New York Times, 4/20/11. What I  had gathered from the description was we would be getting products that are sold in stores like Sephora. That is when I decided this would be a good service for me to try.

Well, I was duped. Most of the products I received were from compaines I had never heard of. In fact, it wasn't until my thrid box that I recognized a company name. The Birchbox website still refers to boxes full of "top-brands."  Upon searching for the brands that arrived in my boxes, only 30% of the products I received are actually available at Sephora. What does this mean for the average consumer? You are not going to be able to buy these products at your stores. You will either have to purchase them from Birchbox or, if the company has a website, from the company's website. To me, that is not helping to sift through the products at Sephora. It appears to be a way for new companies to get their samples out to consumers with hopes to boost sales.

If you look at the Birchbox advertisements, they are full of product and familiar brand names. I have never received a box, nor have I seen one, that reflects their advertising. 

Let's talk about the products in the box now. Like I said previously, I always received a fragrance sample. This got old-fast. I also received twistbands and ColorClub twice. What made me the most angry were the times I received a Shick Razor, laundry detergent and hand soap. I also got tired of the snacks, like the Larabars or chocolate. From my perspective, the women who are signing up for this subscription service don't want a razor that you can find at Wal-Mart, food or soap. We signed up for high-end beauty products. Again, a lot of the products I had not heard of. Don't get me wrong, I love trying new products, however for me, most of them were duds and I would never consider them "high-end." I ended up giving a lot of them away or throwing them out. Another thing I was unimpressed by was when the Befine products were expired or the Boscia product that had a sticker slapped on top to change the name of it (see here and here what I'm talking about). Again back to the advertising, I had the expectation to receive more cosmetics so I was disappointed that most boxes were perfume, lotion and face products. I cannot use face masques, lotions or washes because of my sensitivity to new products. Many of those products, I gave away. Sometimes, they sent weird products that I feel like no one would ever use, like the Violent Lips tattoos. I also felt like the only boxes that were well thought out were June and December because it covered an array of beauty products. 

Let's talk about cost. Sure $10 seems like a great value. However, all along I figured Birchbox did not pay for the samples. This was confirmed from a quick google search. From the New York Times, Birchbox doesn’t pay for the samples it includes. Instead, it works with several dozen brand partners, like bareMinerals, Stila and Kiehls, to stock the boxes and provide links for customers to buy the products on the Birchbox site."-Jenna Wortham, 4/20/11. So, Birchbox gets the samples for free from the companies and we pay for them. I thought this article put into words exactly what I was thinking, "If you think about it, Birchbox has figured out a way to get women to pay money to be marketed to."-Erin Griffith for PandoDaily, 10/19/12. In the end, I received $361.49 worth of samples. My average box was worth $30.12. The products I used and liked amounted to $78.96. Half of that amount goes to the full sized Stila One Step Bronze. Without that product, the amount would be much lower.While I received a decent amount worth of product, as stated previously Birchbox gets them for free so essentially, it's all worth nothing. Plus, I ended up throwing out or giving away the other $282 worth of products.

Bottom line: Birchbox is not one of those things I am recommending to friends or family. For me, it was not at all what I was expecting. I kept hoping for brands I had heard of and more cosmetics. As I pointed out before, the year subscrption was $110 and I essentially benefitted from $78.86 worth of products. Had this not been a gift subscription, I would have cancelled after April and not been disappointed. I only continued the subscrption because it was a gift and I had nothing to lose. Had I paid for it out of pocket, it would have been a loss for me.

If you are someone who is indifferent to what you receive and want to try bath and body products, this would be a good subscription box for you. Also, if you go in with the expectation that this will not be a cosmetics box and that you will try out new or underground brands, I think you will have a better experience than I did. 

Since I signed up, some new competition has entered the field. The new services appear to have a much better selection. From seeing blog posts/tweets/reviews, it appears that ipsy (Glam Bag), Beauty Army and The Beauty Test Tube are the way to go (here are the boxes I have seen: 12, 3, 4, 5). Hell, the free (if you get invited) Influenster boxes with drugstore items are better than Birchbox in my book (here are my boxes).

If you have any questions that were not covered in this review, feel free to comment below and I will do my best to answer.

If you subscribed to Birchbox, was your experience similar or different?