Sample Boxes Are All the Rage, But Are They Worth the Cost?

The Birch Box

You can subscribe to just about anything these days, from bacon-of-the-month clubs to services that will send a different selection of cheese to your doorstep every month. Now, the beauty and fitness industries have arrived to put their own spin on the product-of-the-month trend.

So-called "beauty boxes" come stocked with myriad samples of cosmetics, lotions and soaps. Other services are more health-focused, offering up vitamins, healthy snacks and dietary supplements. Some offer a multitude of sample-size products in every box; others have a smaller number of goodies, but subscribers get full-sized beauty products and food items.

What they have in common, though, is a relatively modest price point. Most of the services we tried out cost between $10 and $20 per month. And they insist you'll get major bang for the buck, often claiming that subscribers receive upwards of $50 worth of merchandise in every box.

We decided to put those claims to the test.

The Test

I requested the latest sample boxes from three players in the industry.

One was KLUTCHclub, which distributes health, wellness and fitness boxes and has been in business since April of last year. While most in the beauty box business are focused exclusively on women, KLUTCHclub offers boxes for both women and men; I got one of each. (Still, company co-founder Julie Bashkin told us that the men's boxes aren't nearly as popular as the ones for women. "We find men not to be the decision makers when they're buying food and beverage products," she says.)

The second was Vitacost. An online seller of vitamins, supplements and skin products, it recently decided to start its own subscription service and just sent its first boxes in February. It has two options -- the Be Well Box, which includes products such as soaps, toothpastes and lotions, and the Be Fit Box, which focuses on diet products. I got the most recent shipment of each type. (A third option, Be Pretty Boxes, was just added to the lineup a few weeks ago, and wasn't considered here; Be Strong Boxes are coming soon.)

Finally there's Birchbox, which ships style and beauty products. Like KLUTCHclub, it has both boxes for both men and women. I decided to just get the latest Birchbox Man, because at this point my desk was getting cluttered with lotions and diet supplements.

I then went through each box and determined the price of each item by finding it at the online retailer selling it at the lowest price. In cases where the item was a sample size, I did my best to scale down the price accordingly. For instance, the Birchbox had a one-ounce sample of a cleansing gel; I found an 8.5-ounce bottle selling for $16.20, so I assigned a price of $1.78 to the sample.

In comparing the actual value to the claimed value, keep in mind that the company is likely calculating its estimate using the manufacturer's suggested retail price, whereas I was using the lowest price I could find at a reputable retailer. Also keep in mind that the price for each item doesn't include shipping; if you were to buy each item individually from different websites, the shipping costs would drive the price of the bundle even higher.

Here's how each box stacked up.


Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.