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Subscription ‘Box-flation’

‘Box value’ based on retail isn’t the real measure of a subscription box’s value

There are times when I am certain that subscription boxes choose brands who are priced on the higher end of their quality range just to inflate the ‘box value’ — and a lot of people look at the overall ‘value’ of the box as being a simple summation of the listed retail for the included products.

Lifestyle boxes and beauty boxes, especially, tend to suffer from what I think of as ‘box-flation’ — the inclusion of items with suggested retail prices that are far beyond the product’s actual worth in terms of quality. Ipsy and BirchBox are known for this, and the lifestyle subs like PopSugar and FabFitFun are pretty much based on the concept.

If a box includes a $50 eyeshadow palette, or a $90 piece of costume jewelry, those items raise the retail value of the box overall. Some of the bigger subscription boxes have even founded their own product lines to include in their boxes — lines with prices well above where they should be.

Now, if that theoretical $50 eyeshadow palette is from a known and loved brand like Anastasia Beverly Hills, Too Faced, Tarte, or Urban Decay, it’s going to be close enough to the actual retail prices people are willing to pay for those items to hold the $50 value without much question. On the other hand, an unknown brand selling a $50 palette had better be bringing exceptional quality to match the price — and most don’t. That $50 palette of neutrals had better be as good as my Soft Glam palette, or it’s over-valued.

The problem with this is that using these retail values as actual value to the consumer is deceptive. Sure, Random Unknown Sketchy Brand ™ may have a skin product in the same niche as, say, a Tatcha product, and charge the same price, but use inferior ingredients, or lower concentrations of the actives, or use cheap packaging and fragrance, or skimp in some other way that the known brand does not, and if a product is consistently lower quality than products at the same price point, its value isn’t matching the retail price.

If someone tells me a mascara’s value is $30, I’m going to expect it to make my lashes look like falsies, never need primer, never smear or run, and condition my lashes in the process. If it doesn’t do that, it’s not worth $30 to me as a consumer. (Admittedly, I’m cheap about mascara because my eye sensitivity means I have to ditch mine as soon as the consistency begins to change, which is 6 weeks at the outside.)

I like luxury products as much as the next spoiled broad — but I expect them to be as good as their price. I also use bargain products when there’s no discernable difference between the cheap buy and the pricey product. I don’t mind if the trinket that gets included in a box has a value of $10. If it’s cute and it does what it’s supposed to do, it makes me happy.

I’d be just as happy with a box valued at 200 percent of the subscription cost as one valued at 500 percent of the subscription cost, so long as the items are of decent quality, of use to me, and appealing. The value of the subscription, to me, is how much joy I get from opening it, and how much use I get from the products within. The ‘retail value’ means almost nothing to me. If I feel like I got my $20, or $30, or $50 worth out of it, it’s a good value.

If I never see another Bellapierre makeup product again, I will be a happy broad.

The Broad

‘The Broad’ is the nom de plume of a snarky, 50ish writer with many observations, opinions, and hopefully-bon mots.