When’s the last time you overhauled your beauty routine?
A year ago? Ten years ago?
Given how fast the beauty world is changing, a woman could overhaul her beauty routine with every issue of Allure.
New products come out all the time, promising to do what your old products did, only better—and promising benefits your old products could never dream of.
But your beauty cabinet (or drawer or bag) represents an investment.
The products you use all the time are there because they’ve proven their worth again and again. They don’t make you break out, they don’t look weird in the wrong lighting, and they’re not impossible to apply.
You could go to the drugstore and spend your hard-earned money on that much-hyped new product, but what are the chances it will earn a place on your shelf?
The Problem with Beauty Products
A study found that the average woman owns 40 beauty products … but only uses 5 of them on a daily basis. 
And 75% of women never use up the beauty products they buy before finally tossing them.
Perhaps that’s because a little makeup goes a long way. Or perhaps it’s because we’re all so vigilant about throwing makeup away when it expires. (Cough, cough.)
But the more likely reason is that we’ve bought makeup we don’t really like all that much.
Unless you’re buying your makeup from a department store makeup counter, where you can get help matching the perfect shade of foundation or eyeshadow palette, you’re probably no different from me. You go to the drugstore, apply a few samples to the back of your hand, and make your best guess.
If you’re lucky, the cosmetics aisle has a mirror so you can hold your marked-up hand up to your face and double-check your selection. If not, you’ve just got to trust your gut.
And we all know how reliable that is.
As a teenager, I agonized over my cosmetics purchases. Each lipstick represented a significant chunk of my summer job savings, so I needed to know I’d absolutely love it.
The problem was, I didn’t have enough experience with makeup to know what looked good on me. I was a cosmetics virgin. And I made bad, bad choices.
I’d come home, rip open the packaging, and apply the product … only to look at myself in the mirror with dismay. I can still remember that gut-wrenching disappointment. I’d been so excited about making myself look gorgeous, so proud of being able to buy my own cosmetics. But the makeup I chose made me look worse than before.
Had I been older, I would have known that most department stores and high-end cosmetics stores offer free samples. You take the sample home, apply it, and see how it works in your everyday life. No more buyer’s remorse.
That’s the inspiration behind beauty subscription boxes.
What are Beauty Subscription Boxes?
Not everyone waltzes through Nordstrom or Sephora on a regular basis.
So online companies like Glossybox, Birchbox, Ipsy, and Boxycharm stepped into the gap.
For a cost—usually $10 to $20—they’ll box up a selection of samples and mail them straight to your door.
For beauty lovers, getting a subscription box feels like Christmas each and every month. You have no idea what’s going to be inside, and the products often include options you would have never considered trying otherwise.
Because the samples are travel-sized or smaller, you don’t have to worry about cluttering up your beauty cabinet with products you’ll never use. Don’t like something? Just toss it or give it to a friend.
But there’s a downside to subscription boxes:
Customers complain about receiving products completely unsuited to their skin tone or hair type.
Even though some companies ask you to fill out a personal profile indicating your preferences, there’s no guarantee the products you receive will suit you.
The Subscription Boxes You Should Know About
Birchbox was one of the first beauty subscription boxes to launch, way back in the “old days” of 2010.
Founders Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna envisioned Birchbox becoming everyone’s “beauty editor best friend.” As one of the less expensive subscription boxes at just $10 a month, Birchbox looked set to launch a revolution.
Fast forward to now, and Birchbox is stumbling.
Customers loved the “points for reviews” system, where they could earn up to $5 a month in points to spend on full-sized versions of their favorite products at birchbox.com in exchange for writing reviews. That changed last year. The decision to revise the points system—and the increased competition—hit Birchbox hard. 
Glossybox launched one year after Birchbox.
Their selling point was mixing the sample sizes with full-sized products. At $21/month, they were twice as expensive, but they didn’t try to sell customers on full-sized versions of their samples. Instead, they focused on the customer experience.
Unwrapping a glossybox was designed to feel like Christmas morning. And customers responded, loving the pretty packaging that doubled as a keepsake. Glossybox amped up the luxury by occasionally offering limited-edition boxes built around specific themes.
Birchbox and Glossybox were aimed at makeup connoisseurs, but what about people who bought their makeup at drugstores instead of high-end cosmetics counters? Was there a subscription box for them?
Target and Walmart stepped in. Both retailers offer their own subscription beauty boxes, at $7 and $5 respectively, full of drugstore brands.
The Perfect Gift for Someone … Maybe You?
In retrospect, it’s surprising it took someone so long to come up with the idea of subscription boxes.
Beauty companies win, because they introduce customers to a range of products they might not otherwise have tried.
Customers win, because the entertainment value of playing with new cosmetics can’t be beat.