Beauty Boxes: How They Work & Why We Should Be A Bit More Realistic

Since the birth of beauty boxes in the UK a number of years ago, the whole market has been filled with controversy and debate. Brands have launched to high praise and folded soon afterwards, one-off box collaborations have led to more long-term partnerships and overseas services have landed successfully on British soil to service a gap previously unmet. Although I’ve never been a huge fan of beauty boxes (other than Latest In Beauty’s collaborations and the new My Little Box service which is just too cute not to love,) I do feel there’s a real lack of understanding by customers, bloggers and beauty enthusiasts when it comes to their expectations. After being involved on both sides of the fence, here’s my personal view on why we should take beauty boxes at face value and celebrate the service they offer – as well as finding the one that’s right for us.

Remember The Purpose
Beauty box subscriptions were first established to provide a sample of something great, aimed at aiding discovery of brands and products that you wouldn’t normally know about. It was never meant to be a huge goodie bag of premium greatness landing on your doorstep, but rather providing a trialling opportunity in order to decide whether or not to invest in the full size product. With so many beauty launches happening every single month, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees – beauty boxes provided a way of discovering new things without a hefty price tag. However, over time this seems to have been lost; there’s a lot of unrealistic expectations that cause beauty boxes and subscription services to get a bad name. 

Even Sachets Cost Money
While you may be celebrating the inclusion of the mascara everyone’s raving about, or the fact that Laura Mercier have included a sample of their famous primer that would’ve set you back a fortune, it’s worth remembering that everything included in your box costs money to make. Even a sachet of product meant for only a singular application often has a significant value, with travel sizes costing practically the same amount to produce as a full size bottle. We’re so used to getting freebies with magazines and from counters that we’ve forgotten that every single product sample has a value attached to it; we shouldn’t turn our noses up at the inclusion of a sachet or tiny vial, because that probably cost £4.00 to produce. 

Brands Don’t Pay To Be In The Box 
As far as I know, brands don’t pay to be included in beauty boxes – they simply provide a huge stash of product (which still has a huge value,) and the beauty box company pays for the rest. This means that your £11.95 has to pay for the box, the packaging, the admin, the marketing, the website and so much more – these things don’t miraculously form themselves; there’s a huge team of people behind them that have to be paid. I really believe we forget how much beauty boxes cost to pull together and the time involved; so many now see them as a way of getting their hands on products for next to nothing, rather than seeing boxes as a service with a bigger purpose.

Although the initial concept may have been lost a little along the way, many beauty boxes and subscription services now add so much extra value – thanks to the demands of customers pushing the boundaries. Birchbox offer online discounts to the products featured in the box, Latest In Beauty have been offering free digital subscriptions to Glamour magazine and My Little Paris fill their carton to the brim with bespoke gifts and trinkets that can be treasured. If you’re really concerned about getting value for your money and parting with hard-earned cash for something you’re really going to benefit from, then do your research and find the service that works for you. You don’t have to be tied to anything ongoing, so why not simply buy a one-off box and enjoy the pleasure it brings… Rather than moaning about a can of Batiste being included. (That still cost money to make.)

What do you think of beauty box and subscription services? Are you a fan, or would you rather spend the money on something you’ll know you’ll enjoy?



  1. Anonymous
    September 25, 2014 / 2:15 pm

    This is so true – I see so many complaints about subscription boxes (especially on Facebook) some of which are downright rude, and it makes me cringe. I have voiced the odd negative comment, but generally that has been about poor service. I have had no real complaints about sample sizes or product type (if you don't like X, Y or Z, why subscribe to a beauty box you can't see the contents of in advance?)

  2. Stephiemcd
    September 25, 2014 / 2:36 pm

    In general the concept is a great one, but it has one fatal flaw and that is the inconsistency between boxes. The company will give a 'spoiler' and tell their followers one of the products they might receive. Usually this is a good product e.g. a beauty blender which causes an influx in subscribers and in turn more money for them. The issue arises when you realize that in actual fact not that many get the 'good' box and instead get an item in its place of worse value and quality. A prime example of this was a glossybox where one of the good products was a max factor primer, i didn't receive this and it was replaced with a £1.99 i love… strawberries and cream lipgloss. How they can even compare the two is ridiculous? I worked out the cost difference between the 2 boxes and it was a staggering £25. That is not acceptable at all.Even if the products are different the value should be the same or differ slightly! I did actually complain about this assuming it was a mistake but was told if i don't like it return it and they wouldn't refund the postage or pay for the return postage so it made more sense to keep it! So many argue 'but it is based on what you put in your profile' but the fact i put in that I had oily skin should have made the primer a given! This is heightened even more by the fact that any blogger PR sample I see has the 'good' box. I have no issue with receiving a product i don't like because it is a lucky dip, but items should be of equal value and if you are going to use a 'Star Product' to encourage people to sign up then everyone should get it in my opinion. I much prefer latest in beauty as everyone gets the same and you can see what you get. You are not left feeling disheartened because your box is sub par in comparison to most.

    • Hayley Carr
      September 25, 2014 / 4:00 pm

      I think you're again missing the point of a box – it's not about offering 'the same value' for everyone, it's a box of discovery. It shouldn't make a difference if one is worth £10 and another £100 – you're signing up to a service that offers products you can discover and try, all for a very minimal cost. You're lucky to get all of those products for only a small fee, as they still cost a lot of money to produce, ship and then be processed into the box. I agree that Glossybox seems to have lost its way a little and the prescriptions aren't really working, but nonetheless it's not about getting loads of product for only a few quid. That's not the reason it was developed.

    • Stephiemcd
      September 26, 2014 / 9:13 am

      You see I disagree. I appreciate that you can get great products for a small fee and I have had many 'dud' months of products that I accept just don't work for me but its not a discovery anymore. I have not had beauty profile related products in a long time. I say I have oily skin but i get products for dry skin etc. It is no longer about discovery its about having 2 different boxes each month and a lucky dip as to who gets them. And sometimes you get a random product you got from the month before just because they ran out of products. And I still don't think you should promote products in some boxes encouraging people to sign up for them to get a cheap equivalent. We live in a world where we want the most for our money – we all have to cut back so things like this can be a luxury, so when you know that if you and your neighbor both sign up and they get a great value box all with products that compliment your skin and hair type and you get a box full of products not related to you at all that you can no longer try PLUS being of lesser value it will leave a bitter taste. I appreciate you wanting to defend them but I am entitled to this opinion.

    • Anonymous
      October 1, 2014 / 2:02 pm

      So you walk in a restaurant paying the same as the person next to you having heard the same promises of great value and service – remember same pay, same place same promises. You get microwaved lasagna from lidl the person next to you gets champagne and lobster. Is this fair?!

    • Hayley Carr
      October 2, 2014 / 5:54 am

      Yes, if you all pay £10 under the promise of a lucky dip! That's why it's so cheap – it's luck. You can't pay a tenner and expect the world; that's not how anything works in this life.

  3. emmalcm
    September 25, 2014 / 6:49 pm

    I've never thought about it that way, but yes it must cost a lot! Personally I've always sort of liked the idea but never subscribed to one because I feel like it's such a gamble you're taking. I know I'd be annoyed if I'd spent money on a box and received a load of products I wasn't interested in/ weren't the right colours, etc, when I could have bought something I would use. I have bought the latest in beauty boxes where you know what's in it but I don't think I'll ever go for the traditional beauty boxes. Emma x

  4. beautyqueenuk
    September 25, 2014 / 7:43 pm

    I am a fan. Firstly ive discovered so many products that I love, some I thought I would hate, others I had never heard of and a few I expected to dislike but liked (and vice-versa). Ive been to an event which showed us how the whole concept is put together and how choices are made and it was fascinating, mind-boggling and altogether a real eye opener, a lot of the products you get in your box are based on the profiles you complete, or don't complete in many cases, some is just pure luck and it is rare I have a moan about any of the boxes I get, I think in the last year ive had 3 I didn't like, not too bad considering how many ive liked and loved x

  5. Rebecca
    September 25, 2014 / 8:35 pm

    I buy them all, and I love them. I spend an absolute fortune on beauty products each month and I love the fact that these boxes expose me to products I might not otherwise try. I would never have bought some of the products that I now use constantly if I hadn't discovered them in a beauty box. I think, however, if I was running one of the companies that sell these boxes I'd do a few different options to choose from on a first come, first served basis, or insist that they were all the same. Not because I don't like the element of surprise, rather I think I'd get sick of the relentless criticism the boxes get.

  6. lamesha
    September 26, 2014 / 6:54 pm

    Great post. I've had ipsy for one month so far and just joined birchbox. Love watching the videos on youtube of what other people get and hearing different opinions on the same products.

  7. Minty
    September 27, 2014 / 11:05 am

    I love the surprise element of my beauty boxes- Its basically my present to me each month. I have only had one box that was a complete disappointment… It's a lucky dip by any other name x

  8. Eli Doinoff
    September 27, 2014 / 7:06 pm

    I'm a convert, not a fan, neither someone who totally rejects beauty boxes. I witnessed from afar their birth and liked the idea (almost no one ships where I live), but didn't like the selections… Then, we got or own Bulgarian boxes which started great and then turned to nothing (with a higher pricetag, of course). And then, there came MemeBox – it made me reconsider the idea of a beauty box (although they are not on a subscription basis). Now I've found a way to get My Little Box and LIB as well, as it really has that extra value I'm lacking with beauty boxes in general 🙂

  9. dellilah
    September 29, 2014 / 12:26 pm

    Being a confused non- subscriber of any box so far, I truly enjoyed this post. The fear of disappointment in products always comes in the way. We do forget the real reason behind the birth of beauty boxes indeed. This post has given me a nice encouragement to give them a go. RegardsD,

  10. Becky Smith
    September 29, 2014 / 10:17 pm

    I do like the surprise element of beauty boxes, because it's like receiving a birthday or Christmas present, but obviously this can often lead to disappointment if the products included aren't for you. I have received boxes I've been delighted with, but more often than not I'm a indifferent or don't really like the contents. I can't really afford to keep up a subscription at the moment anyway so want I do is wait for the posts to start popping up each month to see what other people got and if I like the look of the contents then I order a box. I then just cancel my subscription before the end of the month. That way I'm not wasting money month after month on samples I'm not keen on, too scared to cancel in case I miss that occasional amazing box x Becky @ The Little Blog of Beauty

  11. KABOOM! Cosmetics
    September 30, 2014 / 10:01 am

    I really enjoyed beauty boxes when I first started subscribing to them. They're a great way to discover new brands and maybe find things you wouldn't have thought of on your own. However, as time went by, I started finding that a lot of the time, I was getting the same products again and again and although I had filled in surveys for each box, I was still getting things that weren't suited to my skin type or hair or whatever. I can understand that they can't always cater to everyone, but I don't see the point in having those kinds of surveys of you don't at least try and honour them. Also, from what I've seen, I feel like the boxes that are available in the UK look much better in terms of value for money than the Australian ones. In the end, I unsubscribed because I felt like I'd gotten as much out of them as I could and also, a few of the boxes were very behind on their deliveries. Like you said, they're a great way to discover new things but they're maybe not great in the long term or if you get several different ones, because they tend to overlap. Love your blog by the way, big fan :)Dani | KaBOOM! Cosmetics

  12. Anonymous
    September 30, 2014 / 11:21 am

    I used to subscribe to the Carmine beauty boxes but stopped when they were taken over by Glossy Box. I haven't been inspired enough to want to try another one until French brand My Little Box announced they were coming to the U.K. The brand's French subscribers are almost unanimous in their praise and its different from the usual "beauty box". I'm looking forward to a monthly treat from a country who's beauty and fashion ethos I greatly admire.

  13. Jasmine Stewart
    October 4, 2014 / 10:18 am

    I find them a bit pointless, especially when they include things like foundations without asking which shade you'd like. All in all I'd rather spend the money on stuff I know I'll like rather than clutter that will never get usedJasmine // Magpie Jasmine // My Blog Giveaway

  14. Joanne Mallon
    October 6, 2014 / 9:13 am

    I love beauty boxes, they can be great fun and introduce you to products you never would've known about otherwise. The two BritishBeautyBlogger boxes I bought were both terrific. But when you read a lot of beauty box blog reviews, as I do, you see a lot of unhappy customers and some of the boxes look like a bunch of overpriced tat. Sometimes the only happy reviewers are the bloggers who got the box for free. So right now I mostly stick to the Korean Memebox because for value and innovation it is streets ahead of anything available in the UK right now. And if BBB brings out another box I will be first in the queue.

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