Blogging, Food, Makeup, skincare, Stationery, Subscription Boxes

I think I may have a problem…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Judging by the content of this article, it could be that I have an addiction! In these modern times with the practice of mindfulness, gratitude acknowledgment and self-congratulation, it’s easy to conclude that “you’re worth it”.
I work hard; I’m definitely not unique in this. I’m a mum looking after two sons with additional needs. I run a childcare business. I’m a busy local councillor and devote a lot of my available time to my ward residents, the councils to which I’ve been elected, and my political party.
I am a person who is interested in lots of different things and I support various local charities and health and social care initiatives to try and help improve people’s lives. So, yeah, I think I deserve a treat, or two or three, right?

In this materialistic world in which we live, where we can have things almost as soon as we want them, the fun has almost gone out of receiving gifts. Presents can fall into the categories of “that’s not my current style” or “I’ve already got three of those”. So we utilise online gift lists or ask for cash or vouchers so we can fill the small gaps in our collections. ‘Surprise’ is no longer what it once was.

Luckily, I’ve discovered the perfect solution, the perfect self-help cure to make us feel excited again. In the last few years, there has been an explosion of subscription boxes with which one can ‘treat’ oneself. Think of an interest; there’s probably at least one subscription box for it. And yes, it helps if you’re a marketer’s dream customer too!

I would say some of my main passions are makeup, stationery and food. Well, what do you know? These are realms with a great choice of subscription boxes! So, I work hard and these are things I’m interested in. Therefore, I feel I can justify the indulgence.

Before I go on to talk about the boxes I subscribe to, I would like to point out, that wherever possible I recycle any packaging. The companies encourage feedback on the items they provide and excessive or non-recyclable packaging is something I give my opinion on, where needed.

Of course, there is a danger that in receiving so many items month after month, that the bathroom will become an apothecary and the office, a stationery shop! Any items I don’t want or like, I donate to friends or family and make best efforts to use up the rest. I am aware of overkill and have cancelled or paused boxes along the way.
Brands are using the subscription box model as an opportunity to persuade us to buy more of their product. However, in the following month’s box, a similar product from another brand could be received. I personally find with beauty products, that I just don’t run out of some products and have no great need to purchase any more. This, in effect, is their marketing strategy backfiring!

I have various thoughts and opinions on my subscriptions and I will now attempt to elaborate.

Current subscriptions

Spotlight Stationery

Photo of the Spotlight Stationery website
Spotlight Stationery website


This is my favourite box! I’ve subscribed for just over a year (minus a couple of months during the lockdown when I paused it). You can choose to buy a monthly or bi-monthly box and they are lovingly curated based on broad themes like ‘dots’, ‘duotone’, ‘gold’, ‘going green’, ‘tyger’ and ‘edges’.
This box has a personal touch and contains artisan stationery items such as notebooks, journals, pens, pencils, greetings cards and shaped paperclips from top quality, well-known brands like Rhodia, Dingbats, Leuchtturm1917, Castelli, Pentel, Zebra, Staedtler and Stabilo. There are a number of good-quality items from smaller, independent brands too. Each month, four postcards are included which feature the work of talented young illustrators. I have a large, open picture frame in my kitchen which has small bulldog clips for displaying items and these cards are ideal for this.
The one negative I would give this box, is that I don’t feel it is particularly good value for money. I once checked the cost of the box against the cost of the same items, which I found available online, and it was almost identical.
However, Spotlight Stationery do include a donation to charity from the sale of each box. I feel this box is more about the love of stationery, rather than them pushing a marketing strategy. Knowing I am supporting this small business gives me a cosy feeling. Additionally, subscription boxes like this are an avenue we may wish to explore, here at Rhubarb and Burble, in the future!


Spotlight Stationery

:Degusta Box

Photo of the :Degusta Box website
:Degusta Box website


I have received five of these boxes so far, with five boxes skipped during the lockdown. Subscribers receive 10-15 products per box, many of which are new to the market. Prices are generally 50% of the RRP. The range is quite diverse but the box mainly contains drinks, snacks and storecupboard meals or ingredients. Sometimes items are available in a number of different flavours and you generally receive one of these options. Boxes are slightly cheaper if you sign up for longer periods of time. There is an information card included which gives a description of each item and its price. Some beverages are alcoholic, but when you sign up you can opt out of receiving alcoholic items if you wish! Additionally, money saving coupons are included for some of the items.
So far, I have enjoyed this box and have not been disappointed with any of the items. Furthermore, the storecupboard ingredients are great for expanding my culinary repertoire. I have no plans to discontinue this subscription box for now!


:Degusta Box

If you are interested in subscribing to :Degusta Box, I have a discount code which will give you 25% off your first box:

LOUISAY-E8A4

Glossybox

Photo of the Glossybox website
Glossybox website

Ok. I have some positive and negative thoughts on Glossybox’s monthly subscription box service. Having been a subscriber for over two years, I have a good understanding of what their business model looks like. I’ll start with the positives:

  • Value for money. These boxes are definitely good value for money. I don’t recall ever receiving any duplicate items either. They sometimes contain items from desirable brands such as Huda Beauty, Nails Inc., Rituals Cosmetics, Mitchell and Peach, Moroccanoil, Crabtree & Evelyn, Gatineau, Maria Nila, Bare Minerals and Yankee Candle. (Typically, there will only be one luxury product per box.) Boxes are cheaper if several months are paid for upfront.
  • The selections. When you sign up for Glossybox, you are also invited to complete a questionnaire which enables you to tailor your profile based on things like your skin tone, skin type, hair colour, etc.
    The items arrive in a beautifully packaged gift box and are well curated. Some boxes are specially themed, e.g. French Riviera, All that glitters, Valentines, Summer soirée, Winter warmers, etc.
    Occasionally they provide ‘either/or’ boxes and it is random which one you’ll receive, e.g. Trick or treat, Fruity or floral or Explore your wild side (zebra or leopard print). These contain like-for-like products, which vary in their colour or fragrance for example.
    They also promote additional special limited-edition boxes which subscribers can obtain separately at a reduced price before they go on sale to the general public at a greater price. Past themes have included: Mother’s Day, Vegan, Male grooming kit, and various single company branded boxes.
    A card is supplied with item descriptions and RRPs. A lot of the items are full-size and those that aren’t, tend to be deluxe minis rather than samples.
    This is a particularly popular subscription box and there will, therefore, be some variation in the actual products included between the batches of boxes, probably due to supply issues. (I receive box variant three.) So don’t be surpised if the items you receive are slightly different to other people’s. I have found that the PR boxes they send out to YouTube beauty influencers for review, tend to include all the same items and often at least one product is different to mine. The monthly, featured item, which is usually a high-end product, is included in all boxes.
  • Advent calendar. Glossybox’s pièce de résistance, is their Advent calendar. Subscribers receive priority ordering and ‘glossy credits’ can be used towards payment. (Glossy credits can be earned by reviewing items received in boxes throughout the year.) The impressively packaged calendar contains 25 individual boxes and products are generally more high-end than those in the monthly boxes. The calendar is shipped in October and the wait before opening it is excruciating!


Now we come to the negatives (apologies if I get a bit ranty or preachy in this section, but let’s face it, there is no beauty community without a scandal or two!):

  • Value for money. I said earlier that the boxes are definitely good value for money. Whilst this is true, I feel that there is potentially an issue with an overinflation of the RRP on certain items. The following may come across as a conspiracy theory, but I have conducted my own research on some of the lesser-known brands which are regularly included in the boxes. My suspicions were initially aroused from having received a few makeup products from a brand called ‘Steve Laurant’. I’d never heard of them prior to subscribing to Glossybox. (If this name sounds somewhat familiar to you – it’s because it’s similar to a hairdressers in nearby Bideford, called ‘Steven & Laurent’!)
    In the ‘Explore your wild side’ boxes, the outer carton of the ‘Wild Things’ eyeshadow palette, unusually, matched the graphics on the Glossybox giftbox. What I learned is that makeup production has a slightly ‘shady’ side. Some brands release products which have been generically produced in the PRC but have simply been packaged up for that brand. The phenomenon of different products with identical formulations is well documented. (For the record, I am not saying here that the products are unsafe nor that are they being produced on the Chinese black market.) It seems that there is a market for ‘fillers’ in subscription boxes. A few of these filler brands fall under the umbrella of a company, ironically-named, ‘Dirty Little Secrets Cosmetics’ or ‘DLS Cosmetics’. The filler brands which were specifically mentioned included: Steve Laurant, Luna By Luna and Bang Beauty. Products from these filler brands make regular appearances in Glossyboxes. I have received at least one item from all of these, but it feels like they are being promoted as if they are indie brands. The filler brand websites do not contain any business information and look almost identical with a very basic design.
    Now let’s analyse the small Steve Laurant ‘Wild Thing’ eyeshadow palette that I received. It has six pans in neutral tones with basic matte and shimmer shades. [See my photo below.] Here is a link to the product on the Steve Laurant website. (Note that there are incomplete sections on the webpage below the product – not something I’d expect to see from a high-end brand’s website!)
    So here is my question: How can a tiny, generically formulated, repackaged palette produced in the PRC, possibly have an RRP of £31.00? I just don’t believe it. I compared the price per gram of product (£4.31), with palettes from two of the most expensive, high-quality makeup brands I know of. Pat Mcgrath Labs‘ recently released Mothership VIII: Divine Rose II artistry palette (RRP £115.00) came in at a whopping £8.71 per gram! However, the other, Natasha Denona‘s renowned and revered Gold palette (RRP £111.00), came in at just £2.96 per gram. I now feel somewhat convinced that the marketing of fillers is playing subscribers for fools. What is more, after I’ve opened my boxes, I generally watch Glossybox ‘unboxing’ videos on YouTube for comparison. The beauty influencers never seem to question the seemingly inflated RRPs. I wonder if there’s something in the PR contract about not questioning the validity of the RRPs. Or perhaps it just doesn’t occur to them to question it. Who knows?
    Anyway, with all that said, I can for now, overlook these misgivings because when I take all the items I’ve received in the boxes into consideration, I do feel they are worth more than the price paid.
‘Wild Thing’ palette by Steve Laurant
  • The boxes. Whilst these are a beautiful touch, I question if they are really necessary. Yes, they can be recycled, but it’s better for the environment not to make them in the first place. Perhaps there’s an argument for the special editions warranting a special box as they may be bought as a gift for somebody. I have found myself becoming overwhelmed by the empty boxes, most of which I have no purpose for. I have used some for storage, given some away and recycled others. In terms of shipping, I would suggest that they could package the items in the outer postal carton. Costs to the consumer would be reduced too.
  • Limited Editions. The following debacle has only happened once to my knowledge. In addition to the Advent calendar last Christmas, Glossybox promoted a companion, limited edition box. Subscribers were informed that they could log in to order it on a particular day from 7am and then it would be available to the general public from 12pm. As a subscriber, I logged in a couple of hours after the launch time, but well before sales were going to open up to the public. I was very disappointed to discover that the boxes had already sold out! Somewhat alarmed, of course I went to straight to Twitter to see if I could find out what was going on. What I discovered was simply unfair. Many subscribers who logged in at 7am had been unable to purchase due to the Glossybox website crashing. That’s not unusual though, especially when hundreds of people try to log in at the same time. Many people reported that they were frustrated as the system did not recognise them as subscribers and they were having to pay the higher price. Those who eventually managed to check out were lucky. Glossybox announced that the boxes sold out in 3 minutes! A few people stated they would be unsubscribing as a result. (I have a feeling that Glossybox have a waiting list, so I don’t believe they’d be too worried about these threats.) Conversely, there were tweets from subscribers who proudly announced that they had managed to purchase multiple boxes. And this is where I have a problem. If these are limited edition boxes, then I believe Glossybox should have limited them to one per subscriber. (Some people were saying it should have been one per household, but this doesn’t take into account the fact that there may be more than one subscriber in a household.) To add insult to injury, many of these multiple purchases ended up on online auction sites at vastly inflated prices. The general public never even got a look-in, let alone the majority of subscribers. If Glossybox offer a Christmas companion box again this year, I shall be contacting them to find out if they have changed their purchasing policy and if not, I will let them know why I think they should! If they continue to treat the majority of their loyal subscribers like this, I may well consider unsubscribing and spend my hard-earned money elsewhere!

In conclusion, the continuation of my Glossybox subscription is potentially hanging in the balance. I will be keeping an eye out for what I consider to be, further complacency towards their subscribers. There are alternatives out there and I would be prepared to take the opportunity to make comparisons.

Glossybox

If I haven’t put you off purchasing a Glossybox subscription, you can use this referral code so we can both earn Glossy Credits!

New subscriptions, not yet received

Papergang

Photo of the Papergang website
Papergang website

At the time of writing this, 13th August 2020, I am still waiting for my first Papergang box to arrive. This subscription is quite different to Spotlight Stationery’s offering detailed above. At around half the price, these boxes have a monthly theme designed by a guest creator and most items are specifically manufactured for the box. The items have cohesive styling and typically include notebooks, stickers, pens, washi tape and paperclips. Here too, a small donation is made to a charity and every box purchased provides a quarter of a tree for planting in the drylands of Africa to protect the environment and help villagers grow nutritious food all year round.
Again, there is a range of subscription options and the more you commit to, the cheaper they work out. I have selected the monthly price for now until I’ve assessed the quality and value of the items. I will come back and update this page once I’ve formed an opinion.

Sharing is caring! Please use this Papergang referral code. For every two people who subscribe, I will receive a free box!

Cancelled subscriptions

Deck of Scarlet

Photo of the Deck of Scarlet website
Deck of Scarlet website

I really liked this beauty subscription. I only cancelled it because it was quite expensive for what it was. There were extra charges for shipping from the US. This subscription started out as a bi-monthly service. It soon increased to monthly and although the order could be paused, I sometimes forgot and it became too costly for me. In essence, the box includes a palette with three eyeshadows, a blusher, a highlighter and two lip creams, plus another item such as an eyeliner or mascara. Each month’s range has a different ‘Artist-in-chief’, usually a YouTube beauty influencer. I watched, in some disbelief, the launch video from one month’s artist-in-chief. I was disappointed to hear that they had had very little input into the colour story of the product and basically just lent their name to the collaboration. I wonder if this is the case for all of their collabs? However, I did overlook that at the time, since the products are really good quality. And I am still enjoying using them.

Deck of Scarlet

toucanBox

Photo of the toucanBox website
toucanBox website

Strictly, this one actually wasn’t meant for me! It was a children’s arts & crafts subscription I bought for my son when he was younger. I did enjoy the box-opening process though! We received this for a fair amount of time and we opted for the monthly subscription which included a themed book. It looks like they have now changed their subscription options, but, essentially, they are still the same types of projects.
By the time I unsubscribed, we had ended up with a lot of left-over toucanBox-branded products like felt tips, crayons and PVA glue as they were included in each box that required them. I donated most of them along with a massive amount of random children’s art materials to a local domestic abuse charity, for use by parents with their children whilst staying in the refuge.

toucanBox

If you treat yourself to a subscription box, please let me know in the comments below which one it is and what you think of it.

I aim to film regular unboxing videos of my subscription boxes. Let me know if there are any boxes, I don’t currently subscribe to, which you are curious about. If appropriate, I might be willing to try one and record/film my first impressions.

This brings me nicely to the end. There are pros and cons with subscription boxes. My apparent ‘addiction’ is being fed, but I do feel that I am relatively in control of it! Anyway, what could be more exciting than what feels like having Christmas presents all year round?!

Best wishes,

Louisa

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