Free Samples and the Subscription Box – The Changing Landscape of Buying Beauty

Sampling has become critical to today’s shopper. Subscription boxes like Birchbox to Ispy and beyond are enjoying more than a passing moment of success. In fact, subscription boxes have grown by 800% since 2014.

Not to mention, shoppers report buying fewer full-size products than they have in the past. While this may seem like it spells trouble for retailers–there’s an upside–sampling has paved the way for consumers to break out of their shell. People who try before they buy have a sense of what they’re after before swiping their card for a full-size product.

Here are a few reasons why the subscription box phenomenon is ruling the beauty game, and why this trend is likely here to stay:

Sampling Puts Control in the Hands of the Consumer

It’s official: fake news, or rather, reviews, have infiltrated the beauty space. In the age of the influencer, shoppers must wade through the expansive sea of #sponcon.

And while most brands say they want honest reviews, beauty enthusiasts can easily get their hands on free products in exchange for a review, posted on Sephora or Amazon.

And that’s not accounting for social media. With all these channels, it is difficult for the shoppers to cut through the noise and find honest feedback.

Retail Tastes Have Changed

First of all, you can blame this one on the rise of Netflix, Spotify, even those neatly packaged meal kit services. Subscriptions offer the unexpected but have the built-in benefit of a uniform price point. All the more important as we become more aware of ethical products or higher-end items that tend to cost more than your average drugstore find.

The samples that come with your Sephora order or in your $10-a-month subscription box offer a low-pressure alternative to the lingering sales rep at your local Macy’s counter. And, they’ve opened us up to cool products across the price spectrum and in different niches. We’re talking vegan makeup brands, gluten-free skin care, sustainable packaging, etc.

With changing trends and too much for a reasonable person to try—mini sizes can sometimes be a welcome change. You’ll get less waste, less cost, and the flexibility to take just about anything new for a spin. That’s right, highlighters, eyeshadows, sheet masks, you name it.

What’s on the Horizon?

There’s no way to know for sure if the ubiquitous subscription box trend is here to stay. With boxes for clothes, pet food and all things beauty, it’s possible people will tire of this model shortly.

But, it’s also worth pointing out that between sample boxes, YouTube tutorials, and samples galore, consumer expectations are shifting. For example, users can expect some tailoring on their end from a lot of these services. Is your hair dry and frizzy? Are there certain products you’ll never use in a million years like nail decals or liquid eyeliner?

On the other hand, adopting a sampling model may be a good way for indie beauty companies to get the word out—especially in an e-commerce world.

At Fountain of Youth, we’re fans of the “try before you buy” model, ourselves. Sample any of our products—from moisturizers to serums and masques and cleanser for two bucks a pop—no subscription required.


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