Subscription Boxes: Cosmetics, Crafting, and Cooking

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While I was living in Korea, I’d read about the subscription box phenomenon. Back in England, I decided to try them for Dora.

Subscriptions boxes weren’t originally conceived for children. Subscription boxes started with Birchbox and beauty products. The company was founded by Harvard Business School graduates with $1.4 million in funding. Although the BBC says they ‘accidentally’ started the subscription box trend, when you read about their idea of selling something that was traditionally free, and then upselling full-price products on their website, it sounds more like good business than luck. What company wouldn't seek to maximise revenue? Who isn't eager to receive a 'keepsake box' in the post?

When I was young, we had pen pals and were excited about getting letters. For a four-year-old still struggling to read and write, receiving a box of activities is perhaps more interesting. For parents trying to occupy children more or less productively while schools and shops are shut, quick filler activities are arguably essential.

If Dora can start school in September, we have five months to fill. Aside from sleep and meals, that works out about ten hours a day. Now, how to have Dora be bored enough to become independent, but also have enough options available to do an activity, if she wants?

After reading article after article on the 30 best subscription boxes for kids, the 17 best gardening subscription boxes, the ten best baby, kids and parenting subscription boxes, I decided on Little Cook’s Co and Rainy Day Box.

The Rainy Day Box has different options, including a Build Your Own Big Activity Box for £12.49. This is probably just a taster for the company’s main Letterbox Club. You choose to subscribe for six months (£7.49) or twelve months (£6.99). Each month you get three activities in the post. Initially, I chose the Build Your Own Box.

So that we have something to do for the whole month, my plan was to spread the activities out one per week. This has worked out so far because we have been doing a lot of playing in the garden and walking. When the box arrived, it was a little bit bashed up, but everything inside was fine.

We chose the make a windmill, the fuzzy magnet game, a colour me story book of the owl and the pussycat, modelling clay, and a knitting doll.

So far, we've made a windmill and a bracelet with the knitting doll. I wouldn't recommend knitting dolls for a four-year-old. Knitting dolls aren't really dolls. You also can't just wrap the wool around. The complexity is such that I had to find tutorials on youtube. The windmill was less difficult. Dora already loved windmills. The windy weather on Easter Monday was perfect to make one.

The other toys, I almost want to save for when we go to cafes and are waiting for our food after the lockdown is over. However, now, home is the new restaurant. If the quarantine goes on past September, the six month subscription package might be a good idea to help get through the winter.

For the gardening subscription box, I was less successful. Most just send out seeds through the post; we needed a more complete package with pots and soil (something a local garden centre might be better at). I did find a company online that sold sets to grow your own salad in a mini greenhouse. However, after spending a whole morning umming and ahing, when I finally committed to buying, it had sold out. I chose a few more products and they had also sold out. Either lots of parents all decided to try gardening with their children, or the company closed down before my eyes, and took all their products offline.

As for cosmetics subscription boxes, on Easter Sunday morning I was tempted for the first time while reading The Times. The hook was: pay £30 and get £120 worth of cosmetics samples to review. It sounded like a good deal, but I only need eye cream. If companies would be giving these products away to gain customer reviews, they’re not losing £90, they’re gaining £30 and earning reviews for free. Customers are also involved in the process and committed to the brands. Subscription boxes are definitely not so much accidental success as savvy business model.

In Korea, cosmetics stores still give you lots of advise and more free samples than you’ll ever use whenever you visit or buy anything, so it’s not surprising a paid-for subscription box is not popular.

The only subscription box I finally signed up was the Little Cooks Co. I choose a three month package and the first one was hot cross buns.

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