Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Deals & Shopping

Think inside the box — for samples

Once, businesses would hand out free samples in malls or throw them in with other purchases.

Now, several businesses have sprouted up devoted to sending out a box of samples to customers once a month — and actually getting them to pay for it.

While wine- or steak-of-the-month clubs have been around forever, the box of mystery treats is a relatively new form of subscription sales. It has caught on fast.

Birchbox, one of the first such services and one of the biggest, offers five beauty product and makeup samples for women and men per month. It started in 2010 and now boasts 300,000 subscribers who pay $10 a month for the women's box or $20 a month for the men's box.

The model has caught on quickly, helped by social media sites where subscribers can show pictures of their boxes and rate the contents. Now you can get boxes full of every product you can imagine, from healthy snacks, dog treats and kids' toys all the way to tampons. The boxes come stuffed with samples or full-size products that marketers want you to try.

Even Walmart, the world's largest retailer, started offering its own box of food samples, Goodies, in November.

But are these boxes worth the money? Here are some things to consider if you're deciding to get yourself — or someone else — one of these monthly subscription boxes.

First of all, be skeptical, says Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network of financial planners.

"From a marketer's standpoint, it's a great way for them to separate us from our money," she said.

While it may be a good way to explore products you may not have heard of before, she said, you're probably going to spend more than you would have otherwise. "If you pay $20 to get five snacks in a box," she said, "they may be tasty and edible, but would you have gone to a specialty food shop and bought these four or five bags? Probably not."

Another caution: there are usually only three- or six-month or yearly subscriptions available, so you can't cancel if you're disappointed after a month.

Still, if you want to try a sample service, one way to get more bang for your buck is to find services that are well-reviewed and closely match your tastes (or those of a friend or relative if you're giving them as a gift).

Gautam Gupta, CEO of Naturebox.com, which offers five snacks per box, said to take advantage of a company's presence on Facebook or Pinterest to evaluate the company.

"One of the things that give you a great sense of whether customers like the product or not is what they're saying," he said. Naturebox.com, which offers monthly healthy snacks the company creates itself, has 300,000 Facebook fans, many commenting on what they received in their boxes each month. Other sites like Instagram and Twitter are a wealth of information, too.

Next, check out the company's website to find out how the products are chosen, he said. Naturebox makes its own snacks and gets them approved by nutritionists. But most sampling boxes work with other companies to procure samples.

"See if there is some criteria the company is putting forward that governs the way the products come in the box," he said.

Comments
Plan your weekend Dec. 15-17: Katy Perry, boat parades, Star Wars parties, comics Gilbert Gottfried, Michael Carbonaro

Plan your weekend Dec. 15-17: Katy Perry, boat parades, Star Wars parties, comics Gilbert Gottfried, Michael Carbonaro

Plan your weekendSuperstarKaty Perry: In the ever-escalating arms race to be the most eye-popping pop star on the planet, sometimes you have to call in for backup. Even if you’re Katy Perry. When plotting her lavishly spectacular Witness Tour, which ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Top things to do this week: Star Wars parties, comics Gilbert Gottfried, Michael Carbonaro

Top things to do this week: Star Wars parties, comics Gilbert Gottfried, Michael Carbonaro

NEW HOPE: Star Wars partiesWith the opening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the force of fan excitement is strong, so of course there are Star Wars parties this weekend. The giant movie complex Riverview 14 GDX is having celebration with characters from...
Updated: 3 hours ago
5 things to do under $5: Gasparilla Bowl beach day, Hanukkah on Ice, boat parades

5 things to do under $5: Gasparilla Bowl beach day, Hanukkah on Ice, boat parades

1 Battle at the Beach: The Gasparilla Bowl is coming to Tropicana Field on Dec. 21, but before that the bands, cheerleaders and dance teams from Florida International University and Temple University will have a day of beach-related games and competi...
Updated: 6 hours ago
6 gift ideas for grandparents and grandchildren to spend more time together

6 gift ideas for grandparents and grandchildren to spend more time together

A grandparent can be a tough person to buy a Christmas gift for. Likewise, many grandparents are stumped on what to get the kids besides some cash. Why not make your Christmas gift something you both want more of: more time together making memories. ...
Published: 12/13/17
Time to shine: Embrace this holiday season’s beauty trends

Time to shine: Embrace this holiday season’s beauty trends

The holiday season has officially arrived, bringing all the glitz and shine of twinkling lights and tinsel. It's also bringing festive get-togethers, and whether they're office parties or fancy soirees, the instinct is to look as shiny and bright as ...
Published: 12/08/17
From Hogwarts Castle to your home, digital projectors give a real light show

From Hogwarts Castle to your home, digital projectors give a real light show

At night, Hogwarts Castle is suddenly dusted with snow in steamy Florida. It’s not really snow, but light causing this trick of the eye. Projectors and sophisticated software then send ghosts across the castle towers. A turret spins and turns i...
Published: 12/08/17
Glass art jewelry shines at Zen Glass and another round of markets

Glass art jewelry shines at Zen Glass and another round of markets

Art Jewelry: Pendant PaloozaI can tell you from my experience working in a gallery, people love art glass jewelry, particularly pendants. They make great gifts. Find a plethora at Zen Glass Studio's Pendant Palooza on Saturday. They're showcasing jew...
Published: 12/07/17
A guide to holiday events at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens and more theme parks

A guide to holiday events at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens and more theme parks

Instead of shoveling snow, Christmas in Florida means celebrating the holiday season in shorts and T-shirts at theme parks and local attractions. Some parks even haul in “snow” for an authentic holiday vibe. While the last two weeks of t...
Published: 12/06/17
5 things to do under $5: Sunday Bicycle Rides, Werks and Passafire at Jannus Live

5 things to do under $5: Sunday Bicycle Rides, Werks and Passafire at Jannus Live

1. Winter Village Express: The holiday setup on the riverfront at Curtis Hixon Park this year features a new holiday-themed streetcar ride from Ybor City. Hop on at Centro Ybor after enjoying some games, holiday activities and treats, with special ho...
Published: 12/01/17
Updated: 12/08/17
As Big Beer buys up the little guys, craft brewers try to #TakeCraftBack

As Big Beer buys up the little guys, craft brewers try to #TakeCraftBack

It’s a stunt, never going to happen.Every man, woman and child in the country would have to kick in $659 and change to come up with the $213 billion it would take to buy Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer. Nonetheless, the Brewers Assoc...
Published: 12/01/17
Updated: 12/02/17