Subscription-based services are changing the shopping game

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Birchbox Vs Latest In Beauty Review
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Welcome to part two of our beauty box battle! In this episode of Mall Hauls Alana shows you what's inside the Latest In Beauty box and the Birchbox - and tells you which one is worth buying!

Subscriptions aren’t just about magazines or “wine of the month” clubs anymore. The variety of subscription services has expanded to everything from unlimited coffee and dog treats, to movies and designer footwear.

It’s a wonder people bother driving to the store anymore.

On Thursday, Target announced it will vastly expand its subscription-based online service, giving customers the chance to sign up for regular shipments of nearly 1,600 products at a 5% discount.

If anything, Target (TGT) is late to the subscription service game. Amazon.com (AMZN) has run a subscription service for two years and even though Walmart’s attempt to join the party crashed and burned (it shut down its $7-a-month snack subscription service less than a year after launching), it’s clear that the business model is here to stay.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of subscription-based shopping. If you’re a caffeine addict who drinks three cups a day, or you’re a parent who can never have enough diapers lying around, why not sign up for a service that automatically replenishes your inventory, especially if it means saving other precious resources like time and money?

But there are cons to consider as well. By committing to purchasing one item on a regular basis, you might be missing opportunities to jump on flash sales or use an unexpected gift card or coupon. For Amazon and Target’s services, you pay whatever the going rate on a product is the day that it ships less the discount, regardless of whether it cost more or less the month before.

There’s also the chance you might sign up for a service and not take advantage of it often enough to make financial sense (we’re sure anyone who’s left a gym or Netflix membership unused for a few months can relate). All that said, the subscription-based service trend looks like it’s here to stay, and depending on your lifestyle, you might actually save a bundle by signing up.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most intriguing subscriptions out there. It's up to you to decide whether they're worth the monthly fee or not.

Coffee

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Photo: Flickr/Market Lane

CUPS. (New York City only). This week, a new app called CUPS hit the scene, offering New Yorkers unlimited coffee from shops around the city. For $45 a month, your membership buys you a basic cup of coffee or tea (brewed, drip, pour-over, etc.). Caffeine fiends pay nearly twice that, $85, for an espresso subscription. The prices round out to about 22 cups a month. Price: $45 and up

Craft Coffee. True coffee aficionados might like Craft Coffee, a subscription service that ships 4-ounce samples of three different U.S.-based roasters each month — a haul good enough for for 42 cups. You can have it ground or just get the beans. The samples come with custom tasting notes and brewing tips. Price: $19.99 per month and up.

MistoBox. MistoBox hit the subscription scene fresh off of a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012. It’s all about converting samplers into buyers. Subscribers get a box of four 2-ounce coffee samples. If you love one, you can order a pound from their site and get free shipping. Price: $30 per month and up.

Movies

MoviePass. MoviePass is like Netflix for big-screen junkies. For a monthly fee, you get to watch one movie every day at thousands of different theaters. There are no blackout dates. MoviePass sends you a special charge card to use at movie kiosks just like you would a debit or credit card. There are a few caveats, however: the service doesn’t work for 3-D films yet; you can’t see the same movie twice; and they’re strict about the “one a day” thing — you have to wait at least 24 hours before going to a new movie. Price: $35 per month and up, depending on your location.

Bath/Beauty

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(AP Photo/Courtesy of Birchbox)

BirchBox. BirchBox practically wrote the book on the sample subscription service. For up to $20 a month, they ship four to five samples of high-end makeup to your doorstep. April’s BirchBox for women included a sample of $30 Benefit BB Cream and $20 organic eyeliner by INIKA. Men were treated to a sample of $85 English Laundry Oxford cologne and a $25 Davines Naturaltech shampoo.  When you sign up for the service, you answer a few personal questions that clue them in to the kinds of samples you might like, the fun part (gamble?) is that you never know what to expect until it arrives. Price: $10 (women); $20 (men).

Dollar Shave Club. Men went nuts for this clever start-up when it launched in 2012.  For less than $10 a month, they will ship you a new razor with extra blades.  Price: $1 to $9 per month (plus shipping). Prices vary by the type of blade you choose.

Clothing

JustFab. For a monthly membership fee, customers get a curated “boutique” to shop from on the first of each month. You can choose from an assortment of clothing, shoes and accessories that match your personal taste (as discerned by a questionnaire members fill out when signing up). JustFab relies on a roster of personal stylists to handpick its inventory, and every piece they pick sells for $39.95. Most items on the site are valued in the $50-$60 retail price range, but we spotted a few dresses for $85 retail.  Price: $39.95 per month (+ $39.95 per item).  Free shipping.

StitchFix. A more wallet-friendly personalized shopping service, StitchFix sends members five new clothing items a month, based on their personal tastes. You try it on at home and return anything you hate. The average item costs about $65 and if you buy all five items at a time, you get a 25% discount. Price: $20 per month.

There are dozens more services out there and we couldn't possibly round them all up here.

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Do you have a favorite subscription service? Think they’re a dumb idea? Let us know!

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