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Unboxing Subscription Boxes

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Welcome to the future of retail.

If you’re on Facebook or Instagram a lot, you’re probably already familiar with subscription box services, even if you haven’t participated in the phenomenon. An unexpected combination of old-timey snail mail, marketing algorithms, and social media, subscription boxes are the new trend in shopping.

Modern subscription box services are much different from those Book of the Month or EMI “clubs” that used to lure people into getting free books or CDs if they agreed to buy a certain amount in the coming year. First of all, those were kind of a scam. You had to actively opt-out of getting a box every month, or you’d  wind up paying more than you needed to for things you didn’t want. Most subscription boxes today allow you to cancel anytime, offer free shipping, and are up-front about how much you’re going to pay.

Secondly, those “clubs” were selling (or off-loading, as the case might have been) product. Even though today’s subscriptions boxes do contain STUFF, the most successful recognize that they’re not retailers. As Zach Frechette, the founder of Quarterly–a quarterly box service that offers curated boxes from experts and celebs like Nina Garcia and Wil Wheaton–puts it, “We’re really nothing like a store… What we’re offering is an experience.”

This is what’s essential to understand about subscription box services and their appeal: you’re not buying a product. You can buy product on Amazon. What you’re buying is the chance to expand your interests and try something new by letting other people pick out stuff for you. It’s like Christmas morning meets Facebook personality quizzes.

Social media plays a big role, too: posting pics of your #unboxing to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram is part of the deal, and many subscription box services integrate with Instagram in creative ways. Ipsy, for example, offers the chance to win a year’s worth of mailings if you post pictures of your monthly bag with the hashtags #ipsy and #glambag. Rocks Box, a subscription jewelry service, lets you #wishlist any item they post with a simple IG comment.

Today, there are thousands of subscription boxes out there, most focusing on either fashion or food, though there are several catering to specific hobbies and interests. Curious about which ones to try? Here’s a run-down of some of the most popular:

FASHION & BEAUTY

Ipsy (www.ipsy.com)

What you get: Makeup and beauty products

Price: $10/month, shipping included

The Deal: A quick style quiz gets you a personalized monthly Glam Bag with a unique clutch and 4-5 beauty products. Rate what you get every month to refine future Glam Bags for your needs and wants.

Experience: Ipsy’s probably one of the best subscription mailings out there. First of all, at $10 it’s very affordable and a bargain to boot–most of the items you get in each bag are worth between $5-10 on their own. Secondly, the quizzes actually do work to make each Glam Bag better. Add in a very active community on Instagram (if you have absolutely no use for an item, you can usually arrange an exchange with a fellow “Ipster” on IG using the hashtags), and this is a must-try for anyone who wears makeup.

Stitch Fix (www.stitchfix.com)

What you get: Clothes

Price: Depends on the items, but averages to $250 per box. Shipping and returns are free; frequency is up to you.

The Deal: After a quick style and fit quiz, a personal stylist picks out five pieces of clothing just for you. You try them on in the comfort of your own home and send back the things you don’t like. Rate each clothing item to improve future boxes.

Experience: I’m one of those people that hates shopping for clothes because I can never find anything that fits me and blah blah blah. So I was crazy impressed by how perfectly every item in my Stitch Fix fit, without the stylist ever having seen me! Stitch Fix works best when you’re very specific about what you need. I.e., an outfit for an event or shirts to show off a baby bump, etc. If you don’t give the stylists direction, you can wind up with a bag that feels very random. Even with that, however, the experience is really fun, like when you’re a kid and your mom buys you new school clothes. And while it may seem expensive, it saves a lot of time, gas, and brain power, especially if clothes shopping is not your favorite.

Photo courtesy of StitchFix.

Photo courtesy of Stitch Fix.

Rocks Box (www.rocksbox.com)

What you get: Jewelry

Price: $19/month, free shipping both ways

The Deal: Following yet another style quiz (love quizzes, LOVE THEM), a stylist picks out three jewelry items and sends them to you. You keep them for as long as you like and send them back (or buy them, if you like) when you’re ready for another box o’jewelry. Rate each item online to improve your next box.

Experience: Rocks Box is kind like of Stitch Fix meets Netflix. You’re only renting the jewelry, not buying it, but for $19 a month you can try out a lot of jewelry. Like Stitch Fix, Rocks Box benefits from specificity. Even if you don’t have a specific event or reason for ordering jewelry, however, the stylists are fantastic and eerily prescient about what pieces are “totally you.” You might start wondering if they’re internet stalking you. Overall a very fun experience with a high value in what you get for your money.

Zockster (www.zockster.com/)

What you get: Socks

Price: $14-$16, depending on subscription, free shipping

The Deal: Zockster sends you their brand of bamboo dress socks, which are soft, antibacterial, moisture-wicking, and safer for the environment than traditional socks.

Experience: Who doesn’t like socks, amirite? A subscription box service for socks is a great idea, because you know you’re going to need them. I would have liked socks with a quirkier design aesthetic, but that’s just my personal style. The socks from Zockster are very comfortable and soft, like silk or cashmere, and luxurious. They might not last a super-long time, but hey, that’s what the subscription’s for.

FOOD

Try the World (www.trytheworld.com/)

What you get: Food from another country.

Price: $33-39 every other month, free shipping.

The Deal: Local chefs curate boxes that capture the flavors of another country or culture, giving you a chance to travel the world through food.

Experience: My favorite thing about Try the World was the packaging. Very pretty shipping box printed on the inside, and a high-quality green gift box to hold the food items. As for the box itself, there were some fantastic items and some that weren’t so hot. I was also annoyed that they charged my card, then never let me know when my box would ship. Getting a response from customer service took DAYS. Considering all that, not quite worth the price.

Hello Fresh (www.hellofresh.com/)

What you get: Ingredients to make three meals for two to four people.

Price: $69-$129 per box, shipping included

The Deal: Hello Fresh sends seasonal, fresh ingredients along with recipes to create healthy and balanced meals. Vegetarian options available.

Experience: I know what you’re thinking: this box is for people who don’t know how to cook or are too lazy/busy to go grocery shopping. In fact, that’s not true (although beginner cooks can definitely use it, too, and it would be a great gift for someone just learning how to cook). Hello Fresh is actually for anyone who enjoys cooking and learning new recipes. The recipe cards are very clear and easy to follow, the meals are crowd-pleasers (even for a family with picky eaters), and Hello Fresh delivers on their promise to send super-fresh, quality ingredients. Also, cleanup is a breeze, something that’s much appreciated. A very fun and delicious experience from start to finish.

Photo courtesy of Hello Fresh

Photo courtesy of Hello Fresh

Mistobox (one.mistobox.com)

What you get: Coffee

Price: $18-30 per shipment

The Deal: After filling out a coffee profile, you get a shipment of personally curated coffees from artisan coffee makers who only use sustainably farmed, free trade coffee beans.

Experience: If you’re one of those people who’s totally fine with grabbing a bag of ground Folger’s for your drip coffee maker every morning, this is probably not the service for you. All the bags I received were whole bean (something I wish they’d warned me about), so I had to go out and buy a coffee grinder. As for using a French press, come on. No one’s got time for that. BUT, even using the drip coffee maker, the coffees Mistobox sent were sublime–bold, smooth, flavorful, and delicious. If you treat coffee like oenophiles treat wine, you need to try this box service.

Nature Box (naturebox.com)

What you get: Snacks

Price: $16.95-19.95/month, free shipping

The Deal: Choose up to five unique, healthy snacks to be sent to your home or office every month.

Bonus: For every box sent, Nature Box donates one meal to Feeding America.

Experience: Nature Box offers a ton of very unique snacks you can’t get anywhere else, like Jalapeño White Cheddar Popcorn, Guacamole Bites, Flat Fortune Cookies, and Santa Fe Corn Stix. You can also find more typical snacks, such as pretzels, chips, and cookies, but without hydrogenated oils or artificial colors and sweeteners. Every bag has enough to share, and while not every snack is a guaranteed hit, it’s fun to try some of the stranger ones. If you like trying new snacks and have a bunch of people to share them with, this is definitely the snack box for you.

Love with Food (lovewithfood.com)

What you get: Snacky snacks

Price: $10-24.95/month, free shipping

The Deal: Curated snack boxes are sent to your home or office every month.

Bonus: For every box sent, Love with Food donates meals to hungry children in America through various food banks.

Experience: Love with Food has two significant differences to Nature Box. First of all, the snacks are single-serving, probably a good option if you’re planning on enjoying them all by your lonesome. Second of all, each box is “curated” by various foodies, nutritionists, chefs, etc. You don’t get to choose what goes in it, beyond a gluten free option. The problem with curated boxes like this is that if the theme isn’t cohesive or specific, it feels like you’ve been sent a bunch of random stuff. Unfortunately my box leaned more toward the random side. I was also extremely unimpressed with the “healthy snack” selection. It could just be the box curator for that month, but taste of the snacks ranged from meh to blech and ptooie. If these are healthy snacks, give me Cheetos or give me death.

GEAR

Loot Crate (www.lootcrate.com/)

What you get: Geek and gamer gear

Price: $11.95-13.95, plus $6 shipping

The Deal: Every month you get a “comic con in a box,” with themed boxes geared toward gamers and pop culture geeks.

Experience: I am completely and absolutely in love with this box. First of all, the box itself unfolded into a game board!!!11!! Genius, I tells ye. And the game (all pieces were included) was actually fun. Secondly, the box included several items that were worth the whole price of the box by themselves. Loot Crate provides their subscribers with exclusive card games, an exclusive die set, and an exclusive MMORPG that you can play online. A magazine containing articles, information on all the items in the Loot Crate box, and LC’s exclusive comic series is included. This subscription box is soooooo worth it.

Bark Box (barkbox.com)

What you get: Dog gear

Price: $19-29/month, free shipping

The Deal: Bark Box sends you dog treats, toys, and gifts every month based on the size of your pet.

Bonus: Bark Box donates 10 percent of its profits to dog rescues, shelters, training, and spay/neuter programs.

Experience: Getting a subscription box for your dog might seem pretty silly. “Dogs don’t care!” you might be saying to yourself. Yeah, but YOU probably like having fun with your dogs, and that’s what Bark Box provides dog lovers: fun in a box. No other box service on this list is so well-themed or so clearly focused on providing an experience by way of a product. The boxes are soooooo much fun and provide hours of entertainment. Personally, my dogs love all the treats and toys they get in their boxes. For $19, Bark Box seems a bit pricey but is by far the most addictive box subscription service on this list.

Photo courtesy of Bark Box

Photo courtesy of Bark Box

Bulu Box (www.bulubox.com/)

What you get: Health nut gear

Price: $9.17-10/month, free shipping

The Deal: Receive curated samples of exclusive health supplements based on your personal profile, then buy the ones you love in full-size.

Review: Much better than expected! As with Bark Box, Bulu Box is impressively themed, and you get a lot of value for your ten bucks. And like Ipsy, Bulu is the type of service where if you don’t like one or two items it’s okay, because the rest of the stuff is probably worth the price of the box on its own. You don’t just get health supplements, either, but a card tracking your wellness and health tips from experts. If you love GNC, this is the box service for you.

Pro Tips

  • Do not sign up for a box service that doesn’t let you cancel at any time, whether you prepaid or not. Do you really want to be tied down to another monthly bill? No. You want to be able to pull that plug at a moment’s notice.
  • Speaking of pulling the plug, if you need or want to cancel be prepared for the hard sell. Most subscription services will try to convince you to stay on by offering you a discount on future boxes or a chance to pause the service for several months. Whether or not these enticements are worth sticking with the subscription or not is up to you.
  • Communication is key! Take the lesson Whimseybox (an art supply box that went out of business) subscribers learned first hand: if a box service is charging your credit card and not giving you an idea of when to expect your items, or not sending them at all, email them. If they don’t respond in three business days, call your credit card company to dispute the charges. A company that’s not communicating with you is not a company you should be doing business with.
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2 Comments
  • Such a well written article! Laughed out loud at that Rocksbox Stylist stalking bit. Can neither confirm nor deny such claims.

    xo,
    B

  • Great run down of the more popular boxes. I have been wondering how each of them hold up. Everyone raves about Ipsy. I hope to try it one day. I’m not a huge makeup person, but I think that’s because I never know what is going to look right on me and I can’t waste money on a bunch of products that will be a bust. Good to know, too, that the Travel the World box has bad customer service. It interests me since I love international food, but bad customer service is a huge turn-off.

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Denver’s Wes Watkins dynamic new future-funk EP is from another planet

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Future-Funk Party Starter | Wes Watkins

Dreams Out from Denver’s best kept secret Wes Watkins wears so many musical hats it needs a rack; downtempo G-Funk homage and sweltering nee-Soul / Rn’B are all over this release, all covered with a thicc pop glaze and a penchant for electronic-sonic experimentation that keep every song fascinatingly adventurous while maintaining a danceability and groove that easily, easily warrants multiple listens. Don’t sleep on this one.


Lo-Fuzz Folkie | Hoi Ann

The beauty of Hoi Ann’s Tangenier lies in both what you can hear and what it may want you to not hear. Lo-fi folk and bedroom-pop are easily tangible on its surface, but the buzzy electronic tones that sparingly flourish the 5 songs of this release lie low and create a unique aural atmosphere for listeners, like hidden secrets for your ears only.


Indie-Punk Sweeties | Gestalt

The pop-punk shred-bois in Gestalt are back at it again; The irresistible combo of the Get Up Kids earnest midwestern-emo and smart pop-punk wit of the Wonder Years is strong on the tracks that encompass LongBoix, as is an acute fondness and growing appreciation for the finer indie rock of yesteryear. Well I guess this is growing up.


Psych-Rock Screamcore | Gone Full Heathen

On their criminally good self titled EP, Fort Collins heavies Gone Full Heathen friggin dare you to try and trap them in a single genre. Nice try, but they’ll just chew right through your puny ropes using a gnashing blend of crushing stoner-rock laced hardcore punk and overdriven psych-rock / post-metal induced bite like the righteous rock and roll wolves that they are.


All releases available for purchase now thru Bandcamp. Go Local!

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The Haze Craze for Lazy Days

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There are many different styles of beer. Ranging from light lagers (think Bud Light) and ales to sours, stouts, and IPAs.

Within those styles, however, are varying styles.

For example, one would think a sour beer is a sour beer, right? Wrong. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, which defines every style of beer, there are six recognized European sour styles.

For IPAs, there are seven. American beers have four; stouts have three… You get the point.

Even with viewing the list of recognized styles, it’s not a complete list.

Take New England IPAs (NE IPA), as a prime example. Many breweries are currently mass producing this style of beer, and it’s selling like crazy.

You may have heard one of your annoying beer loving friends talk about drinking a “juice bomb,” or a requesting a “hazy IPA” at the pub, and shrugged it off. It turns out, they (sometimes) know what they are talking about.

What makes NE IPAs so popular when compared to a more traditional, West Coast IPA? NE IPAs have all of the hop flavors, without an overabundance of bitterness.

Instead of constantly adding hops throughout the boil to achieve a fruity flavor balanced by bitterness, the NE IPA has a small hop addition at the begging, and then nothing else until after the boil has finished.

That translates into a beer with very little bitterness, and plenty of hop aroma and flavor. Hops like Citra, Mosaic, Mosaic, Galaxy, and El Dorado are most common in NE IPAs, according to the Homebrewers Association. Those hops tend to impart a fruity, and dare I say, juicy flavor profile.

Between the juicy flavor and the seemingly natural haziness to NE IPAs, it’s not far fetched for an NE IPA to look like a tall glass of orange or grapefruit juice, only carbonated and full of alcohol.

NE IPAs are starting to gain momentum here in Colorado, with breweries turning their focus to the haze craze. Specifically, Odd13, WeldWerks, and Epic Brewing coming to mind.

Odd13 is based in Lafayette, Colo. and has a long list of NE-inspired IPAs constantly rotating through the tap room and distributed throughout the state. Codename: Super fan and Noob are two beers that are found in cans, and both offer a different approach to the haze craze.

WeldWerks is based in Greeley, Colo. and has accumulated a cult-like following in just a few short years for its Juicy Bits NE IPA. The brewery just started self-distributing locally, so you’ll have to make the trip to the brewery and pick up a crowler or four. Be sure to check the WeldWerks Facebook page for availability and limits. Yes, they have to place per person limits on how much you can purchase.

Epic Brewing recently announced its NE IPA, which will rotate between four different flavor profiles throughout the year. The cans will look the same but will be different colors as a quick way to tell identify which version you have.

So the next time you walk into a brewery or liquor store, it’s OK to ask for a hazy or juicy IPA. It’s a thing, and, frankly, they are damn good.

On Tap: By the time this hits newsstands, ThunderZone Pizza & Taphouse will have opened on the CSU-P campus. Located at 2270 Rawlings Blvd., the ThunderZone features 32 taps, a carefully curated tap list, and is locally owned.

At the opening, the tap list includes tasty brews from the likes of Florence Brewing and Lost Highway.

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Senators upend GOP health care bill in true Trump style… Twitter

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WASHINGTON — When Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran decided they were in ready to disrupt the GOP rewrite of the health care law, they chose President Donald Trump’s favorite medium.

They could not support Senate Republicans’ plan, the somewhat unlikely pair of conservatives tweeted at 8:30 p.m. Monday night, giving no heads up to the White House or Senate leaders before pressing send.

The story behind the statement reveals two senators willing to be branded as bill killers and seemingly unconcerned with trying to soften the blow with party leaders.

The announcement, coming after some 10 days of conversations between the men, stunned official Washington and left Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate from being able to move forward with the GOP bill, effectively sinking the measure. It landed shortly after Trump dined with a group of senators to discuss strategy – unwittingly plotting a plan that would immediately become outdated.

Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican leader, found out about Lee’s defection after the White House dinner of rosemary-grilled rib eye and summer vegetable succotash. He “had no idea it was coming,” Cornyn said.

Another Republican, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, found out from TV news.

Moran, a second-term lawmaker from Kansas who isn’t known for making waves, and Lee, a two-term senator from Utah who has clashed with Trump, have been talking over the past 10 days about the health care legislation and agreed the GOP bill did not go far enough to repeal Obamacare or address rising health-care costs. They decided to announce their position to make the bill’s fate clear and allow senators to move on, Moran said.

“It could have been prolonged for days or weeks while no one said anything,” Moran said in an interview.

Moran, who oversaw the Senate Republicans’ 2014 election campaigns, concluded last week he wouldn’t vote for the latest version of the bill but “gave myself a weekend in Kansas to think about it,” he said.

Lee had helped draft an amendment, along with fellow conservative Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would allow insurers to sell skimpy plans alongside more robust ones to lower costs. Cruz agreed to some changes in wording by GOP leaders, but Lee thought the new language allowed too many Obama-era regulations to remain in place.

After talking again, Moran and Lee agreed Monday night on a statement drafted earlier in the day. They issued their statement shortly after a White House dinner attended by seven GOP senators – all likely yes votes on the health care bill. Neither Lee nor Moran attended.

A Lee spokesman said the statement – and its timing – “had nothing to do with the White House dinner. It was not a reaction in any way.”

The statement was made public as soon as it was ready, the spokesman said.

Neither Trump nor McConnell received advance warning about the statement, although it’s likely that neither the president nor the Senate leader was completely surprised.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spent the weekend calling lawmakers, including Lee and at least seven other GOP senators, according to the administration. Trump talked politics, while Pence discussed policy.

Trump called Lee on Saturday, and Lee told the president he was leaning against the bill, for the reasons he later made public.

Lee told Utah’s KSL Newsradio that he had a great conversation with Trump, when he told the president his “consumer freedom” amendment had been weakened and that he wasn’t sure that he could support the bill.

“He was encouraging to me and said, you know, ‘Just see what changes you can make to it,’ ” Lee said.

Lee and McConnell did not talk over the weekend, but Lee spoke twice to Cornyn, R-Texas, the majority whip.

Trump, who frequently takes to Twitter to announce proposals or denounce opponents, was blindsided by, of all things, a tweet.

He told reporters Tuesday he was “very surprised when the two folks came out last night, because we thought they were in fairly good shape. But they did. And, you know, everybody has their own reason.”

Moran said while he remained committed to repealing the health care law, Congress needs to make a “fresh start” on writing a replacement bill in an “open legislative process.”

“We should not put our stamp of approval on bad policy,” he said, in a statement that followed the tweet.

In his own statement, Lee said the GOP bill does not repeal all the Obamacare tax increases and “doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations.”

Both explanations were issued on social media.

“Twitter is a nice medium to get your message out,” Lee’s spokesman said.

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