Who doesn't love to get, or give, a holiday gift? And even better, a gift -- or a whole box full of them -- that keeps coming regularly in the mail? That's what you'll get or give if you sign up with a subscription box service, of which a dizzying number are now vying for your business.
Indeed, giving a subscription box as a holiday gift may seem like a great idea, until the research begins. "There are over 1,500 boxes that we have listed on our site. There's really something for everyone," said Liz Cadman, the founder of My Subscription Addiction, a review site for subscription boxes. "If you have a vegan friend, there are vegan-specific boxes, and there are book-lovers boxes."
Why have these boxes become so popular? It's partly the "treat yourself" mentality of wanting to provide a bit of luxury or pampering for yourself or a friend. It's not dissimilar to receiving a care package at camp, but instead of licorice and bug spray, the box might be filled with high-end cosmetics or the ingredients to make a gourmet meal.
And then there's the experience of unwrapping the box, which has become a social media phenomenon, thanks to "unboxing" videos and Instagram snapshots shared with friends.
Providing a memorable unboxing experience prompted GlossyBox, a beauty-focused subscription box, to tweak its packaging last year, said Carlos Soares Moreira, the head of business development for beauty subscription box GlossyBox.
"We invest a lot in the experience," he said. "Last year we changed the box, so that it takes 0.8 more seconds to open. So, to open GlossyBox, you have to take the lid of the box, then untie the ribbon, then take the seal off and take the tissue off."
But one of the big questions that gift-givers have about subscription boxes is whether they provide value. That depends on the type of box, as well as the company's goal, My Subscription Addiction's Cadman said.
Food boxes are the least likely to provide value -- meaning the contents aren't likely to be worth more than what you paid for -- partly because the economics of shipping food. Some boxes are aimed at giving consumers a sample of something, whether that's a new cosmetic product or a snack food, so they can decide whether to buy the full-size product.
"It's more about discovering new brands and trying out food samples before you get the full size," Cadman said. "There's a value to not buying something unless you know you really want it."
The benefit of giving a subscription box to a friend or family member is that "every time they get it, they think of you," Cadman added.
Venture investors are clearly seeing the opportunity as well: Birchbox, for one, has raised more than $70 million from backers including Accel and Lerer Hippeau Ventures. Meal-kit company Blue Apron has raised $135 million, giving it a $2 billion valuation.
Read on to learn about eight of the top subscription boxes this holiday season, based on Cadman's recommendations and subscription boxes provided by the companies and tested by CBS MoneyWatch.