Subscription boxes: Gifts that mail themselves

subscription boxes

Show someone you care with a random box of stuff this holiday season.

Birchbox was the startup that launched the trend. The company, which ships customers a box every month filled with beauty and makeup products, delivers a surprise every time. In 2014, it raised $60 million in funding and was valued at $485 million.

Now there are tons of other "Birchbox for ____" companies that have followed suit, so there's a box for every type of interest. They all use the same basic business plan: pick a theme, name a price, and throw the word "curate" around with abandon.

They tend to fall into a few basic categories, such as beauty, snacks, and things to keep kids busy. There are so many subscriptions that there's even a blog devoted to reviewing them.

The quality of these services vary wildly. Some are filled with cheap samples, others are high-end but have waiting lists. There are some delightfully out-there options, including a range of "adult" boxes.

Here are a few of the most unique ideas for last-minute gift givers.

Escape Monthly

Mini-vacation in a box, Escape Monthly is one of the pricier boxes but has a sweet concept. Every month they pick a location and send subscribers items that are from or related to that location, including food, a travel book and souvenirs. ($49.95 a month)

Quarterly Co.

This company takes the curation angle and runs with it. Subscribers choose from a list of famous people or brands such as Bill Nye, Jeremy Lin, Nina Garcia and GQ. Every three months, the company sends you a box of stuff that they're into. ($35-$100 a month)

Recently

Not a box, per say, but a neat twist on the monthly subscription. The Recently app collects your last 100 smartphone photos. You edit the selection at the end of the month, hit publish, and get a printed magazine of your photos. ($8.99 a month)

KiwiCrate

Keep kids distracted (and learning about art and science!) with the different options from KiwiCrate. There are four different types of boxes aimed at various ages and interests. ($19.95 a month)

Pijon

Got a kid in college that needs a care package? No need to do it yourself, since you can outsource it to Pijon. The packages include basic necessities and a few fun gifts to let them know you care enough to pay someone else to send them a package. ($23 and up)

OwlCrate

This one's for the tweens, teens, and grown-ups who just happen to love young adult novels. OwlCrate sends a popular YA book along with related bit, like relevant figurines or snacks. ($29.99)

'You're gonna like the way you look'... with these gift ideas
'You're gonna like the way you look'... with these gift ideas

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