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Sephora Play vs Birchbox: The 2019 Year of Reviews -Which Subscription Box is Better?

By Kimberly

I’m here to bring you my 2019 annual review comparing Play by Sephora with Birchbox. Bringing it once a year is a better way to compare them, because anyone can have a good month. Can you bring it all year though? It really came as a shock in April 2019 when Birchbox raised the price on its boxes, but it allowed Aces to continue to purchase them for $10 a month. As I’ve maintained my Aces status through at least 2020, I’ve committed to doing this Sephora Play Vs Birchbox series at least that long, as soon as no more price hikes come from either company. This year is a little different. Even though I get both boxes for $10, I have to consider most people reading this will have to pay more for Birchbox. That means Birchbox has to bring more to the table from April through December once the price went up.

Get ready for 12 monthly battles comparing Play by Sephora in 2019 to Birchbox in one article. I’ve been subscribed to Birchbox since February of 2014 and Sephora Play since the national launch in May 2016 without any breaks for either. Those subscriptions have provided me with a lot of mini samples that I paid $2 each for ($10 box divided by 5 deluxe samples). Every month, I review Birchbox and Sephora Play separately (click those links to see the reviews). Detailed, dedicated articles are usually more helpful, so I will continue to separate their monthly reviews. After each year wraps, I write a comparison article to go over the products and values for each box picking the one I like the best each month. I will also go over the average value of the 12 boxes for the year, and other important information. My goal with this is to give a comprehensive review for those who are looking to subscribe to only one or the other. While I will give my opinion, look at the boxes and the information I provide to decide which is best for you.

There are other $10 boxes. When Ipsy was still $10, I had a subscription. I have gone over my reasons for canceling that one, and it was long before the price increase. Target does at times have $10 boxes, but that is not a subscription. You buy the ones you want, and most of them are $7. Walmart has a $5 quarterly subscription, but it is incredibly inconsistent. For $20 a year, I will stay subscribed. It cannot really compare to the $10 a month subscriptions you pay up to $120 a year for (you can get discounts on Birchbox for paying up front). Some people lump Allure Beauty Box into this category. The first box is always $10, but it shoots up to $15 after that making it a different animal. That is another one I periodically subscribe to, but I am never motivated to stick around. Only those considering Birchbox or Sephora Play should read beyond this point.

Highlights

While Sephora play had a waitlist at one time, it is now able to meet customer demand. Birchbox has not had a waitlist since I joined. Both ask you to complete a beauty profile to tailor its samples to you. Sephora Play does not tailor them as well, but I think this is due to how few box combinations it creates each month. There are never more than a dozen options for Sephora Play, but Birchbox has so many. Play started with fewer options, so it could grow as time moves on. You get a healthy mix of products with both boxes. Expect skincare, hair care, body care, perfume, makeup, and more. I have never opened a box from either and thought this has too much fill in the blank. I once opened a Sample Society Box (Allure Beauty Box) that had 4 face moisturizers in 6 products. That is unheard of with these boxes. You might get 3 hair care items (but at least one is a foil; bonus).

A lot of people complain that Birchbox repeats samples. This is a misconception I’ve found mostly untrue. After nearly five years as a subscriber, I can say repeats on the same Birchbox account are rare. I’d like to touch on the reasons for this rumor. Anytime you select the curated box, make a sample choice of an item you’ve received before, or receive a sample from the bonus shop with a full-price purchase, you can get repeats. There is an algorithm to track past samples to avoid duplicates at Birchbox. Since there is no place to log samples received from the shop (they’re random and not documented in your account), there is no rule that you cannot select an item you’ve received before when it is the sample choice, and curated boxes are not single samples, these will not go into that algorithm at all. People who use different email addresses can also get duplicates. Your account is under one email address. If you cancel under one email and sign up under another or hold multiple accounts at the same time, they are separate accounts. The algorithm will not say you have received this sample already if you received it under a different email address. For that account, it is a new sample.

Every time I got a duplicate product at Birchbox and looked into my order history, I discovered that it was either: from the shop, from a curated box, me selecting it as my sample choice (yes, you can select a sample from 3 choices), a subscription tied to a different email address, or I got it from a completely different retailer. In five years, I have never received a duplicate sample that did not fit into one of those categories. The result is I get more unique samples I have not received before from Birchbox than I do from Sephora Play, which definitely repeats samples. It is not unusual to get the same sample in a Sephora Play box that you got in the same year even, which I point out when going over the samples below.

When I am paying $10 for 5 deluxe samples, I dislike receiving samples that come in under $2. This means they are not pulling their weight. Even when other products make up for it, I still feel I am overpaying for that item. I am always happy to underpay, but I am never happy to overpay. Because of the variety of product offerings, this happens more with Birchbox than it does with Sephora Play! It happens the most with body products. Soaps, lotions, and cleansers can fall short. Birchbox also counts fragrance vials, which often fall under $2 in value, as one of the five samples. Sephora Play always considers fragrance vials as a bonus, so you are not paying anything for them.

My average Birchbox for 2019 was $42.15. That gets calculated by taking the value of each box and dividing it by 12. Since the average Sephora Play box for 2019 was $41.98, and it has a cheaper buy-in for most, it looks like the better deal. After all, you only lose $0.17 a box in value but you pay $2-$5 more for it. It’s not that easy to declare though, because personal value is more important than box value. Only products you will actually keep matter for the value. Because I get less duplicates from Birchbox, I do keep more products overall than I do with Sephora Play. It is not unusual for my personal value on Birchbox to surpass my personal value on Sephora Play. Until I actually use the product, there is always a chance my personal value can dip from my original estimate. Because many of these products are still waiting in my collection to get used or given away, updating personal value in the annual article is still not final (but I can update you on value if I’ve already given away something I thought I would keep).

One benefit Sephora has is it sends well-known products from popular brands. Most are quality, high-end items. Birchbox sends a mixture of well-known and lesser known items. An ongoing debate regarding subscriptions is some send a bunch of junk no one else wants. Yes, it has high box value, but what is the real value? Subscription boxes should introduce you to new things for you to possibly fall in love with. You get to sample them first and the company gets to hook a customer if its sends things they cannot live without. If companies are using subscription boxes to unload stuff they could not sell and will eventually get discontinued, that does not help the consumer. Who wants to sample something they know they cannot repurchase after testing it! While this does happen occasionally with Birchbox, it happens far less with Sephora.

There are some subscription boxes that send almost nothing but lesser known brands. While I love trying new things and would never rule a box out for not procuring any well-known brands, I do not stick with boxes where I cannot repurchase most of the items I am sampling. That is not the case with Birchbox at all. Some of the products disappear before I can purchase them, but most stick around. Other factors besides personal value and the ability to purchase any sample I fall in love with come into play when selecting which box is best. The ultimate winner must have a personal value that exceeds what I paid and items I want to try, not just items I will try since they are here. Of course, you never know how you will feel until you try something. That is the reason subscription boxes are a gamble, but it is also the reason I find them so much fun!

2019 Play by Sephora Vs Birchbox Comparisons

To keep this somewhat concise, please refer to the articles linked below for more details. The point of this section is a basic overview. It takes me longer than most to get to samples, because I have a vast collection. Anything received in 2019 is still pretty new to my collection, so I am not discouraged that I have not tried many of these by the time the year ended. If I cannot get to them on time, I will pass them onto someone though.

December 2019

Winner – Draw

My December Play Box had a $70.37 value and a $37.80 personal value. I am very happy to get a mini of the Bum Bum cream back. It is great for quick trips. The Marc Jacobs Eyeliner is incredible, and the sample has as much as the full-size. If I did not already have so many, I would keep this, but whoever I give it to is lucky. Sephora actually put a real full-size in here with the Grande mascara. That is the first time I ever remember getting a full size product in a Play box.

My December Birchbox had a $55.41 value and a $55.41 personal value. I know what you’re thinking. How can a box where I am keeping everything and getting $55.41 in personal value not win! First off, as beautiful as the nail polish is, it chips too fast. After painting late at night on Christmas Eve, they were severely chipped before Christmas dinner. Next time I wear it, I will double up on the top coat. The oil is something I already love, I am looking forward to the serum, and the Tribe product looks great. This is a new MAC lip color for my collection!

November 2019

Winner – Birchbox

My November Play Box had a $61.03 value and as low as a $0 personal value. I have never had a box where I have given everything away. This is the only box where it has potential, but I will probably hold onto something to keep that from happening. All six samples already exist in my collection. Other than the Dr. Jart, I’ve tried them all. The Glamglow is amazing and I like the others. Do I like them enough to need dupes? Nah! So, I will try the Dr. Jart I have. If I love that, I will keep that and the Glamglow or just the Glamglow. Then again, I already have so many moisturizers.

My November Birchbox allowed me to substitute a $30 blush out for the box. I’ve used this a lot and really love it. My box and personal value is $30.

October 2019

Winner – Sephora Play 

My October Play Box had a $29.69 value and a $19.69 personal value. The products are small, as expected from the Play Box, but there are some really good things here. I look forward to trying the hydrating primer and the mushroom toner. If I did not already own a ton of Urban Decay Setting Sprays, I would keep this. Because I want to share my love of the product, I will probably pass it on.

My October Birchbox had a $42.76 value and a $42.76 personal value. This is one of those months where Birchbox is just going to have to suck it up and take the loss. If they had the same price for everyone, I would have considered calling it a draw. Yes, it has a higher box value and I get a higher personal value, but most of the value is coming from an unknown brand I am not excited about and ModelCo, which I am not usually into. The color of the lip is gorgeous, but I still have not been motivated to even try it. The Bumble and bumble is the hero product of this box. It is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time.

September 2019

Winner – Sephora Play

My September Play Box had a $35.91 value and a $35.91 personal value. Everything in this box was either something I already loved (liked the Gimme Brow) or something I really wanted to try and did not already own. This is extremely rare, especially in a Sephora box. I usually get duplicates of things I have not yet tried or things I only like, not love.

My September Birchbox had a $40.16 value and a $21.55 personal value. I am really interested in the Wander foundation and the Sunday Riley serum. The OUAI Spray does not do anything for my hair, and I already owned the liquid lipstick. It was not my favorite anyway. Volume and thickening Shampoo sounds nice, so I will definitely try that.

August 2019

Winner – Draw

My August Play Box had a $52.45 value and a $37.45 personal value. This was a six sample month. I love the lip color and formula. The dew mist is awesome. Both the Glamglow and the serum really interest me.

My August Birchbox allowed me to substitute a $23.50 Leave-in Conditioner I love out for the box. I already know and love this product. Though I have not used this specific one I received, I have received this product many times. My box and personal value is $23.50. I know my personal value is lower than the Play box, but it is hard to overcome the power of getting one full-size item I really love.

July 2019

Winner – Birchbox

My July Play Box had a $36.27 value and a $11.96 personal value. I am only keeping the self tanning drops and the Kiehl’s mask from this box. As you can see, the highlighter arrived shattered and Sephora did not want to replace it or refund the $2 I paid for it. Instead I was offered 100 points. Since I paid for that sample, I decided to mix it with other broken samples and make a broken cream highlighter. Anyway, I do love the BiFacil, but I have a lot of it. Keeping a lot of duplicates is not something I like to do, because things get too old waiting their turn.

My July Birchbox had a $45.36 value and a $45.36 personal value. There is nothing in here I won’t use and a few things I am looking forward to using. I’ve ordered the Mighty Patches before, but my nieces and nephews stole them all from me before I could try them. I will hold onto these and try them. MAC Lipglass formulas are nice, and I like this shade. Any priming moisturizer is something I am here for. This is just a more well  rounded box for me, and thanks to my nieces and nephews I did not own any of these products when the box arrived.

June 2019

Winner – Birchbox

My June Play Box had a $25.10 value and a $19.92 personal value. I love the lip balm and the Rose Spray. These were items I already loved before the box arrived. The foundation is a close match, even though it is a little yellow. If the cleansing balm and hydrate and glow are good, this  could be a great box.

My June Birchbox had a $67.96 value and a $60.00 personal value. There are three full-size products in this. It’s kind of hard to lose in a month where you have 3 full size items. It also helps when I love the moisturizer. I still have not decided if I will keep it, but I know I will not keep the wave spray. For those of you who are noticing the wave spray was also in my September Box, this was a curated box. Samples in curated boxes do not go into the duplicate algorithm.

May 2019

Winner – Sephora Play

My May Play Box had a $45.76 value and a $21.45 personal value. I know it seems unbelievable that I would pick Sephora Play as my winner this month when Birchbox has almost double the personal value. However, Sephora Play brought 2 new samples that I really wanted to try and one I really ended up loving, the Coco Cabana.

My May Birchbox had a $51.58 value and a $41.66 personal value. I was able to substitute the Skincare Made Easy Kit for the May Birchbox. This gave me nine pieces instead of the usual five. This is a nice collection of skincare samples. Many of these items are samples I’ve received before. Between gifting some of them away and wanting others to gift away, I thought it would be good to get this. Only the eye cream was a sample I had not received before.

April 2019

Winner – Birchbox

My April Play Box had a $26.06 value and a $4.63 personal value. I loved the Volition scrub before I received it in the box, and I am happy to try the Sephora Micellar water. The Clinique Moisturizer is not enough for my dry skin, the mascara formula is too wet for my hooded eyes, and the eyebrow pencil shade is a little more red than I like.

My April Birchbox had a $35.73 value and a $35.73 personal value. Every item in this box is something I already love or something I am looking forward to trying. The Living Proof Style Extender is a product I cannot live without. Having a travel size version is great.

March 2019

Winner – Birchbox

My March Play Box had a $35.70 value and a $6.40 personal value. There are a lot of great items in this box, but I own all of them. I will keep the duplicate sunscreen, but I am giving all the other items away. For most others, I can see how this box would win.

My March Birchbox had a $37.01 value and a $13.51 personal value. I was not overly thrilled with this box either, so picking a winner this month was picking between the lesser of the two evils. This one at least has a personal value over the $10 I paid. At least I get to try 3 items in this   box, and I only get to keep one from the other box.

February 2019

Winner – Draw

My February Play Box had a $45.31 value and a $12.84 personal value. This is actually a great box. I already own many of these products, so I do not need to keep all the duplicates. Even though I own Rhubarb in pencil form, I decided to keep this Amuse Bouche formula. The eye masks are definitely staying with me. As much as I love the face mask, there is a good chance I will keep that as well. In warmer weather, I do like the moisturizer, but I have so many formulas.

My February Birchbox had a $37.03 value and a $24.72 personal value. The Lip Glass was in a shade I did not already own, and I had been wanting to try the primer. I already loved the shampoo and conditioner. If I love the moisturizer once I finally try it, my personal value could go up.

January 2019

Winner – Birchbox

My January Play Box had a $40.07 value and a $4.74 personal value. I owned every item in this box, but the mushroom mix. Because I hate mushrooms, that was not a win. The only item I decided to keep was the beautyblender cleanser, because it will not expire before I can use it. I can also use many duplicates of that, because I will always have brushes and sponges to clean.

My January Birchbox had a $49.66 value and a $42.41 personal value. At first glance, it seems obvious that Sephora would win this. There are no well known brands in Birchbox this month. That is actually the only time all year that happened, so it seems the promise that Birchbox would work with better brands after the price increase went into effect was true. Now, even with the inferior brands, I have to pick this as my winner. With only a soap to carry the other box, it was not enough.

Conclusion

Clearly, I picked Birchbox more months in 2019 than I picked Sephora Play, so it is my 2019 winner. That is the second year in a row it won. Which box is better and which should you get? I am not going to answer that for you. My opinion and reasoning for holding onto certain items and getting rid of others is different from yours. I’ve provided you with as much information as possible (including pictures of each box and links to them if you want to read more about the products), so you can weigh everything. Unless you pick a long subscription term, which is not even possible with Sephora Play, you can always cancel at any time if you are unhappy. Only those who are in it for the long haul should do an annual subscription (with any box). Try it month-to-month for a while. If you’re happy and an option to save money pops up by paying up front, then jump on it. Until then, stay commitment light! For those who are still unsure, I’d say if you want to try more unique things, subscribe to Birchbox. If you want to try well-known items, subscribe to Sephora Play! Should Sephora start putting new and innovative items into the box instead of the items we’ve all tried, the Play box would be unstoppable.

I am not un-subscribing to either any time soon, so you will probably see another article like this when 2020 wraps. Even though I get a lot of duplicates from Sephora Play, I have family and friends who love raiding my drawers. When they see items they’ve heard of (because we’ve all heard of these cult classics), they get very happy. Those items are not getting wasted. Besides, I have yet to receive a single Play box where I did not keep anything. There is always at least one item I keep, even if it is worth less than the $10 plus tax I paid for the box. As long as I am getting some goodies for myself, I have no problems passing some onto the people I love. With Birchbox, I’ve discovered so many amazing gems I never would have purchased without getting a sample first. It renews my love to keep trying new things when I come across products that make me think I need them and even better, I can afford them.

We all like getting the most bang for our buck, but those thinking Sephora is better just because the boxes have more perceived value should also consider this (in addition to personal value, which I mention above). As much as I love sampling expensive things, and who doesn’t, falling in love with affordable things makes purchasing the full-size (when the sample is gone) a lot easier. This is precisely the reason I love grabbing the Target Beauty Boxes that interest me and why I subscribe to the Walmart Beauty Box despite seriously inconsistent quality. Whenever expensive items outperform cheaper ones, I will reluctantly purchase them.

Finding cheaper ones that work as well or even better than the expensive ones is my goal. I really like regular subscription boxes to feed my desire to try new things. Those who do not like trying new things or already know what they love in every category should avoid subscription boxes at all costs. They will not enjoy the opportunity to try the random items and will get discouraged quickly. While an occasional box falling below your personal value is okay, it is only a good deal to keep a subscription when the products you are using exceed the cost you are paying. If that is not your case, it is time to cancel. Subscription boxes are not for everyone, and that is okay. If we were all the same, the world would not be as fun.

Sephora.com, Inc.

Sephora does not have any discount or start-up offers for Play! While that is not necessarily a bad thing, those who are on the fence can use its lack of offer as the deciding factor for which box to choose. If this is your overall winner, the subscription itself is more important than the starting offer.

Birchbox Women

If you want to subscribe to Birchbox remember to look at start-up offers and all available offers.

What are your thoughts on the annual 2019 Sephora Play vs Birchbox subscription comparison? Let me know below. If you know anyone who could benefit from this information, please use the sharing tools below to help them see this on various forms of social media or private email. Thanks for reading and sharing. See all Sephora Play! and Birchbox Subscription articles. View my main page for the guide map to the site and deeper deal exploration.

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I'm Kimberly. Shopping is always more fun when I've found the best deal available, so I am always on the hunt. My father instilled that in me, and I love that I carry a piece of him. Sometimes, my husband and sons (12 and 7) let me shop for them, too. They do not use as many beauty products as I do. We can all benefit from nice products, even though their routine ends with moisturizer. That is when I can convince my 12-year-old to apply it.

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