Friday, June 21, 2013

Skoshbox Subscription Service (Review)

I used to belong to a service called "The Macintosh Book Club". It was like the Columbia Record Club, except it offered you computer books. The amazing thing about it was that they would send the books to Japan at a time when on one would send anything there by mail order due to shipping costs. Books, fortunately, were one of those things which survived a long shipping time so they could send them by the cheaper surface mail (seamail) rate. It was awesome, until they started sending me stuff I didn't want and asking me to pay for it. Then things turned into a bit of a sticky wicket, but that was long ago in the past and I'm sure that the unfair charges they submitted (about $55) to a collection agency have been wiped off of my credit report by now.

Postage is always the sticky wicket when it comes to international buying. Even big markets here in California which are, obviously, getting bulk rates, are charging $2.50 for beverages that routinely sell for about $1.00-$1.50 in Japan because the weight makes them so expensive to get from there to here. It's also why, as I mentioned when I reviewed the Sakura Box service, that I never got into the business of procuring snacks for others and selling them. It's a harsh world, doing mail order, and even harsher with low profit margin items like food. I wanted no part of it, no matter how many people asked me to do it for them (and quite a few did).

Sakura Box, apparently, sadly decided it wasn't worth the trouble either and shuttered their mail order snacks subscription service. Fortunately, Skoshbox has stepped up to the plate to serve the needs of those who would like to treat themselves to a box of surprises/samples once a month. Skoshbox, which is ran by two childhood friends with Japanese mothers who have lived in Japan, offers a monthly box of mixed treats and goodies for $12. They sent me a box for review (free). 

Their business operates from Hawaii, which means they actually have better access to Japanese snacks than I do in my present location. Most of my students thought Hawaii actually belonged to Japan anyway, and there is a big section of the tourist industry there which is devoted to catering to Japanese visitors. Skoshbox says that all of its contents are directly sourced from Japan, and I can definitely say that what I received bears this out. All of the snacks that I buy in Japanese markets in California have stickers on the back with English translations, often placed annoyingly over the Japanese I'd like to look at. Everything I got from Skoshbox looks like it was picked up in a shop in Tokyo. The "Look" chocolate, for instance, has no translation on the back and the Hi-Chews do not English language writing on them.

Being in Hawaii means that the shipping time may be a little longer since it has to reach the mainland. My box was shipped on June 14 and arrived on June 18, so you shouldn't have to wait too long to get your goodies. I should note that a little more than a quarter of the subscription fee is eaten up by the postage. Once you also add in Skoshbox's cost of buying shipping materials (boxes, packing tissue, and postcards ain't free, buddy), you're probably looking at about $3.50-$3.75 in material costs and postage alone. Since I ran a mail order business (as I've mentioned before, selling high margin collectible records and music memorabilia), I'm sensitive to the fact that the cost of the goods isn't all that goes into such things. 

Part of the value is in the materials to get things to you. Another part is in having the folks at Skoshbox procure, pack, and haul your parcel to the post off. This makes it all the more impressive to me that they're only charging $12 a month. It's just a bit more than you'd pay for a crummy pizza at Little Ceasar's and it's a lot more fun and won't make you nearly as sick.

Now for the good stuff, which is the unboxing. When you open up your little treasure trove, you're greeted with a postcard with a Japanese pattern printed on it and the date to let you know that this is the offering for this particular month. The contents are tucked under the tissue paper. The presentation is quite lovely and you can tell attention has been given to it, just as it would be in Japan.

If you flip the card over, you'll see a description of everything in the box in English. Since there are no translations on the items, this is the only way to know what they are. That being said, you have to match the general packaging to the English by matching the description to the item it appears to describe since they aren't labeled in English. If there is no English at all, which is the case with the umaibo (tasty stick), you'll have to figure out for yourself that it's the only puffed corn snack in the box through process of elimination. Also, though several flavors of umaibo are mentioned in the description, it's not clear which flavor the included sticks are. You're flying a bit blind if you can't read Japanese. My sticks were shrimp mayonnaise and chicken curry, but two other flavors, pizza and takoyaki, are mentioned on the card. Still, it's a nice touch, and it shouldn't be too hard to match items to descriptions based on appearances and small amount of English on the snacks. You'll have to match the flavor by taste and smell if you can't read Japanese, which should be a bit of an adventure.

This is the full range of items unpacked from the box. Everything except the shoyu sembei traveled well, and it's no surprise that they would crack. It's not like they don't crack in the packages you buy them in before you even get them home from the store or even simply are broken before purchase. You don't have to see the contents here though. Skoshbox puts up a page showing the "current box" on their site so you will have a pretty good idea of what you might be getting before you get it.

One touch which I like about this is the inclusion of Japanese stationary items. It means there is something a little more permanent from the box than food items which will be eaten and possibly forgotten. Though this included "only" a white eraser, I have to say that their claim that Japanese erasers are "life changing" would have seemed a little silly to me before I came back to the U.S. and tried to use an eraser here. You'd think that something so basic would be easy to get right, but the erasers in America that I've used are terrible. They're too hard, leave smudges, and generally ineffective. The Japanese ones are one of those things that they've refined to a point of near perfection. Yes, it does make a difference what sort of eraser you have. 

I was delighted by the presentation, speed of delivery, and contents of the Skoshbox monthly box. I also feel that the price is extremely reasonable for the overall package of service plus contents. Though, obviously, you could acquire these items yourself more cheaply if you were shopping in Japan. Of course, part of the reason that one would consider this service is that one doesn't have the capacity to actually shop in Japan, so that's neither here nor there. It's a nice way to give yourself a monthly round of surprises for a modest price.

Readers of my blog who would like to purchase a Skoshbox subscription (you can cancel at any time if you get one box and want to stop), can use a special code to get a free mystery snack in their first box. The code will be valid until July 15, 2013. That code is: JPNSNACK03 

I'll be reviewing some of the food contents in upcoming posts.


Anonymous said...

What an awesome subscription service! I'm definitely going to try it out. But an FYI, the site says your code doesn't exist. =/ Gonna wait a few days and try again.

Thanks so much for reviewing this!

Orchid64 said...

I've notified the folks at Skoshbox. I'll let you know when it's fixed!

Orchid64 said...

I've been told the code has been reset and should work now. Let me know if you're still having issues.

Wally6500 said...

I signed up and the code works.

Walter Blake Knoblock said...

I've recently started a company that mail orders improted/premiun candy to members called bocandy and am curious how much this weighed. As you know from your endeavours, the shipping cost is extremely important to keep low and right now, my price for 4.5 ounces of candy is $10.37 with free shipping.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Walter and thank you for reading my blog. Unfortunately, I did not weigh the package and the photo is too small for me to see if there is a weight reading on the box. If I had to guess, I'd say it was between 8-12 ounces. I'm sorry that I can't be more specific than that.