Earlier this year, I came across a Groupon for something called BarkBox. I’d never heard of it before, but after reading the description, I thought it would be a pretty cool thing to get for Rascal. I had wanted the three-month subscription, but that was sold out; I settled for the six-month. Thanks to a promo code, I got 20% off the Groupon, ultimately plunking down $64. I got an additional two months for free as well. Normally, referrals get you one free box, but BarkBox ran a promotion in late spring where they doubled that incentive. So, for those scoring at home, that means I paid about 40% of the normal price. Not too shabby.
A couple of months ago, there was a Groupon for another subscription service PetBox. Dana decided to get this one, paying $60 for the six-month option. We’ve been happy with both companies thus far, and each offers its own unique strengths, but we definitely don’t need both, and eventually will have to choose between them.
Well, actually, the choice has already been made. Want to know why? Keep reading…
Pricing and Plans
BarkBox offers boxes for four different sizes of dog (toy, small, midsize, and large) and has four different plans (one, three, six, and 12 months). Price is determined by the duration, rather than dog size: $29 for one month, $24 for three, $21 for six, and $18 for a full year. Shipping is included for all plans, unless you live outside the contiguous U.S., in which case there’s a $5 charge. All boxes contain 4 – 6 items. Cancelling your subscription stops it from auto-renewing, but since you pay up front, you’ll still receive the boxes you paid for. There’s no mention of refunds on their website, but they do encourage customers to contact them with any issues.
PetBox has three different classifications by size (small, medium, and large) and offers one and three-month plans, as well as an annual. Again, price is based on the duration of the plan you select, but PetBox offers a few wrinkles that BarkBox does not. The first is box size. You can get Snack (one item, $9.95 on the month to month plan), Deluxe (2 – 3, $19.95), Premium (4 – 6, $39.95), and Multiple Pet (7 – 12, $59.95). The three month plans generally offer about a 10% discount; the annual plans, 20%. As with BarkBox, shipping is included. PetBox also offers products for cats as well as dogs. We’ll get to the other differences in a bit.
We have a much smaller sample to draw from with PetBox, having only received two, compared to eight BarkBoxes. That said, I’ve generally been more impressed with the BarkBox products. The PetBox stuff has been good, don’t get me wrong; besides, Rascal’s pretty easy to please. It just hasn’t quite lived up to the competition. That might have something to do with the next topic.
Selection, Customization and Flexibility
BarkBox doesn’t tell you what items will be in your box. They do, however, send monthly surveys asking what you and your pup thought of the items you were sent, and based on my experience, these are actually taken into consideration. I mentioned in one survey that while Rascal loves pretty much all toys, he tends to destroy stuffed/plush toys in less than the time it took me to finish typing this sentence. Since then, I’ve noticed that the toys in his box tend to be sturdier. The company also offers “allergy-free” boxes for dogs with various allergies.
Those differences I alluded to earlier – PetBox asks for the gender of your pet, which I imagine impacts the product selection they offer you. But the major point of contrast is that you can let them put your box together and surprise you, as BarkBox does, or you can elect to choose your own items. This operates via a point system. Each month, a certain number of items are available, and each has a point value assigned to it. It can be both fun and frustrating to work within this system – as you might imagine, it’s not always easy, or possible, to use the exact number of points you have banked every month. Fortunately, if you come in under, your remaining points simply roll over into the next month. If you exceed your point balance, you pay a few extra bucks for the privilege – the rate is $1.00 per every 20 points, which seems more or less equivalent to what you pay for the membership.
Having just selected the contents of our third box this morning, I can tell you that we have managed to get three items in each one to this point without having to spend any extra cash, and actually have 10 points rolling into December. I do feel like the selection could be a little better and more varied, but there are usually more items that seem appealing than I can fit into the point budget, and it’s nice to know that I have the option to splurge if something particularly awesome catches my eye.
There’s benefits and drawbacks to either model. Having direct control over the PetBox is nice, but I definitely find the surprise of the BarkBox to be more fun. They’ve yet to pack any duds into our box in almost a year, so trust has certainly been earned. They also provide a card with product codes and prices listed, so that if you want, you can order another toy or bag of treats if your dog is especially fond of and/or annihilates it.
BarkBox has a blog called The BarkPost that is pretty awesome, containing news, advice, pictures, and videos. They also come across as more playful and whimsical, whereas PetBox is just kind of straightforward, no frills. Granted, BarkBox can be a little too twee for my tastes sometimes, but on the whole I tend to appreciate companies that try to demonstrate a sense of humor.
Both companies have referral programs. BarkBox, as I mentioned, gives you a free box for every person who signs up using your referral link, and the new customer gets 10% off their first subscription. You can choose to have your free box donated to a dog in a shelter, which is pretty cool. PetBox, meanwhile, offers 10% commission on revenue earned from referrals. If you can get enough people to join and stick with the service, that could definitely earn you a nice chunk of change. It doesn’t appear that they offer any discount to the new customer, though.
I got the BarkBox subscription in March. The two free boxes I got (thanks again, Molly!) extended my renewal date from September 3 to November 3, which you may recall was Monday. I had been planning to cancel, enjoy the PetBox for the next few months (that subscription ends in February) and then reevaluate. As the time to do so approached, however, I found myself reconsidering. I think BarkBox is a pretty awesome value, even if $18 a month is more than double what I paid for my initial run. PetBox is significantly more expensive (the difference between a yearly Premium box and the yearly BarkBox is $140), and they just haven’t done enough to justify that difference in price.
If you can snag a promotional price like we did, PetBox is a solid investment, especially if you prefer to choose your own stuff. And I’d rather support them than places like Petsmart and Petco. But for my money, BarkBox is in a class of its own. So if you’ve got a pup at home, maybe click this link and get yourself a discounted subscription. Everybody wins!
EDIT 8/12/15: So apparently this post is the second or third Google result when you search for a comparison between the two companies, and as a result I’ve gotten about 20 referral boxes! Rascal will be swimming in toys and treats beyond the end of next year, so thank you for that from both of us.
All subsequent boxes earned from my referral link will be donated to a shelter pup. Also, rather than 10% off your subscription, BarkBox will add a free box to whatever plan you select.