As the Holiday season is upon us, you'll see more and more new palettes being released. The reason is very simple: it's an easy gift to give to someone. So, yes, indeed, you could ask for some makeup for a gift! Or, if you get a gift certificate for a makeup place, you most certainly can purchase a palette.
(Note: I will do an entry about "if you have XX amount to spend, how would I recommend you spend it... coming soon.)
Why purchase a palette?
First off, why would you purchase a palette instead of individual colors? Well, with individual colors, you'll get your choice and get bigger sizes, for sure. However, I do love a good palette as it's a handy way to carry a bunch of colors together in a (generally) small space. One thing that often happens as well is that, while I may not love all the colors on the palette, even those colors that I thought I'd never wear somehow end up on my eyelid at some point or another (i.e., sometimes, you don't know that you'll need a color until you actually need it :p). In some cases (e.g., Too Faced palettes), the colors will be pre-arranged for you into looks. It will generally not be contrasting enough for stage as they assemble these looks for everyday (or special occasions) but it gives you a starting point.
Size does matter
When it comes to palettes, size does matter... but not necessarily in the way that you think. ;) I like for my palettes to be on the small size as I want them to fit in my travel makeup case. So I find that my big whole 78 eyeshadow palette rarely travels with me as it's rather big and I'd rather not have it encumber my luggage.
Also watch out for overpackaging. You'll end up paying for that packaging anyway and it takes more space than it needs to. What I mean by "overpackaging" is those palettes that have a lot of space in-between colors and like a bulky (but likely very cute) box. Things like that.
Now, if you're not going to travel with the palette, its (small) size is not as important.
The "a < big number > $ value" trick
Don't be fooled by the "this palette is worth 96$ but you can get it for 36$!" ploy. Companies do that to make their palettes look more attractive. The way that they calculate the full price of the palette is based on how much it would cost you to buy each color individually at full size... but the colors in the palette aren't full size. So don't even bother looking at the other value but the actual sale price for the palette. It's really truly pointless. The question is: is the price something that you're willing to pay for what you get?
When selecting a palette, you'll want of course to assess the color selection. I once made the mistake of purchasing a palette that I thought I would absolutely love because there were so many super nice dark colors... but that's all that the palette had: dark colors. So I end up rarely using it because I need to supplement the palette with other colors to do a complete look. Therefore, I would recommend that you look for a palette that has both dark and lighter colors. A typical makeup scheme will have a medium color on the eyelid, a darker color at the crease, and the lightest color at the brow bone; you'll want to ensure that you can do this with the given palette. Again, it's not mandatory that it stands alone but you may find yourself not using a palette as much if it can't.
Pay attention to the finish of each of the colors. Are they all matte? All shimmery? Most people prefer having a mix of finishes for variety but it's really a personal thing. The only thing that I would advise against would be having all shimmery or frost eye shadows as that becomes a bit much to pull off but not impossible.
There are palettes that have more than just eye shadows: they may have also some blushes and lipstick. Those can be useful if you want to have everything in one package but I have to say that, generally, you'll get a better deal out of a focused palette but, again, it's a personal thing.