MOST of us like to see what we are buying before we hand over our cash, but a new trend is turning this concept on its head – the rise of the ‘blind box’, which is now becoming a phenomenon that reaches beyond retail.
As the name suggests, you don’t know what you are buying when you buy it. All you know is the brand behind the box, which usually gives an inkling of what the contents are likely to be. They are often series of collectibles, such as toys or jewellery.
What’s the point of it?
A big part of the attraction are the boxes’ social media friendly qualities – the element of surprise and the process of opening the box which can all be captured on camera and shared with online communities.
It’s rising in popularity?
Predicted to spread by analysts, the blind box market is surging in China, worth 7.4 billion yuan ($1.14 billion) in pre-pandemic 2019, according to market research firm Qianzhan Intelligence, and expected to grow to 30 billion yuan ($4.7 billion) by 2024. Gu Huimin, a tourism professor at Beijing International Studies University, said: “It’s a trendy kind of promotion, which satisfies the psychology of curiosity and adventure.”
What are the specific markets?
Toys are a big sector. One Beijing firm, Pop Mart, sells its wares – small toy figures, such as aliens and animals – in blind boxes that are so popular, the firm brought in $240 million in 2019.
Museums in China are getting in on the act, selling their own wildly popular archaeological blind boxes that hide miniature cultural relics in chunks of soil that need to be chipped away, so buyers could either find a piece of bronzeware or china that is centuries old.
For Chinese Valentine’s Day, renowned luxury band Lanvin launched a blind box lottery on WeChat – China’s main social media platform. For 500 yuan ($77), consumers could enter a draw and redeem prizes at offline vending machines to receive vouchers for silk scarves, sneakers, and even handbags.
The blind box craze took a dark turn earlier this year when live pets began being sold in blind boxes, sparking a backlash as animals suffered and died, with the trend described as “a step too far” in China.
And it’s gone beyond retail?
Huge brands have capitalised on the trend in China so far, from Starbucks to McDonalds, which have both offered their own branded toys in their campaigns, but the latest Chinese trend is ‘dating blind boxes’.
For 1 yuan (16 US cents) customers can purchase a WeChat number of a stranger, and for another yuan, leave their own number to put in the vendor’s system. They can then get in touch with the owner of the WeChat account and try blind dating. One user told the Yangcheng Evening News in China: “The whole process is like opening a blind box. It is so stimulating.”