Back in 2016, long before people’s hands were dried-out from sanitiser and faces indented from masks, there was a popular WeChat account that launched an initiative called the “4-hour escape from Bejing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.” Consumers had to get to the airport asap, where they’d receive a ticket to an unknown destination and a ¥300 ($42) hotel subsidy, and start travelling. The initiative was a runaway success, which saw many copycats follow such as travel platform Mafengwo which created the similar “unknown travel destination lab.”
Domestic travel is currently running at about half the rate that it was a year ago. Although travel is trending up, the unpredictability of mystery weekends to unknown hotels doesn’t hold a lot of allure to Covid-shy consumers. Nevertheless, the ‘mystery’ concept has resurfaced in new manifestations. While global uncertainty from the pandemic is impacting everyone, the mystery and surprise of purchasing the unknown is presently generating a lot of buzz from Chinese consumers.
If suitcases are your thing, you’ll probably get a kick out of Xiaomi’s intelligent travel cases. Yet with less travelling happening, suitcase stock is gathering dust. Enter the trending ‘blind box’ tactic, where consumers purchase an unknown product from a brand for a set price. Xiaomi’s version involves a take on the classic lucky dip, where suitcase purchasers open their luggage to find a potentially-valuable product inside ranging from feature-packed smartphones to cute collectables.
The fast moving consumer goods category has been quick to jump on the blind box trend. In April, Pringles launched a line of “mystery flavour” crisps where consumers can either search for the hidden flavour on the outside or just bite in to discover the flavour. Similarly, last month WAHAHA brand Dimoo launched “blind water” where consumers buy a box of drinks and don’t find out the flavours – or the accompanying figurine – until its opened. Yes, you may not get your favourite flavour, but the thrill of the surprise more that compensates for many consumers.
Where the blind box is proving most popular is for mystery toys and collectables – think McDonalds Happy Meals on steroids. Toy brand POP MART is among the best known, where rare mystery toys can sell for close to 40 times their retail price. The brand also partnered with WAHAHA to provide the figurines for their blind water. Research last year found that nearly 200,000 consumers spent an average of ¥20,000 ($2,800) collecting blind boxes, with the top bracket spending as much as ¥1 million ($143,000) to complete their sets. Tens of millions of others are tempted by collectables that come with purchases.
These are all tactics that have been around for generations globally, from collectable baseball cards to lucky dip bags of sweets, but they are very much on trend in China at present. Chinese consumers have come to expect an element of surprise and delight with many things they buy and the blind box is proving to be an effective way of meeting that.
Many online purchases already receive a thoughtful gift or accessory in hope of nudging shoppers to write a better review. But brands should aim to go over and above that, to wow even the most promotion-hardened of Chinese consumers with an experience that bends the usual consumption ritual. They will be rewarded with advocacy on China’s many social networks – particularly those experiences that come across well on a short video. We’ve seen this for a few years with Three Squirrels who turned the common act of eating nuts into an experience, and increasingly with brands playing the mystery angle, such as Xiaomi, Pringles, WAHAHA and POP MART.
Brands don’t necessary need a mystery with every purchase, but something above and beyond just a great product that makes them stand out and be memorable in the very crowded space in China. Chinese consumers love the novel factor and will share it, so why not give it to them? Contact China Skinny for ideas around this and how to best validate consumers’ experiences.
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