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Introducing blind box and the craze behind.

By Ella Lang in Chongqing

Winter Liu Tianyu caught a glimpse of Molly’s giant statue outside a shop in August 2019 when she was walking through the streets in Beijing. She then bought her first blind box with a Molly doll inside.

Though Liu is a student with no income, she has spent approximately RMB ¥2,500 (US $380) so far on buying blind boxes. The 19-year-old girl is now a big fan of blind box toys.

The standard market price of a blind box toy is RMB ¥59 (US $9). Liu now has 41 figurines in her collection and will keep on buying more in the future.

“I glued my favourite figurines on my desk. Looking at them from time to time has become my daily routine,” Liu says.

“I glued my favourite figurines on my desk. Looking at them from time to time has become my daily routine.”

Blind box toys are figurines packed in boxes with the same design. A series of blind box toys contains 12 different designs. Each set includes one limited edition that only appears in 1 out of 144 boxes. Buyers do not know which figurine they will get until they unpack the box.

As a consumer, Liu thinks that uncertainty and surprise are important factors that make blind boxes more irresistible than other toys.

“I probably will not buy the figurine if I know exactly what I will get. The element of surprise in blind boxes is just alluring,” Liu says.

Uncertainty and surprise also motivate Liu to keep buying blind boxes.

“I am not lucky. I did not get even one limited edition from all 41 blind boxes I bought. But the joy I have every time I open the box makes me buy more and more,” she says.

Booming Market in China

Blind box has become popular among the young. Collecting figurines has become the most popular hobby among consumers born after 1995, surpassing trendy trainers and video games, according to a buying behaviour report in 2019 by Tmall, the largest cross border E-commerce platform in China.

The same report shows that nearly 200,000 consumers spend around RMB ¥20,000 (US $3100) a year on blind boxes, and some even spend RMB ¥1 million (US $155 135) a year to buy blind boxes.

Blind boxes in a Pop Mart store.

“Compared with those who spend tens of thousands of yuan or even more on blind boxes every month, I am just a rookie blind box toy collector,” Liu says.

“I am not obsessed with collecting all figurines in one series, and I never buy limited editions at high prices in second-hand markets,” she adds.

On the Single’s Day shopping festival in 2019, more than two million blind boxes were sold on Tmall, with sales of RMB ¥82.12 million (US $12.6 million).

According to Report of Produce & Sale Demand And Investment Forecast On China Toy Industry (2021-2026) conducted by Qianzhan Intelligence, a Shenzhen-based business consultancy, the market for blind boxes is estimated to reach RMB ¥25 billion (US $3.8 billion) in 2025.

Behind the Popularity

Pop Mart’s product designs capture consumers’ attention and make them keep purchasing. “I bought my first blind box because of its cute design,” says Katy Dong Wenjing, who has just become a blind box toy collector last summer.

The leading blind box company cooperates with many Hong Kong artists to create popular figures. Molly, Pucky, Labubu and many sought-after figures were given birth under the brushes of Hong Kong artists.

A Molly series.

Molly, a little girl with big acid blue eyes and pursing red lips, is the Midas touch for Pop Mart.

Designed by Hong Kong artist Kenny Wong, Molly is the most popular toy figure, generating 27 per cent of revenue in 2019.

Apart from selling original blind boxes, the toy company also collaborates with a variety of brands such as Naruto, Pokémon and Harry Potter.

Dong’s favourite blind box toy is a palm-sized figurine of Rapunzel from the Disney movie Tangled. “As a big fan of Disney, I was so excited about the series,” she says.

“I am expecting more collaboration with other brands in the future, and I will surely buy blind boxes of my favourite characters,” Dong says.

Blind box buyers are likely to purchase the same series over and over until they get their desired piece. “I bought the same blind box five times. After getting Jasmine, Moana, Tiana and Mulan, I finally got the Rapunzel figurine in the Disney princess series,” Dong says.

Dong’s five toys in the Disney princess series. (Photo courtesy of Dong Wenjing)

“I am expecting more collaboration with other brands in the future, and I will surely buy blind boxes of my favourite characters.”

Shen Luxi, assistant professor of the Department of Marketing at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, explains blind box’s marketing mechanism with consumer psychology.

“Blind boxes give people a taste of satisfaction and curiosity. And that will motivate people to keep repeating the activity. We call this positive reinforcement in psychology,” she says.

Shen points out that the mystery packaging brings customers extra joy. “You can think of blind box as a packaging strategy that has another layer of fun. You get to guess what’s in it,” she says.

“Imagine if all Christmas gifts are wrapped in transparent paper, that will kill the fun. You still get the gift, but you do not get the fun,” Shen adds.

Edited by Bonita Wong
Sub-edited by Agnes Lam