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The Mystery Boxes

What’s behind the latest e-commerce trend?


Every other Wednesday, h/commerce provides in-depth analysis of the most impactful trends reshaping retail.


In the midst of lockdowns, shoppers are still hungry for a thrilling and exciting shopping experience. As the lockdowns extended for multiple months across the world in 2020, a new exciting e-commerce scheme has come into the surface from a niche of the Internet and social media.

One of them is the concept of mystery boxes, where the consumers either buy or send each other boxes of unknown items. Started on social media, the unboxing mystery boxes have become an increasingly popular content consumed by millions of millennials and Generation Z shoppers.

With the mystery boxes, the buyers never know exactly what they are going to get: they can purchase a box with a given category or brand, but the exact item remains a mystery until the unboxing.

Marketers frequently stress the need to surprise and to delight the consumers, and the mystery boxes seem to find its niche amongst shoppers searching to shake up the routine and seeking for a more shopping thrill. It is no wonder, that the mystery boxes started to pop here and there, and new intriguing platforms dedicated to the delight of mystery has emerged.

A new intriguing e-commerce scheme

The basic concept of a mystery box is simple. The client purchases a box for a fixed price, without knowing what is inside, and what is the value of the items in the box. The thrill of the unknown has made the mystery boxes unboxing a real hit on Youtube, hawked by some of the biggest Youtube stars including Jake Paul and Brian ‘RiceGum’ Le, entertaining the audience watching videos in suspense like an action film asking themselves “what will they pull out next?”

The mystery unboxing craze on Youtube was the at the very origin for creating “HEAT” – a luxury mystery box scheme established in late 2019, that ever since has conquered young shoppers who love a bargain, premium and luxury streetwear and a thrill of surprise.

London-based HEAT is an e-commerce platform that offers surplus luxury fashion items in a curated collection delivered as a mystery box, or “A Box of Heat”, as the company refers to it. The shoppers visiting HEAT webpage have multiple options for the boxes:

Credits: Heat website

The concept has rapidly gained traction through the buzz created by the influencers strengthened by the pandemic context, as the young premium brands seekers were looking for a new exciting shopping experiences at home. Today, HEAT counts almost 660 000 of followers on Instagram and has seen new competitors using the high-end fashion mystery box concept: LOOTIE in March 2020 and New York-based – SCARCE in December 2020.

The concept has rapidly gained traction through the influencers’ buzz and the pandemic context, as luxury shoppers were looking for new and exciting e-commerce experiences. Today, Heat counts almost 660k of followers on Instagram and the boxes are instantly sold-out upon each release.

What explains the success of HEAT is that the boxes provide items with great value. According to the company’s managing director Joe Wilkinson, if the mystery boxes weren’t even bigger phenomenon is because there was no guaranteed value when they were bought on platforms like eBay, Amazon or Birchbox for beauty products. Heat provides a new level of professionalism, authenticity and products with a value higher than the total cost of the box.

How is it possible?

At the very beginning, HEAT began by sourcing its products directly from department stores, proposing them a solution for selling overstock and an off-season clothing that in another case would be highly discounted or ended up on a landfill. In that manner, the department stores could destock, and HEAT could propose engaging products of valuable brands for the clients.

Soon after the first successes of the boxes, the brands came calling with the goal to excess their stocks, and eventually drop new products. The company evolved from its initial focus sourcing end-of-season articles to working closely with brands.

“The brands now come to us and say that they want to get new season products into the boxes. Because so many influencers are opening the boxes on their Instagram Stories, people are seeing the products and want to go out and buy them at full retail price” Said Joe Wilkinson – the managing director.

As a result, HEAT not only sells overstocks but collaborate with some of the industry’s buzziest names like Off-White or Palm Springs. The latest Heat move involves an exclusive capsule range signed Haider Ackermann. Priced at £750 for a guaranteed value of £1200, the boxes were sold out shortly after the release in last December. What started as an intriguing new solution for selling surplus, has turned into a real-life customer and marketing tool.

The next step of HEAT is to upgrade the shopping experience through a personalization element. Customers will soon be able to build personalized style profiles to ensure the products they receive are in line with their preferences and size. What is more, Heat promises even more excitement while unboxing in the future, as it works on packaging innovations and olfactory experiences during the thrilling discovery what’s hiding in the box.

Why is it interesting?

COVID-19 has put a halt to the ‘normal’ shopping life for most consumers, for many months. Gone were the days where they could roam their favourite department stores as pleased, searching for delightful discoveries. The outbreak and its stay-at-home implications have only served to fuel the demand on shopping thrill and surprising content.

A social media phenomenon of opening boxes of unknown goods has risen from a niche trend to a new marketing scheme for premium and lifestyle brands.

By partnering with Heat on the boxes, the brands do not have to find ways to discount stock excess, and as the concept is gaining ground, some brands use them to launch exclusive drops or even capsule collections.

For brands, Mystery boxes are a win-win. The fashion industry is often struggling with a surplus of off-season products which are too often sent to a landfill or heavily discounted. Heat is positioning itself as a platform that can provide brands with an engaging solution and a sustainable channel to avoid this outcome, while still preserving the exclusive values of premium brands.

For consumers, mystery boxes are a surprising new way to purchase top brands and luxury articles with a major discount. In times of pandemic, they were more used to bad surprises than good ones, and the mystery boxes give them a thrill of surprise, a great content opportunity for social media and a completely new shopping experience.

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