Shanghai’s new curbs aim to pour cold water over China’s ‘mystery boxes’ frenzy

A woman walks out a KFC restaurant in Beijing February 25, 2013. — Reuters pic
A woman walks out a KFC restaurant in Beijing February 25, 2013. — Reuters pic

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SHANGHAI, Jan 14 — China’s commercial hub of Shanghai rolled out new rules today to limit the price of “mystery boxes”, hugely popular among young people, just days after similar promotions by KFC and Pop Mart excited criticism for triggering a buying frenzy.

The “mystery box” phenomenon – in which consumers can buy unlabelled packages containing random novelty gifts from retailers – has become popular in China.

Companies such as Chinese toy seller Pop Mart International Group have built their businesses on the mystery box trend with an element of surprise: consumers do not know what toy figurine they will get until they open the box.

But Shanghai’s market regulator has now introduced a spate of regulations aimed at controlling this niche industry. The regulations will limit the price of these “mystery boxes”, which have been a big trend in the country especially among its young people, to 200 yuan (US$31.49) a box. Previously there was no price cap on the items in the mystery boxes.

The regulations also said companies should not encourage buying frenzies, excessive marketing and speculation, or sell boxes to children under the age of eight.

This comes after a top Chinese consumer rights group on Wednesday urged the public to boycott a “mystery box” meal promotion by Yum China-operated KFC restaurants, saying it encouraged customers to buy many meals in order to obtain the toy figurine, causing food wastage.

KFC launched the promotion last week with Pop Mart, which allowed customers to collect limited edition versions of large-eyed and round-faced Dimoo toy dolls when buying certain KFC meals. This led to at least one consumer spending 10,494 yuan (US$1,649) to buy 106 set meals at one go to collect the toys, the China Consumer Association said in a statement, describing it as “impulsive consumption”.

This is not the first time the mystery box trend has attracted scrutiny.

In May, the practice faced widespread calls for regulation after local media reported that 160 puppies and kittens earmarked for mystery box surprises had been rescued from a warehouse in the city of Chengdu.

Shanghai’s market regulator published the guidelines on its official WeChat account, adding that items such as medicines, live animals or flammable items should not be offered in such boxes. — Reuters

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