“Let’s open up the nine secondhand Pop Mart blind boxes I’ve bought for only 86 yuan,” says “Little Load loves Study,” an influencer on video-sharing platform Bilibili at the beginning of a video in which waxes lyrical about second-hand Pop Mart Boxes.
He then moves on to open the toys, claiming in a tone both smug and excited that he has finally completed the Can Neko Friend kitten set after collecting these nine boxes. Fortunately for “Little Load Loves Study,” only the outermost cartons of the secondhand toys were opened, but the plastic packaging remained intact.
At least one viewer left a comment under the video, awing at how lucky the influencer was to get such an incredible bargain – something that should come as no surprise since anyone with basic knowledge of Pop Mart knows that just one of their normal-sized blind box normally costs 59 yuan.
“Little Load Loves Study” is hardly the only fish in the huge pool of secondhand Pop Mart blind box trading.
The history of blind boxes can be traced back to Japan at the beginning of the 20th century, when Japanese department stores began to handle stranded goods in the form of lucky bags. Customers could purchase the bags for a standard price, but what was inside would remain a mystery until after the sale.
The trending blind boxes of today only changed what’s inside into palm-sized mini-figured designer toys.
According to Frost & Sullivan data, China’s domestic designer toy market has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2015, the market size was only 6.3 billion yuan but by 2019, it had reached 20.7 billion yuan, with a compound annual growth rate of 34.6%. The sales of blind boxes alone counts for about 10 billion yuan, or nearly half of the market size.
It is not difficult to imagine why the blind box market has taken off in China, considering the booming economy, the improvements in people’s living standards and consumers being ever more inclined to spend on entertainment.
With blind boxes, moreover, the thrill of opening up the plastic wrapper can be addictive as customers do not know what they got from the collection they have chosen.
But among all the blind box brands, only Pop Mart has emerged as a pioneer, resulting in the company being listed in Hong Kong last December.
There are an array of reasons to explain the brand’s success, but one of them is certainly the refined details of the vinyl toys. “At first, it was only because I’m a Harry Potter enthusiast and it takes the pressure off of me when I rip the packaging open,” said Boyu Lu, an event planner from Wuhan who is a die-hard fan of Pop Mart’s Bunny and Harry Potter collections.
“The Harry Potter series is authorized with genuine intellectual property protection and there are very few cost-effective Harry Potter-themed products in China. As I often go to the offline store to buy Harry Potter toys, it is difficult not to be attracted by other IP series on display.”
For many, it is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of Pop Mart’s fantasy world and hard to ever climb out of it. A purchase can be made for only 59 yuan (about $9.2), an affordable price for young and old alike. And after buying one, it is hard to not buy a second or even many to complete a set, or to explore more themes.
But over time, costs rise, with the money and affection thrown into the game becoming barricades, barring one’s way out of the honeyed swamp.
Furthermore, although purchasing at the store is a satisfying experience and gets one’s adrenaline flowing, many Pop Mart customers and enthusiasts are going after more than just a few thrilling seconds.
Enter the secondhand Pop Mart blind box market, a thriving sector in China.
If one goes to a Pop Mart offline store and finds out that the collection they want is out of stock, the best option is to join a WeChat group of the store organized by Pop Mart staff, where notifications are issued if there are replenishments or new arrivals.
The regional WeChat group connects Pop Mart’s most loyal fans, building up a community for them to exchange and sell secondhand toys. Plus, Pop Mart has a dedicated online toy-drawing machine in its WeChat mini-program.
Once registered with a WeChat ID, customers can invite their friends to guess what’s in the box they picked by simply sharing the mini-program, creating a sense of participation and connection within the community, attracting more traffic and possibly generating more sales.
The secondhand Pop Mart toy market is part of a larger development of secondhand trading platforms, with the two biggest being Xianyu and Chaowanzu.
According to the data released by Xianyu in mid-December 2020, there are more than 440,000 blind box fans trading on their platform. In November 2020, the transaction volume exceeded 120 million yuan, showing a year-on-year increase of over 70%. Notably, the platform’s annual blind box transaction volume in 2019 was close to the annual revenue of Pop Mart that year, whose revenue was 1.683 billion yuan.
Each series of “blind boxes” has 12 basic models, as well as one hidden model, which is the most difficult one to get. Although originally bought at the same price, the toys are priced differently in the secondhand market according to how easy they can be drawn and what the majority of customers think of their designs.
As for the hidden models, prices can sometimes skyrocket to an unbelievable point.
On Chaowanzu, the Labubu fairy toy series’ hidden model received bids from more than 13,000 people before it was launched. The average transaction price of its hidden model later reached 458 yuan.
In 2018, a hidden blind box figure named Pan Shen Angel Molly was sold for as much as 2,350 yuan – 39 times higher than the original price – while customers had to fork out 5,000 yuan for the hidden model of Byron’s Pink Pearl version, more than 80 times the price of ordinary blind boxes. “Deer Shadow” in the Dimoo series was sold for up to 7,000 yuan.
Another reason behind such price variance is the condition of the secondhand toys. Since there are many copycat Pop Mart toys on the market, many buyers fear they may accidentally fall for a fake.
Experienced buyers who are familiar with a certain series can tell which is which by simply weighing the boxes without opening them. This is why brand-new boxes are usually priced above 59 yuan. But once the plastic is removed, the price drops to less than 40 yuan.
No one knows how long the blind box fever will continue but it is clear that for Pop Mart fans, the premium, no matter whether large or small, can be ignored in exchange for a chance to get the toy they want. But for those who have lost enthusiasm in the dazzling collections, Pop Mart’s products are merely vinyl toys on display.