Whenever I see toys packaged in blind box packaging, it reminds me of collecting trading cards as a kid and that feeling of wanting the entire set, but knowing the likelihood of that happening was directly tied to how much allowance money I was willing to invest. I can still vividly remember the excitement of opening the wrapper and the few seconds that followed as I quickly flipped through the cards to see if the players I needed were there. That unwrapping moment was overwhelmingly fun. Just as much fun, I might argue, as enjoying the cards themselves.
Clearly, kids today still love to be surprised. The popularity of YouTube unboxing videos since the mid-2000s is testament to this. In fact, the unboxing video phenomenon is considered the catalyst to the advent of blind box packaging — the toy industry’s way of packaging collectible products so that consumers won’t know what’s inside until the product is purchased and the package is opened. It’s essentially a modern-day interpretation of trading card packaging. The anticipation and suspense of opening the package to find the toy inside is exactly the same.
The trend (also referred to as blind bags or surprise packs) has been around for a few years, originally arriving in toy aisles with brands like Hatchimals CollEGGtibles, Shopkins and L.O.L. Surprise! But in true, highly competitive toy industry form, the trend has evolved quite a bit from simply hiding the contents of the package from the consumer. Taking cues from what kids enjoy most about unboxing videos, removing the toy from its package has now become an elaborately layered experience.
Just Play’s Hairdorables Collectible Dolls are a great example of how far the experience has come. Each Hairdorables Collectible Doll package opens with a perforated tear down the front panel, which then unfolds to become a diorama-like playset environment such as a hair salon or a concert stage, which differs depending on the series. The inside of the package has a variety of mystery chambers, with each containing a surprise behind a perforated panel. Each Hairdorables Collectible Doll package includes one poseable doll and 10 stylish surprises, including a hair tool allowing kids to color, crimp or curl the doll’s hair extensions, other fashion accessories, stickers and a bio card.
This approach to blind box packaging extends the experience well beyond the initial reveal. Kids are entertained for a longer period of time because the surprises keep coming. In this particular example, the packaging becomes part of the product, which, along with the multiple hits of surprise, adds considerable value to the purchase.
Back in 2018, Hasbro introduced Transformers: BOTBOTS, a line of collectibles based on a fun storyline that takes place in a shopping mall where a mysterious cloud of Energon gas drifted through, bringing everyday products, including electronics, tools, household items and even food, to life as mini “super deformed” Transformers robots. The characters are whacky and mischievous, and toilet humor rules in their world. Each Transformers: BOTBOT belongs to a theme based on their particular “store” in the mall. They’re merchandized in single- and multi-pack blind blister cards or boxes where the character is contained within an opaque blister with a fairly straight-forward unboxing experience. However, Hasbro recently upped the unboxing ante with two different products that are packaged to look like vending machines found in your local shopping mall’s arcade.
The Transformers: BOTBOTS Goldrush Games Vending Machine Packs are designed to look like a claw machine and a gumball machine. In both cases, 10 different BOTBOT surprises are hidden in spherical plastic capsules. The package for the claw machine has an illustrated claw and joystick surrounding the window in the upper portion of the structure where the product is contained. Capsules are dispensed by pulling a tab on the left side of the package, which causes them to roll down a diagonal ramp where they are released through a die-cut on the right side of the package. The gumball machine package also contains the capsules in the upper portion of the structure, where they can be seen through a window. An illustrated coin slot and knob complete the gumball machine look. Capsules are dispensed by placing your finger through a die-cut hole beneath the window and moving a horizontal insert back and forth, which drops each capsule to the bottom of the box where it can be retrieved. Transformers: BOTBOT surprises are either BOTBOT characters or stickers with fun, illustrated scenes. Unboxing these products becomes a play pattern that cleverly ties-in perfectly with the brand’s storyline while extending the experience of revealing individual surprises one by one.
According to The Toy Association, toys that transform before your very eyes just by adding water are making a splash in 20201. And Skyrocket Toys is doing just that with their Blume Dolls. On top of each shrink-wrapped, flower pot-shaped Blume Doll package is a plastic watering can beneath a heart-shaped blister. Kids open the package, fill the watering can with water and peel back the foil seal to reveal the paper surface of the flower pot, which is printed to look like dirt. They then sprinkle the surface with water and the doll’s hair actually grows. When you remove the doll, the flower pot opens into a playset, revealing 10 surprise accessories hidden in various compartments inside. Each Blume Doll’s hair can be removed, then mixed and matched with other dolls.
The blind box toy packaging trend is still quite popular, but there may be some post-pandemic challenges ahead. At the beginning of the trend, price points for blind boxed products were fairly low. As the trend evolved and the unboxing experience became more elaborate, with manufacturers slowly adding surprise components and layers to the packaging, consumers were becoming accustomed to spending a bit more on toys of this nature, even as impulse purchases. Although ecommerce site traffic to the 57 top U.S. marketplaces declined 2.9% as compared to January 2020, it grew a combined 17% in May compared to a year ago.2 With consumers continuing to shop online more than at retail, the challenge for blind boxed toy products going forward may be how best to interject the impulse purchase behavior into the online shopping experience.
Even with the shift in consumer shopping behavior, the collectible toys category is still enjoying its moment. With the element of surprise and discovery going hand-in-hand with collecting, blind box packaging will continue to play a critical role in creating an exciting, fun-filled unboxing experience.