Carter: 'Unboxing' trend leads to spike in blind pack toys sales

Last Sunday, wanting to get out of the house for a bit, I took my daughters, ages 6 and 4, out with me to do some errand running to Home Depot and the grocery store, and rewarded their good behavior with a trip to Toys “R” Us, not that we could buy anything, but so I could get a few ideas of what to put on their list for Santa Claus.

My youngest is insistent on getting last year’s top-selling toy, the Hatchimal. The oldest is very intrigued by something called L.O.L. Surprise, which I found out on Monday when doing a little online searching is 2017’s hottest toy for Christmas.


The L.O.L. Surprise Big Surprise ball is a glittering copper-ish in color plastic half-globe with a handle that makes it look more like a plastic purse. After watching a YouTube video about one of these things, I learned it contains four tiny dolls (At least one of the baby dolls apparently “tinkles” or “cries” after you bottle-feed them. Why does this have any appeal? Crying and changing diapers is literally the worst part of having kids.) as well as tons of minuscule accessories for the dolls, stickers and temporary tattoos that come out of the nearly 20 smaller balls packed inside.

Think of it almost as those babushka Russian nesting dolls, where you keep opening it to find a smaller doll. All told, the L.O.L. Big Surprise ball contains about 50 total “surprise” toys. It retails for $69.99.

I encountered three of these L.O.L. Big Surprise balls at the Toys “R” Us and thought, “LOL … the joke is on them, no parent in their right mind is going to pay 70 bucks for a plastic ball of more plastic junk that you could probably get out of the gumball machine.”

Turns out the Big Surprise is on me. I should’ve bought up all three and listed them on eBay. LOL.

These things are apparently so popular nationwide that, like the Hatchimal last year, and Tickle Me Elmo and Furby before it, they are sold out in many stores and online retailers. Third-party vendors on Amazon and auction sites like eBay are selling the Big Surprise at more than double the retail price. (And that was in the days before Thanksgiving when I wrote this, there is no telling how much they will be going for now that the Christmas shopping season has officially started!)

What’s the appeal of this stuff, and for that matter, the Hatchimal that my youngest wants so badly? Both toys are essentially purchased sight unseen. I guess, theoretically, you know roughly what you’re getting, but could you imagine paying $70 for say, a “mystery” video game? You’re hoping for “Mortal Kombat” but instead get “Shaq Fu.” (I’m dating myself as a 90s kid here.)

The only thing I could remotely compare this to when I was growing up was buying a pack of trading cards. For me, it was football cards. For others, maybe it was Magic or Pokemon. You bought a pack and hoped that one out of the 10 cards or so was a good one of either your favorite player, or a card that might actually be worth something. There was definitely the momentary rush when you opened a fresh pack. The big difference is that those retailed for about $2 to $5 a pack.

However, it appears there is a millennial twist to this phenomenon that makes these toys so popular. The term “unboxing” came into use around 2006, according to Google Trends, which basically describes taking a product out of its package on video that is then shared on YouTube or social media platforms. As long as these videos remain popular — consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow told Money magazine it’s a “medium ready-made for ever-shrinking attention spans” — so will the appeal of what are referred to as “blind pack” toys like L.O.L. Dolls and the Hatchimals.

“Besides the obvious vicarious thrill of anticipation and discovery, I think we connected to others and part of something when we watch,” Yarrow said. “Waiting, unveiling, anticipating and all the excruciating pleasures that accompany those activities are even more exciting.”

So, essentially, it’s the best parts of opening a Christmas or birthday present over and over. I love my kiddos, but I think they’ll have to settle for the traditional unboxing of Christmas gifts of a better quality this year.