Mystery Boxes: Should You Give Them As Gifts This Holiday Season?

December 19, 2018
Christmas Mystery Box

There’s no denying that one thing we really look forward to during the Christmas season is unwrapping the holiday gifts we receive. These Christmas presents come in all shapes and sizes, with the go-to options being toys for kids, and food, clothes, and household items for adults. In recent times, it’s also become a common practice to give gift certificates, coupons, and gift cards, all of which can conveniently fit into a slim envelope and can prevent the heartbreak of buying an item that ends up being unwanted by the recipient.

But whether the package is big or small, and whether we’ve specified the things we want to receive as gifts or we leave it to the thoughtfulness of the gift giver, one thing is for sure: we get really excited when it comes to unwrapping gifts. There will always be that feeling of delight and surprise that comes with getting to know what’s under the packaging.

These days, people have also started buying “mystery boxes” to give as gifts or to unbox for themselves. Typically purchased from online retailers or sellers, mystery boxes add another dimension of surprise and excitement because not even those who purchase them know exactly what the recipient will end up unwrapping. This is because mystery boxes are assembled by the sellers themselves, and people buy them precisely for the surprise factor that comes from the eventual revelation of their contents.

Where do mystery boxes originate, and why are they becoming more popular these days, especially during holidays like Christmas? This short feature will fill you in on some interesting details regarding this emerging gift-giving trend.

From Boxing Day to eBay

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly mystery boxes as a concept was invented, but perhaps we can trace the “boxed” element of it to Boxing Day, a tradition long practiced in the United Kingdom. In the UK and Ireland, Boxing Day is celebrated on December 26th, the day after Christmas, and is considered a national holiday. The eponymous “box” in Boxing Day refers to the Christmas box full of goodies that 17th century servants and tradesmen would receive from their masters. On Boxing Day, these people were also allowed to go home to their families to share their Christmas boxes with their loved ones.

But the mystery box, as we know it today, appears to have risen in popularity more recently when they became all the rage among eBay shoppers during the early aughts. Some adventurous buyers would bid to purchase boxes, whose full contents were concealed to them until they made the purchase. Upon opening the box, they’d be surprised with anything from tools and trading cards to tech gear and children’s toys—mostly harmless, everyday stuff that many of them were more than happy to receive.

However, more nefarious versions of the mystery box are also said to be available for purchase off the dark web today, and recipients have been reported to receive boxes with sinister contents such as drugs, deadly weapons, unidentified powders and liquids, and bloodstained objects.

Recently, social media influencers have jumped in on the bandwagon, documenting their experiences of buying dark web mystery boxes for all the world to see. For example, YouTubers who buy these boxes and take part in the so-called “Deep Web Challenge” film their unboxing experience and spontaneous reactions—although some also purport that the videos could be fake, and just a way to grab easy clicks and views for the YouTubers’ lucrative channels.

The fun is in the surprise

But the occasional duds aside, legitimate mystery boxes from reputable sellers have seen an upsurge in appeal. For some eBay sellers, assembling mystery boxes serves as a great way to get rid of old inventory or items that would be of more use to someone else. After all, as the saying goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Many sellers also adhere to certain rules. For example, they’ll send an assortment of items with a cumulative value of $100 if the buyer has bought the box for $100. They’ll also typically give hints about what’s in the box, or outright mention what product types from what brands will be included in the box.

Mystery boxes tend to be popular among independent retailers, such as those that sell on the handicraft and vintage item marketplace Etsy, but they aren’t the only ones who have gotten on this trend. Big international retailers like cosmetics giant Sephora also sell mystery boxes. Locally, here in the Philippines, reputable retailers like electronics hub are also offering Christmas mystery boxes to their customers, and they range in value from PHP 3,000 to PHP 30,000.

That mystery boxes are becoming more popular among retailers should probably come as no surprise, given that they are also very similar to subscription boxes, which are offered by companies that follow the subscription business model.

Subscription boxes typically contain a number of surprise items that retailers assemble based on the niche interests of their customers. Whether it’s composed of wine samples, beauty products, pet toys, or grooming kit essentials, subscription boxes are favored by customers who take pleasure in the idea that they’ll receive a new box of surprise items every month or so.

A mystery box is similar to a subscription box in that both contain a surprise assortment of items. The difference is that mystery boxes are often purchased on a one-off manner, whereas subscription boxes are typically purchased on a recurring basis.

A final word about mystery boxes

If you’re planning to buy mystery boxes to give as gifts this holiday season, make sure that’s you’re not getting the short end of the stick. As long as they’re bought from trusted, reputable, and fully accountable retailers, mystery boxes will be a pleasure to obtain, both on the part of the buyer and the recipient. After all, they can heighten the element of surprise and excitement when it comes to unwrapping a gift—a feeling that may be more valuable than the gift itself.

That said, happy shopping during the last remaining week before Christmas. May this season be one of mystery and delight for you and your loved ones!


About the author:

Tina Del Villar is an aspiring cook and owner of Bursting Flavors. Follow her adventures in the world of food, travel, and family through her Instagram and Facebook page."