Sunday, September 7, 2014

Research Frenzy: Mystery Appeal

I remember a few years ago there was a big mystery box fad on E-bay.  People would bid up assorted boxes of junk.  In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom*, there were several people who were known dealers of randomly assorted Buffy merch, including props, sideshow figures, and autographs.  I never ordered one of those for a number of reasons, but it was interesting to see how much they would go for.  Use to, you could search E-bay for mystery boxes and it would come up with hundreds of general ones as well as the four or five Buffy ones that were generally on there.  For the purpose of this post, I searched E-bay today to see how those are going now, and there are only 33 on the whole website.  Buying and selling random assortments of junk on E-bay is clearly not in vogue.

But that isn't to say that mystery boxes themselves are any less popular.  I just attended Dragon Con last weekend, and I can't tell you how commonly dealers there featured mystery boxes and grab bags on their tables.  Five dollar Chinese takeout boxes stuffed with rings, pins, earings, and hairbows.  Ten dollar boxes filled with old TV guides, pins, and refrigerator magnets.  Mystery boxes are a reality of cons.  Sometimes they're a good deal, and you can get some really neat stuff in there, and sometimes you get stuck with a box of old TV guides you have to either throw away or carry back to your room.  I'm clearly not bitter about that at all.

The reality of mystery boxes at cons is that they're generally filled with things that don't sell fast and that you probably wouldn't buy if they were sitting on the table.  Overstocked merchandise.  The dealer's buyers remorse package.  I've certainly purchased good mystery boxes from crafters, and I wouldn't doubt a box from a snack vendor might be enjoyable.  After my box of old TV guides, though, I'm very skeptical about the whole con mystery box experience.

Traditional mystery boxes have a cousin.  SUBSCRIPTION BOXES.  A plethora of companies offer to send an assortment of goods related to a topic.  The quality of these boxes are as diverse as their content.  Previously, I was a recurring customer of LOOTCRATE, which is a geek themed box of pop culture related items every month.  Sometimes I'd get a T-shirt, or some Funko toys, usually there'd be some candy in there and some stickers.  It's fun to get a box of random junk in the mail, everybody loves opening things.

I cancelled my subscription a while ago, because it occurred to me that I would rather pick out $20 worth of stuff that I actually wanted every month than have a randomly selected assortment of items with a retail value of $40.  I'm generally a better shopper than other people.

And then this happened.

Look at that little Groot funko figure (AND HOW MUCH IT'S GOING FOR ONLINE) and you'll see why I had some second thoughts.  I mean, back when I was getting LOOTCRATE regularly, I could E-Bay most of the stuff in the box and then I'd end up with a neat t-shirt or something and the box would mostly pay for itself.  Lots of the items they put in these things would make fine gifts for kids or friends, so the regifting possibilities are endless.  So, I'm going to give that a second shot, I'll post how that turns out this month later (or maybe I won't).  Regardless, I've renewed my subscription.

That got me thinking about whether there were other subscription services like Lootcrate.  

The video above will give you a pretty good idea of how the Loot Crate compares to other nerd subscription services.  There are also horror subscription boxes, like the Box of Dread.  The dude in these Box of Dread unboxing videos is pretty cool, I don't know what it is about him, whether it's his assortment of horror collectibles in the background or his enjoyment of mystery items, I don't know.  He's just very amusing to watch.  Maybe it's his inflection when he says phrases like "trophy heads."

Not all subscription box services are related to fandom at all.  There are mystery boxes for every lifestyle.  It could just be that I'm a huge nerd and I don't understand other people's mentalities on receiving random boxes of junk, but not all of these are created equally.  If you've read many of my past posts when I've gone way off topic, you'll know that when I start getting interested in a topic like this, I REALLY get interested and just research constantly.  I want to see people receiving awesome stuff they're very excited about.  I also want to see total trail wrecks.  AND THERE ARE SOME DOOZIES.  I'll post a playlist of those a little later.

That's what I've been researching this week.  Let me know in the comments if you're into subscription boxes and mystery boxes, and what your experience has been.  Maybe you have some favorites you'd like me to try, or some cautionary tales.

*A Fandom is like a fan kingdom, it includes all people who are fans of a property and all of its derivative works (like fan fiction, fan art, tumblr blogs, etc).