All Aboard The "Mystery Box" Train: Would You Buy One?

28 March 2013

What’s a Mystery Box?

Not to be confused with beauty boxes, which send you sample or medium-sized products via a monthly subscription, mystery boxes are exactly what they sound like: “surprise me” packages.

Essentially, you pay $X for a “mystery box” or “mystery bag” and the company sends you one or more items valued at more than what you paid. The items included are typically excess inventory that the company wants to move off their virtual shelves, creating a sort of win-win for both parties. In short: the buyer gets a good deal and the company makes way for new stock.

Companies That Sell Them

For example, ModCloth recently offered up a “mystery shoe” and “mystery garment” option on their website for $15 each. Instead of adding a specific item to your cart, you added the “mystery item,” specified your size and headed to check out. A week or so later, buyers got a package at their door with absolutely no idea what was nestled inside. All “mystery bag” buyers know is that the item is worth more than what they paid for (the ModCloth item retailed between $30 and $300, for example), which definitely makes for a fun mail day.

Of course, ModCloth isn’t the only company participating in the mystery bag bonanza. Companies such as Old Navy, Burt’s Bees, Julep Maven, JewelMint and BaubleBar — even sellers on Amazon, eBay and Etsy — have offered their own renditions.

Sometimes it’s a mystery item they’ll throw in with $X spent on other items. Other times it’s an actual gift card. For example, Victoria’s Secret is currently offering a “free secret reward card” with every $10 online purchase that’s valued between $10 and $500. These are essentially incentives to spend more.

Victoria's Secret $75 Secret Reward Card

Personal Experiences

I’m not going to lie. I find the whole thing very enticing. There’s something about scoring a good deal and getting a surprise in your mailbox that makes me want to jump on the “mystery box” train trend and never get off. And yes, I did buy the ModCloth mystery garment box offered last week.

The day it showed up on my doorstep was an exciting one and I could barely wait until company left to tear the box open. Inside was an adorable dress, titled the “Helsinki Prom Dress,” with a black tulle bottom and stretchy black top. Perfect for an evening soiree. The only problem? When I tried it on it was too small. I had specified a size medium and received a size small.

I spoke to another woman, Chicago resident and lifestyle blogger Michelle Shea Walker, who partook in the ModCloth mystery bag surprise, as well. Her results? “It was a dress that just wasn’t really my style, so I gave it away on a contest on my blog,” she told me. She also said the fit wasn’t flattering to her coloring or her figure. “I’d do it again just for the fun if budget allowed. It’s kind of exciting waiting for the surprise.”

It’s not always a sour experience, though. For example, a blogger at TheSwatchingSprite (a nail polish blog), purchased a mystery box from Julep Maven. “You’d pay $19.99 for a box that could contain anything from $60-$200…worth of products,” she writes. “I thought it would be fun to participate. I ordered my box within a couple of hours of them announcing it.” The verdict? Amazing, according to her. “The first thing I saw was the $120 gift card jumping out at me! Before I could look any further, I was running into the other room to wave my certificate in front of my husband’s face.” She also received a plethora of satisfactory products.

Is It Worth Your Money?

This all brings me to my next point. These mystery boxes are a gamble. If you don’t like the item or it doesn’t fit, in most cases you’re S.O.L.

You buy. They ship. End of story.

In my specific case, because ModCloth had sent the wrong size when I specified a medium, I did get a refund and got to keep the dress. If they had sent the right size and it didn’t fit, though, I would have a dress that didn’t fit and a bank account with a $15 debit. That’s not the kind of surprise I like.

When it comes down to it, is the element of surprise worth it to you? You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t love surprises, but there’s always the argument that you could spend the same $15 on a discounted product you picked out yourself. And is the reason these items are being sent off for at least half their price because they’re bad sellers? Or off trend and out of season?

If you’ve had any mystery bag experiences, please share them in the comment section here or on our Facebook page. We’d love to hear both positive and negative experiences.

By Wendy Rose Gould

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Posted by Wendy Rose Gould at 09:00 AM
bargain news , Insights , Opinions , Saving Tips , SHOPPING , Shopping News , Tips Guides |

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