Would you cough up $250 to a luxury retailer without knowing exactly what you were getting? Plenty of Neiman Marcus shoppers found just such a deal — which supposedly has a value of $600 — too tempting to pass up.
Last week, the website PopSugar partnered with Neiman Marcus to offer a limited number of mystery boxes that contained, well, some mystery contents. “Curated by PopSugar editor in chief Lisa Sugar and Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing, this is the ultimate in gifting,” the sales pitch stated.
According to the press release announcing the sale, the boxes hold eight designer items, only one of which was disclosed: a chevron-patterned cotton knit throw blanket with a list price of $195. Collectively, the box’s contents sell at retail for “over $600.” The asking price for the mystery box: $250. They were sold out in less than 24 hours.
In certain circles, snatching up a box for $250 without knowing what was inside was viewed as a total no-brainer. “I bought it!!” one commenter said at the Ramblings of a Suburban Mom blog. “I figure that I won’t love everything and can gift the fabulous items I don’t love. Breaking it down, it’s only ~31 an item and I LOVE the throw. Fingers crossed for a great color.”
Others are likely to think biting on such an offer is beyond foolish, not just because of the mystery aspect, in which there’s a chance the purchaser won’t like what’s inside, but also because of the misleading value perception. As Mark Ellwood, author of the new book Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World, explained in a recent Q&A with TIME, there is really no reason ever to pay retail price today. “The most foolish behavior is always, frankly, paying full price for anything,” he said. “Stores are trying to sell too much stuff to too fewer shoppers, and the supply-demand curve has been inverted for the first time.”
For instance, that $195 chevron throw from Neiman Marcus? It probably wouldn’t be difficult to get it for a lot less than $195. Just a little patience and good timing is required. As of Monday, Neiman Marcus was offering another throw that retailed for $195 at a sale price of $126 — plus another 20% off (so figure around $100). And customers got to actually pick the color throw they’d be buying.
Nonetheless, retail insiders seem to think that the mystery-box promotion is one that could be very successful when it involves a luxury retailer like Neiman Marcus — known for fancy jewelry, designer goods and over-the-top gifts like a $1.5 million outdoor entertainment center and a $1.9 million diamond Christmas deal.
“I can completely see this working for the Neiman’s customer — a wealthy individual with significant monthly discretionary spend, and the many departments at Neiman’s make it possible to create gender-neutral boxes that can delight a broad swath of their audience,” Cathy Hotka, of retail-consulting firm Cathy Hotka & Associates, said in a Retail Wire discussion. “I have a much harder time trying to fit the box concept into other brands like … Gamestop.”
Those who managed to purchase one of the mystery boxes before they sold out will find out what’s inside on Nov. 17, when the contents will be revealed and items are shipped off to customers.