In Japan, an annual post New Year tradition every Jan. 2 is "Fukubukuro," when retailers hand out "lucky" or "mystery" grab bags full of unknown discounted merchandise.
Bags are said to be worth at least double the price paid and, in some "lucky" cases, exorbitantly more. Japan's retailers use the day to quickly clear inventories to help start the new year with a clean slate.
The tradition has received heavy coverage over the last few years from tech bloggers in the U.S. because Apple's stores are involved. Last week, Apple Japan announced that it would be selling lucky bags at a cost of 36,000 yen, or around $345 each. In the past, bags would contain iPods, random accessories and t-shirts, but a few have included iPads and even MacBooks.
The numbers of mystery bags are usually limited, leading to long lines before stores open at 8:00 a.m. at Apple's seven stores in Japan as well as other stores participating in the tradition. The bags can't be exchanged and only one can be bought per person at each store.
In a similar vein in the U.S., one popular trend last year was the marketing of limited-edition subscription box deals, also known as "mystery boxes" because consumers don't exactly know what's inside. A set of $250 mystery boxes from Neiman Marcus in partnership with PopSugar in October instantly sold out.
In the U.S., many Sanrio Stores, the parent of Hello Kitty, are said to adopt the tradition. Since 2004, Ala Moana Center, Royal Hawaiian Center and other malls in Honolulu have also participated in the tradition. In many cases, stores are promising bags worth double their value. At Royal Hawaiian Center, Forever 21's marketing copy states, "Get lucky at Forever 21's Fukubukuro event and purchase a mystery bag full of gifts that is valued at $40 and only pay $21 for it!"
"It's really the excitement, adrenaline rush," Fukubukuro shopper Ebony Joy Winston told KHON2 in Hawaii.
What's the likelihood that similar "mystery bag" campaigns will become more pervasive in the U.S. outside of Honolulu over the next decade?