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Shanghai government caps price on ‘blind boxes’, prohibits sale to children aged below 8

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Shanghai’s market regulator on Friday issued a new directive that puts a cap on the price of so-called blind boxes – popular sealed packages that contain collectible goods – and restricts sales to young children.

The Shanghai Administration for Market Regulation said the price of a blind box shall not exceed 200 yuan (US$31.46) and that sales to children under eight years old are now prohibited, according to a policy document published on the agency’s website on Friday.

The city’s directive marks the first such regulation imposed on vendors of black boxes, which represent a popular packaging strategy adopted by various retailers to entice consumers across the country. Beijing-based toymaker Pop Mart International Group is widely regarded as the local trailblazer for black boxes, which was initially popularised in Japan through “gashapon” capsule toy vending machines.

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The new regulation was based on several statutes including China’s e-commerce law and the consumer rights protection law, according to Shanghai’s market regulator. It also restricts speculation in the second-hand market, where prices of a highly sought black boxes can increase from 20 to 30 times their original cost, according to an estimate by digital marketing research firm LeadLeo.

Fast-food restaurant chain KFC teamed up with toymaker Pop Mart International Group in as blind box campaign that offered collectible Dimoo toys with certain meals. Photo: Weibo alt=Fast-food restaurant chain KFC teamed up with toymaker Pop Mart International Group in as blind box campaign that offered collectible Dimoo toys with certain meals. Photo: Weibo>

In addition, the Shanghai market regulator’s directive also bans the sale of toxic merchandise, explosives or animals via blind boxes.

The new rules come days after a Chinese consumer rights group slammed fast-food restaurant chain KFC, which collaborated in a recent blind box campaign with Pop Mart, for promoting excessive food waste and compulsive overspending by customers.

That campaign, which offered collectible Dimoo toys with certain KFC meals, prompted one person to spend 10,494 yuan (US$1,650) on 106 meals to collect a full six-figure set, according to a statement on Wednesday by the China Consumer Association. It said other consumers even hired people to buy KFC’s 99-yuan meals for the purpose of acquiring the complete toy set, and often the food is simply thrown away.

Mail-order ‘blind boxes’ with 100 live cats and dogs found dumped

In September last year, more than 30 puppies and 70 kittens packaged as blind boxes were found dumped near a petrol station in Shanghai’s Jiading district, and saved by animal rights activists and local authorities.

Despite those negative incidents, blind boxes are predicted to become a 3.72 billion yuan market in China this year, according to data from research firm LeadLeo. It indicated that these collectible products appeal most to young Chinese consumers, especially those born after 1995.

Local entrepreneurs have caught on to the mass appeal of blind boxes, providing their own spin on the packaging strategy. Dating blind boxes, which first appeared at night markets in some major Chinese cities early last year, allow people to randomly buy the social media contacts of a potential partner for just 1 yuan. Big Tech companies have also applied the strategy to virtual goods and e-commerce.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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