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Blind-box toys all the rage in China

Keon

Dec. 08, 2019

So-called blind-box toys -- collectible figures in mystery packaging -- are China's latest speculative craze. Reveal the right toy, and a few dollars can turn into hundreds on the resale market.
Now the fever has spread to the plush toys and other prizes won out of claw-crane arcade games, as well as toys sold out of vending machines in grocery stores and shopping malls.
The boom in the secondary toy market has attracted the attention of China's regulators. The municipal watchdog in the southern tech hub of Shenzhen is intensifying its scrutiny of the trade in the toys, according to the official Shenzhen Special Zone Daily .
Government officials are concerned that the toys are the next big thing, part of a long national history of speculation in unusual categories, including liquor, garlic and fermented tea. There's currently a crackdown on the buying and selling of limited edition sneakers.
"Now that Shenzhen has started to scrutinize the emerging subculture, the rest of the country, at least major cities, should follow suit," Li Shangze, a Shenzhen lawyer specializing in financial crimes, said in a telephone interview. The bureau didn't respond to Bloomberg's requests for further information.
Mystery toys aren't as big as sneakers -- not yet. Some 300,000 people bought and sold blind-box toys last year on Xianyu, a major domestic online resale site, according to a recent report in the People's Daily . One popular blind box figurine saw its price rise almost 40-fold to $330.
On Tmall, an online shopping site owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., there are maybe 200,000 consumers trading toys on the site, according to a recent report from the retailer.
Toy fads and speculation pop up around the world from time to time -- Beanie Babies, Tamagotchi -- and blind-box toys have become particularly popular among China's young adults. The chance to make a quick return may look especially attractive compared with a volatile domestic stock market and the official crackdown on peer-to-peer lending sites.
Fonzie Guo, a 21-year-old senior media major at Fudan University in Shanghai, has spent hundreds of yuan on blind-box toys since he started collecting this summer. Recently he got a special-edition flying dragon doll through an online lottery. It cost him about $2 to enter. The toy now sells for about 20 times that on the resale market.
"A small amount of gambling is entertaining," Guo said in a telephone interview. But he said he has no intention to sell. "It is a purely personal hobby," he said. "I will buy when I see dolls I really like."
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