“Fuku-What?,” A Retail Lesson From Japan

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Shopping retail these days is kinda boring to be honest. Grab and go is usually the name of the game, with all too few accessible opportunities to discover new products or have a memorable experience.

Some say brick-and-mortar isn’t worth investment and following the sea of innovation in digital shopping is where we should focus. Like brick-and-mortar is a dead man walking (so to speak).

We don’t think brick-and-mortar is dead and nor do our friends in Japan, where “Fukubukuro” is still alive and well. Fukubukuro is a Japanese New Year's Day custom where retailers make grab bags filled with contents unknown to the consumer and sell them for a substantial discount, usually 50% or more off the list price of the items contained within. The low prices are usually done to attract customers to shop at that store during the New Year. Fukubukuro, literally translated as good luck bag, often creates a shopping frenzy at Japanese retailers and becomes the talk of the town, from the discovery of cool treasures, to "utsubukuro," or depressing bags. Even Apple has joined the tradition

There are lessons to be learned here, friends. First, it’s an easy way to unload excess merchandise from the previous year. But, more importantly, it creates a gamified version of shopping. Maybe I’ll be the one to win that expensive electronics piece or that fancy pair of shoes. A chance of winning, however minuscule, is always fun and exciting. It also has the power to create discovery. You’re gonna be stuck with some products you wouldn't ordinarily purchase, so might as well give it a try and see how it goes. It also creates an opportunity to design an event. From lavish, celebrity-sponsored bashes, to exclusive engagements, grab bags give party planners an event to plan for.

The point is less about instituting an American Fukubukuro and more of a call for retailers to create more intentional experiences, for designing a compelling reason to visit and buy.

If we want to establish real loyalty in an age when procuring goods is simply a matter of an internet connection and a visit from FedEx, we have to speak to deeper needs and symbols. Fukubukuro fulfills our intrinsic need for fun and discovery and has become a cultural symbol of fortune and goodwill toward one another. What will your brand’s version of Fukubukuro be?

image from Tech Times