Give Customers Surprise Packages

All the way back to the 1600s, it’s been called a baker’s dozen. In New Orleans, the fellow who ran the toy and game store called it lagniappe. My colleague in Istanbul, who designs toys and games, refers to the Kinder Egg as an example.

It’s the bonus. The thirteenth donut that’s sometimes added when we order an even dozen. The little treasure the shopkeeper sneaks in next to the purchase for us to discover it when we empty the bag at home. The special toy inside the chocolate egg. We don’t know what the toy will be, and we hope it will be one we don’t already have or, if not that, one attractive enough for us to be able to trade it with a friend who does have one we don’t already have.

Add an extra in order to enhance the appeal of your toy or game. When there’s an element of surprise in delivery of the extra, that makes it even more valuable. Lagniappe is what helps the small to midsize retail business distinguish themselves from the typical Big Box’s toy department. It’s what allows the new or unfamiliar brand to build word-of-mouth when people are surprised at discovering the extra is there and then share the astonishment as they talk about the experience to anybody who will listen.

There’s greater power when the little treasure isn’t delivered every time. The psychological principle is called “intermittent reinforcement.” When the customer receives a reward not every time, but rather at unpredictable intervals, the customer gets stuck on repeat purchasing. The treasure must be of notable value for the purchaser. But that’s okay with the retailer.

In one approach, such as what’s done with the Kinder Egg, a bonus toy is delivered each time, but there are “hook products,” which have substantially higher value than the others. This allows for the distribution of higher and lower costs among the items in a economically rational way, so the treasure does not become a burdensome additional expense. The overall extra cost is far outweighed by the increased revenue from sales because of the intermittent reinforcement.

In addition, the reward must come frequently enough to maintain in the shopper a compelling belief that the odds are with them. It’s what keeps the kid pumping coins into vending machines that dispense trinkets in plastic bubbles. It’s what keeps adults pumping money into slot machines that usually dispense nothing in return.

The expected surprise might come in the form of the toy’s package itself, not just what’s inside the package. Toy packaging is called on to serve many functions. Those functions include protecting the item during shipment and display, giving warnings about use, enabling easy open/close/carry/storage, and allowing for quick scanning at the cash/wrap.

Zuny_04 However, there is more: The package establishes the product’s identity. A toy package should stand out from others by communicating with the customer via color, words, graphic style, and shape. Each of these design components works to call attention to the item, making it more likely it will be lifted into the shopping cart.

Researchers at University of Southern California find that perception of size has a significant role in purchasing decisions, too. Everything else being equal, the larger the package, the more likely it will be selected for purchase. But if we were to sell a relatively small toy in a relatively large package, using filler to keep the toy in place, the purchaser accuses us of cheating them and those concerned with preserving environmental resources label us as evil.

Still, what if the relatively large package size allows the package to add value to the toy? Then we’ve managed to keep the packaging out of the trash for a while. The Züny animals with packages as houses are one example. The element of surprise comes when this bonus function of the package is discovered.

The USC research findings, however, do suggest that, regarding perceived size, these Züny packages might fall short. Brilliant colors can make a package appear as much as 25% larger to children than a package with more subtle hues. Jazz up package colors. That’s usually not a tall order.

Nur Diker, toy & game designer for Ulkutay Design Group in Istanbul, Turkey, contributed substantially to this post.

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