Let's Make a Deal for a Neiman Marcus Mystery Box

Behavioral economists have compiled a long list of psychological triggers that encourage shoppers. There’s reciprocity (“Free gift!”), commitment (“Try it out!”) and scarcity (“Supplies limited!”). Neiman Marcus, however, is betting on a hybrid of the three: limited-time-only mystery. Surprise!

The company has teamed up with Popsugar, a Silicon Valley publishing and e-commerce platform, to sell about 1,000 “mystery boxes” full of products from eight high-end brands, plus a Neiman Marcus throw (Chevron-Patterned Knit Throw: $195). The box sells for $250, but its contents, collectively, retail for more than $600, the company assures. The throw alone gets you 78 percent of the way there.

Depending on one’s world view, this either seems like a steal or a great way to overpay for a bunch of weird things (Cozy Ribbed Bedsocks: $36) that Neiman may be having trouble selling.

Turns out, plenty of people lined up in the former camp. The deal opened on Oct. 16 and sold out within hours, according to Neiman spokeswoman Ginger Reeder. Buyers won’t find out what’s in the box until Nov. 17.

What’s the catch? For one thing, it’s highly unlikely that the department store is losing money. The items may sell for $600 in theory, but the retail price of any product has become pretty flexible. It’s also probable that Neiman is making money elsewhere—possibly from the companies that make the products that go in the package, or from Popsugar, which sells its own mystery box services.

It’s also possible that Nieman’s mystery box isn’t designed to turn a profit—at least, not right away. With the promotion, the company learns something very, very valuable about a specific segment of its shoppers—namely, which ones are willing to spend $250 on an unseen, unknown, mystery box. “We are continually looking for ways to reach new and different customers and introduce them to our brand,” Reeder wrote in an e-mail. Is there any better customer than one both trusting and wealthy?

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