Japanese merchants have an efficient way of getting rid of odds and ends of merchandise at the beginning the new year – and it would be great if it caught on here. A fukubukuro, or lucky bag, is a grab bag filled with merchandise with a value of at least twice what the customer pays. The bags range from those filled with small items to bags containing vouchers for large appliances.

The tradition is not a new one – it originated around 1900 with the Ginza Matsuya Department Store. Over the years it has gained momentum, and has spread to some other countries and even the state of Hawaii. The excitement of opening a grab bag is perfect for sharing on social media, so the popularity of the fukubukuro is growing. According to an article on BBC’s website, thousands of people now line up for hours to get their mystery goodie bag. There are of course a limited number of bags sold, and they are all worth more than the price paid.

Each bag is usually themed, so the consumer has an idea whether they are getting housewares or toys. Some stores add to the excitement by putting high value items such as vouchers for plane tickets or fur coats in a few of the bags, adding an element of gambling to the purchase of a fukubukuro. Consumers often post social media pictures of the contents of their bags, sometimes offering to trade if they got something they can’t use.

There are two ways to participate in this idea – one is to offer a great buy on mostly desirable merchandise that you are discontinuing, or even want to promote through the excitement of a “lucky bag.” The other is to use this as an opportunity to get rid of odds and ends at a very low price. These bags are apparently sometimes referred to as “misfortune” or “depressing” bags – even though they’re still a bargain.

The Japanese cosmetics company Tatcha speaks eloquently about the positive side of the tradition on their website: “Inspired by Daikoku, the God of Good Fortune, the new Fukubukuro event served as the first sale of the new year, offering customers a chance to enjoy good fortune for themselves. It’s this same tradition that we honor today. These mystery bags are a stupendous deal for customers, typically containing surprise goods worth significantly more than the bag’s sticker price. As a symbol of good fortune, Fukubukuro sets the tone for the rest of the year; by beginning the year with luck and prosperity, shoppers hope to enjoy similar fortune all year long.”

It’s too late to start the year with a fukubukuro event, but why not consider adding a “lucky bag” promotion to your store’s calendar of events? You could shop closeouts for the contents of some of the bags, and use others to move clearance merchandise out of the store. Just make sure that customers feel that their purchase is a sign of good fortune, and makes them want to tell their friends about the fun of shopping at your store.

Happy Retailing,
Carol “Orange” Schroeder

PS I will be presenting two free seminars during the upcoming Las Vegas Market, and would love to see you there! Each one will be followed by a book signing for the new edition of Specialty Shop Retailing.
Sunday, January 27 12:00-1:00 Endless Opportunities: Setting Up a Calendar of Events for Your Store
Monday, January 28 2:30-3:30 Markup and Markdown: Making the Best Use of Inventory Dollars