Finance Consumer Plastic fantastic: Here’s why Coles and Woolworths are stoking the collectables craze

Plastic fantastic: Here’s why Coles and Woolworths are stoking the collectables craze

The runaway success of Coles' LittleShop has unleashed an all-out collectables war. Photo: TND
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Cute collectables have turned into serious business for Australia’s two major supermarkets following the success of Coles’ LittleShop in 2018.

Shoppers went wild for the series of miniature household items last year, with some selling for thousands of dollars.

And the craze proved costly for Woolworths.

LittleShop’s mini household items. Photo: Coles

Woolworths blamed LittleShop for its sluggish start to the 2018-19 financial year, with first-quarter sales slumping by 1.3 per cent year-on-year.

“Sales have been impacted by customers adjusting to … a competitor continuity program,” Woolworths group chief executive Brad Banducci said.

By contrast, Coles’ sales were up 5.1 per cent in the three months to September 2018.

Brands aligned with the LittleShop promotion also gained, with sales of featured products, including White King toilet cleaner, Daily Juice and Messy Monkeys snacks, soaring by up to 50 per cent.

Both Coles and Woolworths are now running duelling promotions centred around limited edition collectable toys.

Coles has partnered with the the Healthy Kids Association to release 24 mini fruit and vegetables dubbed ‘Stikeez’, while Woolworths has pinned its hopes on an interactive ‘Disney Words’ game, offering customers the chance to collect one of 36 tiles featuring Disney characters with every $30 spent.

‘Completion bias’ drives return business

Popular collectables exploit a ‘completion bias’. Photo: Woolworths

The success of supermarket collectables relies heavily on an “innately human” bias towards wanting to complete things, Curtin University marketing lecturer Billy Sung said.

LittleShop, which required shoppers to spend at least $30 before receiving a free miniature household item, was successful not only at encouraging shoppers to spend more in order to meet the minimum purchase, but also played on a “completion bias” that encouraged return visits to the store.

“We looked at LittleShop and found that consumers were trying to complete the whole collection, and they were prompted to buy more things to collect the items because they were randomised and exclusive,” Dr Sung said.

Such promotions are designed to “restrict the availability” of items so that “you have to complete more transactions to collect all the items”.

While LittleShop was a surprise success with shoppers of all ages, Stikeez and Disney Tiles appear to be designed to appeal directly to children.

The colourful Stikeez figurines and highly recognisable Disney characters are intended to resonate with children and have an “influencer effect”.

An association between a beloved character and a product can have “implications with decision making for the rest of a child’s life”, Dr Sung said, pointing to CommBank’s Dollarmites program as an example of a brand using relatable characters to establish the basis for lifelong customer loyalty.

Running in Australian schools for nearly 90 years, the Dollarmites program is estimated to be worth $9.9 billion to the bank.

Research by Choice revealed that 46 per cent of Australians had opened their first account with the Commonwealth Bank, with 35 per cent retaining the relationship as adults.

However, when it comes to supermarkets, the impact of collectable promotions on customer loyalty and longterm profits is likely to be “marginal”, University of Queensland behavioural economist Brendan Markey-Towler said.

Rather, it’s the “gamification” of the shopping experience – with the collectables prompting both adults and children to get involved and spend time together – that could create more permanent consumer habits.

These programs give kids an objective they like and allow them to build a routine along with us. You get the collectable at the end, so it allows us to gamify things,” Dr Markey-Towler said.

Such promotions may even be beneficial if they create opportunities for families to spend more time together and teach children decision-making and shopping skills they will need later in life, Dr Markey-Towler said.

“It allows us to include our children into the family routine and integrate them … that’s good for us, as we can spend time with our children and gamify the process of everyday life,” he said.

“It also allows our kids to develop those routines themselves.”

Collectors resort to replicas

An ad for a DIY replica of Coles’ ‘ultra rare’ Stikeez figurine. Photo: eBay

Coles’ Stikeez have proven so popular that some of the “rare” figurines are selling for more than $6,000 online and a market for replica versions has sprung up.

On Friday, a seller from Chermside West in Brisbane sold a hand-painted replica of an “ultra rare” gold Billy Banana Stikeez for $30, claiming that it looked “exactly like the real gold banana without the hefty price tag”.

Do you want to please your child but don’t want to pay $20,000,” the ad read.

“I have an identical looking Billy Banana Stikeez which I have painted with gold model paint to look just like the real thing your kids will never know it’s not real!

“They can brag to their friends and only [you] will know it’s fake!”

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