China Consumer

The box of delights?

Why Chanel’s ‘Advent calendar’ has irked Chinese consumers


Chanel product stirred a backlash

Traditionally, Advent calendars are for kids to count down to Christmas. Each day from December 1 until Christmas Eve, they rip open the paper doors to unveil tiny chocolates or other confectionaries. That, of course, describes the traditional practice in countries like the US and UK for how young children enjoy this festive product. However, over time, a lot of consumer brands – especially beauty labels – have begun selling similar cardboard calendars to adults. They’re filled with everything from shrunken-sized eau de toilette bottles, scented lotions to Harry Potter collectibles – all tucked into little compartments.

Indeed this year even the most ultra-luxury brand of them all – Chanel – has jumped on the Advent calendar bandwagon. The brand launched its first-ever calendar, stocked with 27 different products. Of course, it also comes with an oversized price tag. Shaped like the famed Chanel N°5 bottle, the limited-edition gift costs Rmb6,055 ($946) in China. The company also claims that it will sell only 1,000 of the item.

However, controversy surrounding the Chanel calendar soon followed when a Chinese blogger made a video that reviewed the offering. In the video, she unwraps the item, only to find that it contains just five Chanel beauty products (which included a full sized hand cream, two tubes of lipstick and a bottle of nail varnish), while the remaining items — a mix of stickers, bookmarks and a tiny snow globe — were deemed to be of little or no value. She concluded by demanding that Chanel “refund her money”.

At first glance it appears that Chanel was joining the ‘blind box craze’ (a ‘blind box’ is a type of packaging that keeps its contents hidden until a buyer opens it), which has become a phenomenon among young Chinese. That’s why the video quickly gained traction online, collecting over five million views; while the hashtag #Chanel blindbox# soon reached over 46 million views too.

Some tallied the retail prices of the items in the box, estimating that the true value was only around Rmb2,500. Others quickly called out Chanel for overcharging Chinese customers (consumer rights complaints are becoming an increasingly common refrain in China, where these typically online backlashes are one of the few channels of protest seemingly sanctioned as acceptable by the government).

“Did they simply put a bunch of free samples into a new box and sell it at an exorbitant price to dupe consumers?” one netizen lambasted.

Other fashionistas came to the luxury house’s defence, saying that Chanel did in fact list out what was included in each of the compartments in some detail on its Chinese website, meaning that the product was not a ‘blind box’ at all. The blogger who did the original review also acknowledged – albeit after her video had gone viral – that she did not check the list of products on the box prior to purchasing and had been misled into thinking that the boxes would contain Chanel accessories like brooches and earrings.

“Chanel has long denied that it is a ‘blind box’. You are the only one who bought it without asking what’s inside. This serves you right,” one unsympathetic Chanel loyalist hit back.

There were, of course, those who were plain dismissive of the concept: “Those who buy that [referring to the Chanel Advent calendar] are idiots with money.”

Li Junli, a lawyer in Beijing reckoned that Chanel’s “overcharging” for the Advent calendar could be considered as consumer fraud, however. “The total value of the goods sold and the selling price of Rmb6,055 yuan are very different. According to the Price Law of China, business operators shall not use deceitful or misleading price information to lure consumers or other business operators into trading. This kind of price violation is usually called price fraud,” he told China Business Journal.

Other industry observers reckon that luxury brands need to learn from the latest debacle. “Chinese consumers are increasingly sophisticated and more vigilant to brands’ marketing tactics, and simply relying on a luxury brand’s aura is no longer enough to harvest domestic shoppers’ purses,” Jing Daily concluded.

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