Friday, 28 June 2013

What the Kitty

If you're in Singapore and haven't been living under a rock the last few weeks, you would have been aware of the McDonald's Hello Kitty saga that has unfurled to such divided reaction from Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike.

In a nutshell, people are willing to queue long hours for limited Hello Kitty toys, with the risk of queueing for nothing when the stock runs out. This is usually done with the aim of trying to procure the entire set of Hello Kitty toys within the sale period. The toy retails for S$4.60.

As the weeks went by and each new Kitty emerged, people started to realize the resell value of these toys, and sell-out rates have increased with the onset of people buying them in order to deplete the supply, raise the value, and then sell them back to eager buyers who need the toys to complete their set.

Some ridiculous screenshots of eBay activity:

These are likely due to scam bids, but from what I've heard from friends, the toys have resold within the range of S$25-S$50 on average. That's still quite a handsome profit of about at least 600%. There has been some reactionary backlash to this for sure, and this one takes the cake for me (click to enlarge):

The question in most people's minds is why are people willing to put up with so much cost (in time, money, and effort) to get these Hello Kitty toys? This might be even more befuddling when, after I've indulged in some dumbfound probing, most people can't articulate why they want or need the toys, besides seemingly just desiring to have them.

I would speculate that the "experience" per se is sufficiently accountable for all this madness. Just like a dog that chases cars but doesn't know what to do once it catches up with the car, McDonald's knowingly or unknowingly has engaged this aspect of consumer (and arguably human) psychology.

People are willing to pay huge premiums for intangible aspects of a product or service once they feel it has value to them, and the tricky thing about such intangible value is that there is almost no rationalizable monetary price to it. Just like how people say that you can't put a price on love or experiences, which almost takes on a moral tinge because it sounds somewhat calculative to valuate intangible "goods" like your mum's good cooking or your friend coming over to help shift the furniture, the desire of owning the toys becomes the end in itself.

This experience comes first and foremost from some aspects of the toy that make it somewhat "hard to get", such as fact that it doesn't come around all the time, or that there is some difficulty and commitment involved in acquiring the entire set of toys, but this experience is further enhanced when everyone else seems to want it too, and scarcity of the toys is elevated by everyone jumping on the bandwagon, including resellers.

People who do not buy-in to the fad have no clue what on earth could induce such obsessive behavior, but as with all such desired experiences, we are willing to pay premiums to do seemingly irrational things. Take haunted houses or rollercoaster rides, for example. These are activities that deliberately induce objectively unpleasant emotional experiences in people. Yet, we will gladly pay to go through these "pains" once we see value in them. In this sense, there's a fine line between pleasure and pain.

This is underscored by the fact that although most people are well-aware that Taobao manufactures the Hello Kitty toys and it is much easier (and cheaper) to get the toys directly from them, they would still rather endure the "pain" of costly procurement of the Hello Kitty set, and through this they actually derive immense pleasure and satisfaction.

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