If you take even the most casual of glances at the football shirt scene, you’ll probably notice a wave of noise surrounding mystery boxes. Packages of surprise shirts are absolutely everywhere at the moment, and the significant increase in options has brought with it a number of bemused collectors.
For every ‘success’ story of a high quality shirt nabbed at the relatively modest price of a box, there is a cautionary tale of a £10 bargain bin kit sold at a premium to an unknowing wannabe collector. Though there are some reputable sellers out there who have been trading long before the rise in popularity, sneaky individuals are undermining the good work of others.
Many people are rightly asking if mystery boxes are actually worth it? Is this simply a fad hyped up by people trying to capitalize on innocent collectors, or is there a place in the football shirt ecosystem for legitimate, mystery box services?
I’ll be exploring both the merits of mystery boxes themselves, and also how best to go about buying one if they are of interest.
Are mystery boxes worth it?
1. Do your due diligence
The most pertinent point in regards to mystery boxes is to do your due diligence.
With so many sellers competing for your cash, research is everything. Not all mystery boxes services are created equal, but it’s not always easy to separate the good from the bad at first glance.
Start by searching the providers name on Twitter or Instagram. Look through their profile to get a feel for the kind of shirts on offer. There is of course a caveat here: a profile’s feed is heavily curated, with posts potentially cherry-picked to showcase the best possible options.
This is when you dig deeper.
Search for the name of the mystery box service to find posts that come from individuals, rather than the company. You want to find unedited snaps that have been taken quickly on a phone, as opposed to studio shots taken with the help of a high-end lighting rig. On the flipside, if you can only find one or two about a particular box, ask yourself whether the low profile is simply because the service is new, or if it’s just not a particularly good box.
Ultimately if all these searches haven’t helped, you can also ask people you trust in the community. A lot of people, myself included, have been keeping half an eye on the mystery box scene for a while, so many names will be immediately familiar, whilst any newcomers to the mystery box scene can be compared against dozens of established counterparts.
2. Try to buy the shirts yourself
For collectors, mystery boxes are only ever worth it if the shirts you could potentially receive are actually valuable, and not just ‘filler shirts’ that have been bought at a heavy discount and sold on for a (often slim) profit.
So, how do you know the difference between a rare shirt and a common one? Try and buy the shirt yourself. Can it be found at a major retailer, or would you have to trawl eBay or DM fellow collectors to get the particular shirt?
As a general principle, if it’s easy to find the shirt elsewhere then you’d be better off simply waiting for a sale in a few months time.
You should also keep an eye on the football shirt market as a whole. See what deals other collectors are sharing on Twitter, and if the same shirts are appearing in boxes shortly after there’s no real incentive to buy.
At this point I should also mention that sometimes discount sites undercut other retailers or mystery box services, which can leave egg on some faces even though the shirts weren’t simply bought to sell on in the first place. Timing is key here, and ultimately you have to decide if the box offers good value or not in terms of rarity.
No mystery here
3. Some direction in an overwhelming landscape
If mystery boxes aren’t always for collectors, then who are they for?
There’s a significant market for mystery boxes outside of the collecting bubble, and it’s an audience with entirely different objectives to me and (probably) you.
When I’m buying shirts, I’m mostly concerned with picking up an interesting design that has some sort of personal connection to me, or a design that’s notable for a specific reason such as a standout pattern or colourway. As such, I’m fairly picky when it comes to shirts, and would rather wait and save up for a particular kit instead of buying multiple shirts at a discount just to ‘bulk out’ the collection.
Some mystery boxes might scratch this itch, but many others are targeted to a different kind of person. Mystery boxes are perfect for someone who wants to expand their collection without any specific criteria. Rarer designs might be preferable, but the primary concern is expansion as opposed to curation.
If you’re looking to buy a gift for someone who’s into football or shirts in some capacity, mystery boxes can be a great option. There are an overwhelming number of football shirts out there, and for someone outside of the bubble it's a task in itself just singling out one shirt to buy. Sure, you might get a better shirt ‘pound for pound’ with your money if you looked hard enough on eBay, but what even is a ‘better’ shirt anyway?
Mystery boxes remove all that hassle, and that in itself is an attractive prospect.
Let’s not forget that the surprise element of a mystery box is a big part of the appeal. You can’t replicate the feeling of opening a present without knowing what’s inside if you handpicked the contents of the box yourself, and there’s a very real reason mystery box videos are perennially popular on YouTube.
The best mystery boxes are the ones which offer you the chance to add an exciting shirt to your collection, and I can say from experience that I’ve been blown away by the contents of some boxes I’ve received in the past. I’ve also been extremely jealous of boxes others have received, and crucially these have been boxes not sent to influencers.
Of course, mystery boxes giveth and mystery boxes taketh away, and I’ve definitely felt underwhelmed by boxes on occasion too. Providing there’s at least a baseline amount of value though (which you can establish by doing your research as mentioned previously), the purchase of a mystery box becomes more of a calculated risk than a blind gamble.
The bottom line
Sometimes mystery boxes are definitely not worth it, and if you see a box that is simply reselling those shirts you saw for £15 a few months ago, avoid it. By contrast, some boxes provide the sorts of shirts which would improve any collection, no matter how seasoned the collector.
Ultimately though, many mystery boxes simply aren’t targeted at collectors, or at least certain types of collectors. If you’re starting out a collection from scratch, or getting your feet wet by dabbling in the scene, good value mystery boxes are exactly the sort of thing that can give your fledgling haul a boost.
If you’re more of a picky collector instead, who specialises in 90s Perugia shirts, there probably isn’t a box out there for you (though I’d love to be proved wrong on that front!). Having said that, there are more premium mystery box services that offer hard to find shirts, the kind of which I’d love to add to my own collection.
I’m glad we’re having more conversations about mystery boxes, and I hope this article goes some way to helping with any questions you have about them! If you’re still unsure, feel free to comment on here or reach out to myself or FSC on our various social platforms.
--- Our series Collectors Club tackles the biggest issues shirt collectors face. How do you wash your precious shirts? What’s the best way to store them after they’ve been washed? We’ll be tapping into the experiences of other members of the community also, so you can buy, collect and maintain your shirts with peace of mind.
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