What will the fidget spinner of 2018-2019 be?
October 2, 2018 8:50 AM   Subscribe

As in, what's the next cheaply produced, inexpensive to buy, endlessly iterated miracle to come out of Southern China's manufacturing centers and be drop-shipped worldwide? (FYI: I'm not specifically asking about toys.)

For example, before fidget spinners I'd guess hoverboards pioneered the strategic brilliance of infinite rebranding. For example, if a manufacturer's boards were hit with a rash of spontaneous combustions, they'd quietly remove all their stock from online stores, develop a new brand identity, and be back on the market two weeks later as an entirely different company selling the same stock.

Before that was the proliferation of "night shift" earbuds identical to an established, respected brand -- except made at night while the factory was ostensibly shuttered, using different packaging and logos, then priced to undercut the original on Amazon. I'm pretty sure this is where the factories of Southern China mastered drop-shipping (and where Amazon began to consciously fuck overboth sellers of legitimate merchandise, and buyers who thought they were purchasing the real thing).

Even before that, the infinite proliferation of counterfeit and "copy" Louis Vuitton bags, ranging from $2 vinyl purses with Chanel or Adidas or Bart Simpson logos instead of LV all the way up to $200 bags that only a connoisseur could recognize as a fake. In my truncated taxonomy, it seems like this is the beginning of factories testing the market via iteration in the large-scale, low-end (and midrange) global economy, as opposed to just filling orders from international companies.

Anyway, I'm curious what's next -- shots in the dark and wild guesses welcome! -- both in terms of objects, and the next "market approach" Chinese producers/iterators will figure out.
posted by tapir-whorf to Technology (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Straws. Between bans and people want to be more visibly environmental, there's gonna be a lot of "permanent" straws made and sold in the next coupla years.
posted by Etrigan at 8:56 AM on October 2, 2018 [13 favorites]

There seem to be lots of companies getting in on inflatable piggyback Halloween costumes.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:10 AM on October 2, 2018

Best answer: Adding to Etrigan's comment, we have a small gifts and gourmet snacks shop and stainless steel straws fly out the door. I believe they are our top seller. Top 5 for sure.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:15 AM on October 2, 2018

I'm not sure it's going to be thing of the year, but I've definitely noticed this trend with wireless earbuds, especially as people search for less expensive options to Apple airpods.
posted by Karaage at 9:21 AM on October 2, 2018

Best answer: Indeed, we are apparently see a rash of counterfeit reusable straws flooding the market.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:22 AM on October 2, 2018

Best answer: You might find the Planet Money podcast on how Hoverboards became a thing interesting: https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2015/11/27/457404184/episode-666-the-hoverboard-life

They don't have a lot of insight into how it became such a fad in the US. Some combination of luck plus marketing with "influencers", giving free hoverboards to celebrities who'd post themselves riding them on Instagram, etc. A bit of a mystery how something so decentralized got marketed so effectively.
posted by Nelson at 9:48 AM on October 2, 2018

I just got a bit of swag, a solid blue superball but lit up when bounced. Had not seen exactly that, no opening for battery. Seems like it's time for yoyo's to make one of the periodic resurgences.
posted by sammyo at 9:53 AM on October 2, 2018

I was near somebody playing with a light-up yo-yo this weekend (startled me). I definitely think yo-yos are on their way back for another spell.
posted by General Malaise at 9:54 AM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I think straws must be the winner!

If I can get away with asking a follow-up question, I'm trying to think of currently marketed, mass-produced things that have benefitted from the same type of iterative manufacturing process as fidget spinners, in which endless variations of a thing are produced via essentially live A/B testing of market response.

Specifically, though, I'm trying to think of things one could (theoretically) apply the "small-batch" approach of American boutique marketing to, to make on small-workshop-scale. For example, polished mahogany fidget spinners, or counterfeit Goyard bags made of vinyl, but screen printed with the full text of a piece of narrative fiction (in contrast to the fragments of Chinglish so often found in Chinese remix-fashion). Probably this excludes electronics.
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:26 AM on October 2, 2018

my kid brought home a yo-yo from a birthday party the other day... it had easily been 30+ years since I've seen a yo-yo, so maybe General Malaise is right.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:56 AM on October 2, 2018

Best answer: This might not actually answer your question, but “Night shift” products exist in a wide variety of industries to varying degrees of quality and knockoff-ness, and aren’t limited to LV goods,

I did some work for a European clothing company that makes a ton of backpacks which have become popular stateside in the past 5 years. They didn’t have good controls over their contracts, and a couple of factories started producing night shift goods. The wrinkle is that while several were traditionallowed-quality knockoffs, there was A stream coming out that even copied all of the counterfeit measures except for one little piece. They’re functionally identical except for the counterfeit marker. The mark up on the backpacks is SO high compared to production costs hat the night shift factory was producing, basically the real deal and still making money. This caused them to be shielded FAR longer than their lower-quality knockoff counterparts, and the parent company had trouble figuring out themselves what is counterfeit and not.

Night shift producers are getting better at their knock offs because they can charge more, and last longer without getting shut down. I’ve even seen one instance of the product being a little bit better (subjectively maybe) than the OG good. They were arguably improving in the design.

This isn’t limited to clothing, but that’s a common one. I’m sure this happens with far more regularity than is regularly assumed, and I’ve seen some pretty extreme examples, like industrial level equipment being ‘knocked off’ but clearly coming from the same factories as the original machine.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:49 AM on October 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There's a knock-off Lego clone called "Lepin" that sells the massive expensive Lego sets for far cheaper prices while maintaining a decent quality of product. They even make Lego sets that are out of production, and have been known to copy MOCs* from photos posted online and start selling sets.

*My Own Creation - an original, non-official model someone has built.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:18 PM on October 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

Best answer: ... I'm trying to think of currently marketed, mass-produced things that have benefitted from the same type of iterative manufacturing process as fidget spinners...

There are a lot of camping items that start as straight knock offs and then take off. There are a million dry bags now, and anodized aluminum cook sets. The fancier materials, like titanium, are still less common because they cost a lot.

Tiny, inexpensive electronics built around a standard core -- think of wifi cameras, small quadcopters, or cheap "action cam" video cameras -- also follow this pattern. New features appear on one, are popular, and spread to other models quite quickly.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:22 PM on October 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Phone cases/covers
posted by humboldt32 at 1:27 PM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

If yo-yo's are a thing... there was once this turned aluminum (or some metal) yo-yo that made a distinct WHIZZZRRRRZING noise. Tricks aside, there's no yo-yo that makes such an impression as the one that goes ZING.

Like wenestvedt, I think there are a bunch of things that are easy to re-brand or whatnot.... or are already available in the ugly "it's just a thing" way just waiting to be wrapped up in marketing and some flair to be a big thing.

Here's where I would go off on various things that I think are simple and mass produced that if done cheaply enough would be some marketing hit. But not already the next big thing.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:16 PM on October 2, 2018

Best answer: Along the lines already discussed, there are knockoffs of Kickstarter projects, where the knockoffs go into production before the Kickstarter project does. Which is kind of crazy. So maybe keep an eye on hot Kickstarters to see if they get pre-pirated.
posted by adamrice at 4:59 PM on October 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Shot in the dark here, but I predict those plastic tubes that you spin around your head and they make a sound like a Tibetan throat singer will be it. Starting in 2019. After that, when the demise of newspapers is complete, sheets of newsprint printed with instructions of how to fold or cut it into a flivver (startups take note of this name), newsboy hat, or poppers will be in vogue. Just one man’s opinion.
posted by metasunday at 7:30 PM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lepin is very popular in Asia and stocked on shelves alongside Lego in basic toy stores. It mostly works with Lego. We have some gifted sets mixed in with ours and I cant tell the difference. There are knock offs now of nanoblocks which are very popular. And so many many iterations of random-pop-culture-toy in an egg. I have no idea what is legit or what is a random Chinese brand and the kids don't seem to care when they tear it apart.

And the Cath Kidston brand is completely gone - 90% of the bags I've seen are knock offs.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:42 PM on October 2, 2018

Oh! Knock off electric scooters. Branded legit ones are $1-3k, the knock off ones are $500-$1.5k and often come with questionable hacks around speed limits. Sure they might catch fire but so do the real ones. Those are definitely flooding the market and a big issue, pirate ebikes and scooters.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:45 PM on October 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want to be super depressed, read up on China honey manufacturing and counterfeiting. NZ is cracking down and China is heading off a cliff and it's a factory/farm catastrophe that ships globally. Pirate honey is an enormous thing about to explode exponentially.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:48 PM on October 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

My guess is crazy socks if you don't specifically mean 'popular items for kids'. The number of stores selling silly socks in downtown locations has boomed in the past few years.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:05 PM on October 3, 2018

« Older Wanted: Adventurous Cartoons   |   Liminal music Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.