'Potentially harmful': Expert's warning over pitfalls of Coles and Woolworths collectables

A marketing expert has warned of the potential dark side of the supermarket collectables craze as shoppers across the country scramble to get their hands on the miniatures with every grocery shop.

Macquarie University’s Associate Professor of Marketing Jana Bowden said while there were some positives to these campaigns being rolled out by supermarkets, such as the new Coles Stikeez collectables, people needed to be aware of the “harmful” impacts on consumers.

“That particular aspect is potentially harmful because it encourages obsessive behaviour, compulsive behaviour and addictive collecting behaviour,” Assoc Prof Bowden told Yahoo News Australia.

A photo of the Coles Stikeez collectables.
Coles' Stikeez collectables returned on Wednesday after much speculation. Source: Coles

“Which some might argue is not necessarily an appropriate value to be socialising children into at such a young age.”

But Assoc Prof Bowden points out it is often not just the children who become obsessed with these campaigns, which is only being propelled by social media.

She said the behaviour observed in social media groups dedicated to these supermarket collectables only highlights the obsession.

The associate professor said for the regular shopper who does not indulge in the collectable campaigns, they might be innocuous.

But for those who do, usually parents, there can be added stress and anxiety, which could impact their relationships with their children.

Woolworths shoppers at a Lion King Ooshies swap event last year.
Parents were compared to 'piranhas' at a Woolworths collectables event at Woolworths last year when everyone was obsessed with the Lion King Ooshies. Source: Facebook

“Parenthood obsession filters down to childhood obsession,” she said.

Assoc Prof Bowden added she could see how this happened as she was a mother and could relate.

“There are issues that need to be considered from a broader societal perspective,” she said.

When Woolworths Lion King Ooshies were all the rage last year, parents were compared to piranhas at a collectables swap event.

One attendee recalled parents with plenty of “doubles” refused to swap anything, even with children.

A teenager at one of the events claimed adults snatched her Ooshies without her permission and offered nothing in return.

“I would blatantly see parents take my Ooshies. I had lost all my spares, from older people/adults taking them without my permission,” she wrote online.

Woolworths' Lion King Ooshies inside a collector's case.
A marketing expert has warned of the pitfalls related to supermarket collectables, such as the Lion King Ooshies. Source: Woolworths

A retail expert also told Yahoo News Australia last year people were also getting collectables fatigue.

“What we’ve seen over the last 18 months is [Coles] Little Shop 2, we’ve seen Disney Letters from Woolworths, we’ve seen Christmas pop-ups from Woolworths, we’ve had Ooshies from Woolworths – now this is the second range of Ooshies – so even consumers are getting probably tired of that,” marketing professor at the Queensland University of Technology, Gary Mortimer, said in December.

In addition to the fatigue, Prof Mortimer expected to be shoppers’ response to another collectables product from the supermarket chains, was the divorce the new range had had from the way they were obtained.

The older Lion King Ooshies and other collectables were “gathered” or “given away” as opposed to being bought like any other supermarket item.

Plus it was a complete “lucky dip” of what type of collectable shoppers ended up with.

Supermarket collectables’ upside

But Assoc Prof Bowden did point out collectable campaigns could breed healthy habits.

She said Coles’ Stikeez collectables strive to promote healthy eating for children and the prospect of collecting the toy could encourage children to want to come with their parents to do the shopping.

“They draw customers in and the key thing is getting the whole family shopping together, where children aren’t normally involved in the shopping decision-making,” Assoc Prof Bowden told Yahoo News Australia.

“These kinds of campaigns bring families together and socialise children in to what to shop for, how to shop for them and when to spend money. So it’s clever in starting the shopping cycle early on.”

The Stikeez Fresh Friends collection (pictured) is part of Coles' Fresh 5 Challenge.
The Stikeez Fresh Friends collection goes hand-in-hand with the Fresh 5 Challenge at the Coles. Source: Hanna Lassen/Getty Images for Coles

When asked if she thinks the good outweighs the bad when it comes to collectables, Assoc Prof Bowden said it was a “fine line” and a “balancing act”.

“From a promotional perspective in terms of education and raising awareness for an understanding of what good eating behaviour habits are, it has the potential to be very effective,” she said.

Assoc Prof Bowden added the way the Stikeez campaign was being branded was “wholesome”, citing the placemats which teach children about the five different food groups.

“I think there is a secondary issue not only to do with addiction and compulsive consumption and the psychological effects on childhood, but in terms of collecting behaviour and how that shapes their sense of self and identity and need for consuming.”

Families overspending

Another potential issue which can arise with the collectables is consumers overspending in hopes of collecting all of the plastic toys and the sought-after “rare” editions, Assoc Prof Bowden says, as there has been an increase in corporate sales which coincide with collectable campaigns.

She said the “immediate gratification” consumers get when they fill up their trolleys or baskets and receive an award for every certain amount spent, “inevitablely and inadvertently” encourages customers to spend more money.

There may also sometimes might be a “natural tendency” to want to complete the set of collectables, which circles back to obsessive behaviour.

The four rare Stikeez collectables rolled out by Coles.
In addition to the 24 Stikeez to collect, there are four rare Stikeez (pictured) customers should be on the lookout for. Source: Coles

“There needs to be a conscious attempt and awareness of that shopping basket and a forward planning about what it is the consumer needs to buy on that particular shopping trip and sticking to that list in order to combat the potential overspending which comes with promotions like these,” Assoc Prof Bowden said.

“When promotions like these exist, the temptation is not just grabbing a few extras, but a basketful of extras in order to qualify for the immediate gratification and reward.”

While might scoff and think it’s a minority of people going crazy for collectables, Assoc Prof Bowden said it was a “significant population”, which takes part in the “compulsive shopping type experience” when a supermarket announces a new collectable campaign.

She also says the media aids this obsessive shopping by highlighting the campaigns and the “rare” Stikeez or Woolworths Ooshies, which people try to collect or seeking out online for exuberant amounts.

Coles and Woolworths have been contacted for comment.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.