No thanks, I'll keep struggling.

Blog & News

Coles' Little Shop Collectibles: WTF?

Category: Blog & News


I didn’t want to write this blog.  I didn’t want to celebrate the apparent success of this campaign. (That is, if free plastic collectibles being sold online for hundreds of dollars should be considered a success.)

But the fact that the campaign is going gangbusters means it warrants an explanation. Why are customers responding so positively to a promotion that, to be frank, seems stupid?

In their “Little Shops” campaign, retailer Coles is giving customers shrunken down, plastic versions of products (e.g. Nutella, Weet-Bix, Chobani) for every $30 spent. They call them ‘collectibles”, but I call it the “Customers Really Appreciate Plastic Program” (CRAPP). Customers are encouraged to collect all thirty products, but cannot request which they receive.

Here are some of the psychological principles driving take-up.

Free gift

Shoppers are given one “collectible” for every $30 they spend. Everyone likes getting something for free, and when a gift is offered it is psychologically hard to refuse. We are suckers for ‘free stuff’.

Limited availability

Judging by reports on social and mainstream media, people are finding some items of CRAPP, like ‘bananas’, more difficult to source than others. Despite a Coles’ representative assuring me they were all equally available,  perceived scarcity of an item means it becomes more attractive.

To magnify the fear-of-missing-out magic, the promotion is available for a limited time only.

Completion Bias

People work harder to complete something once they’ve been given a start. In this case, customers get their first few items of CRAPP and can’t help but want to complete the set. We like closure, and seek to fill gaps.


The Little Shop campaign is perfect for digital sharing. It’s highly visible, tangible, Facebook shareable and non-threatening, so people are happy to talk about it. Lists of items to be swapped have sprung up on social media, normalising the behaviour of completing a set. If it feels like everyone you know is doing it, you will too.

Intermittent reward

Like pokies machines where people keep playing because they almost win, Coles’ CRAPP uses intermittent rewards to give customers an occasional hit of feel-good dopamine. Each CRAPP item is packaged in opaque wrapping, so people don’t know what they are getting before the transaction is completed. “Will this be the one to complete my set?” they wonder. No? Try again.

Mentally compartmentalised

The biggest lesson at the time of this campaign is how good people are parsing their behaviour. Plastic in the form of a ‘collectible’ is rationalised in an entirely different way to use of plastic shopping bags.

It reminds us that self-licensing affects us all. A good deed in one context means there is license to be less good in another. In this case, if I bring my reusable shopping bags, I can excuse myself from accepting CRAPP items.

So the success of Coles’ Little Shop CRAPP may seem perplexing, or even frustrating, but it stands as a lesson that things need not make sense on paper to make dollars in the real world.

You should also read:

Image from: