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'Mystery box' shop sells undelivered parcels

07:39 06/03/2024

A new shop in Brussels selling unclaimed packages sold its entire stock in just two days, but is expecting to resupply its shelves soon.

Pile ou Face in Ixelles bought 5,000kg worth of parcels that were never collected and cannot be returned from online retailer Amazon, reselling them as mystery boxes. Customers choose a parcel and pay €16 per kilo.

“We got a lot of media attention, which attracted customers,” case manager Arnaud Userstam told Bruzz, adding that their next order is expected to arrive this week, with the store reopening to the public on Saturday.

“It's always a gamble. Sometimes there are valuable things in a package, but it’s also possible that there’s something worthless in it.

"For example, one woman bought a parcel for €60, which turned out to be filled with toothbrushes for dogs. She was able to laugh about it, but some people are not so satisfied in that situation."

Userstam plans to keep the shop open for at least another six months.

Parcels end up eligible for resale when lost or unclaimed, or if the address is illegible, incorrect or missing.

These packages used to be destroyed because it was too expensive to mail them back to the sender, but now they are sold - by weight - by delivery companies, who thereby avoid the cost of storage and eventual incineration.

According to William Mourrière, a French businessman credited with the idea of reselling unclaimed packages, 80% of them come from the other side of the globe, mainly China.

“For a long time, suppliers and delivery companies preferred to destroy lost parcels rather than send them back across the ocean – this represented more than 100 tonnes of products destroyed every month in France,” said Mourrière.

“But a French law was passed to prohibit this destruction, and the logistics companies had to find another solution that ultimately suited everyone: they resell the lost parcels in bulk to intermediaries like us.

"Instead of having to pay for storing thousands of pallets, transporting them and incinerating them, which used to cost them between €5,000 and €7,000 per lorry, they now earn money, so it's a win-win situation."

The store in Ixelles attracts bargain hunters who do not mind that it is sparsely furnished: there are no shelves or racks, just big cardboard boxes on the floor and paper bags full of packages with no labels on them.

Everything is sorted by weight in bags of one to four kilos. Customers can pick up the parcels, weigh them and shake them.

“It's fun,” one shopper told RTBF. “We don't know what's inside, it'll be a surprise – maybe nothing interesting but I hope it's electronics, perfume, jewellery, or maybe some designer clothes.”

There is nothing on the packages to suggest what they contain and all information is hidden – GDRP regulations require merchants to hide the name and address of both the sender and the recipient.

Written by Helen Lyons