Sunday, January 1, 2017

House of Straw: Box Debacle is a Flimsy Foundation

A Poppets & Posies Editorial

American Girl has a plan. It did not start with the box nor will it end with the box.

Photo curtesy of Tara Hays

Gabriela's debut with her radical new box design was a shock to many long time customers, but we should have seen the architecture of this change many months ago.

Unfortunately, Gabriela is the poppet who will be most associated with this atrocious new box style with the large flimsy window and slide-out style whereas technically the WellieWishers box made the change first by a few weeks.

Over the past few weeks the WellieWishers' doll box quietly and without fanfare was changed from the two piece lift-out box style to the large window and slide-out style. But the general concept of a large window box was already introduced last summer--WellieWishers debuted using the new large window style box for its clothing and accessories having some remark unfavorably about the Barbie-style packaging. However the new box style for the clothing was met with little resistance most likely because it was a new line and thus customers had less built up expectations.

I personally was lulled into thinking the large window style of the WW clothing boxes was just a one-off thing for the WW line alone. But AG using a new box style for WW clothing and eventually for the doll boxes as well was likely always in the works from the very start. Why do I think this? Because the WellieWisher new doll box style launched within a few weeks of GOTY Gabriela's shocking new doll box style.

The new box style for WellieWishers and GOTY and beyond has been slowly planned and rolled out for many many months now.

Photo curtesy of Tara Hays

The new box on the right shows a terrific use colorful graphics and text on of the back side of the box--but I am convinced AG could have come up with a better solution to add visual punch without sacrificing the sturdiness and reusability of the box itself.

This is not an either/or situation. We can love our American Girl poppets and still have criticism and feedback for the company that makes our girls. But will AG listen?

Robo-answer #1

This was the robo-answer being supplied yesterday on AG's Facebook page to Addison, Leigh and others who expressed dislike for the new box styles for poppets being rolled out in both the WellieWishers line and now GOTY Gabriela.

Let's break this down:

"effort to reach more girls in more places"

This means the partnerships with Costco, Kohls, TRU. The pro for AG is additional outreach which means more brand and product exposure, more customers, more sales. However, I see AG is using this expansion as an excuse to launch their flimsy and cheaper box as if they had no other design possibilities to solve the issues of expanding into different retail markets.

"better meet the needs and requirements of our domestic and international retail partners"

Understood. Bigger windows, more text and graphics on the box to better explain contents of box, more tamper resistant to discourage loss/theft of small accessories. What is not understood is how that translates to a cheaper and flimsier box. How about redesigning the box to meet all these "needs and requirements" and at the same time improve the overall quality of the box for the customer?

"easier way to open the box and remove the doll"

Removing an AG doll from her classic box is a special rite of passage. The people who prioritize their desire for an ultra-hasty quick-release doll box do not care if the doll box is sturdy and gorgeous or if it is flimsy and easily destroyed. These quick-release fans have managed the classic box style at least once to go on to imagine a world where they could save an extra 72 seconds IF ONLY there was a box that disintegrated upon the slightest touch of a hand. Recall there has never been a case of a doll permanently trapped inside the classic AG box. 

However, those who do care about keeping the classic box REALLY CARE. I highly doubt AG lost sales because customers struggled to remove the doll from its sturdy, well-made, protective box which had remained in essence the same box the entire 30 year history of the company. Two pieces, open-and-lift style.


Many AG customers expect high quality in the doll, her clothing, accessories, books and that expected quality begins with the box that houses the poppet. Imagine if Tiffany's began to box their rings in anything other than their high quality robin's egg blue luxurious but sturdy box. Or if Apple decided to do away with their beautiful unboxing experience and just shrink wrapped all their phones instead. The Tiffany's ring would still be an American classic and the Apple phone still a slick piece of modern technology. But the customer experience would be tarnished and so would be the brand.

Adding further insult is that many customers preserve their AG dolls in the classic doll boxes. The classic box is like a quality brick house that withstands the buffets of the years to provide decades of protection and preserving a cherished playmate or in some cases a poppet who has become a family heirloom. While the new box style looks to have some limited reusability it also looks to be a serious decline in construction and durability. The cardboard exterior of the new box is so flimsy it billows like a little house made straw.  

Poppets & Posies says: Normally I unabashedly and perhaps even over enthusiastically praise AG and its products. I often give the company a lot of leeway and temper my criticism of changes AG has made to stay competitive and profitable. However, I see the new box style as primarily an over-reaching cost-cutting effort being covered up by their real need to compete directly on-the-shelf against other doll company offerings and toys in giant box-stores like TRU. The classic AG box is relatively plain and uniform from doll to doll with a small window for viewing--many dolls and toys in stores like TRU have the large front window and their boxes are colorfully and dynamically splashed with texts and graphics on all available sides of their boxes. A change was needed, but considering the many creative ways to meet these new requirements, AG has made an off-brand and disappointing decision in its new doll box design.

A final thought for this blog entry but probably not the last word on the new box style--and this may haunt a few of us as we contemplate the future of AG boxes:

Will all the 18" dolls be evicted from their classic homes and moved into the new box style? First WellieWishers, then GOTY Gabriela. Surely the new Contemporary Series poppets Tenney and Logan will be housed in these flimsy boxes of straw. And then the Truly Me dolls. BeForever Samantha already has been sold in a flimsy large window mega box monstrosity at Costco... can you imagine a world where all the BeForever dolls are housed in flimsy boxes?

Be wise, AG. Customers are huffing.


  1. I agree with you fully. In fact I may stop buying dolls from the company at all if boxes are going to become like this. Seriously, there are so many other ways to recover their fan-base. It's annoying really, with the launch of Melody and Gabriela, (two dolls I think really show the company's progressiveness) you'd think things were getting better, but then they make decisions like this and I don't know where their objectives lie. I think they have already lost a ton of fans due to the changes in beforever, but the question is will all these changes warrant more new fans than the ones they will loose. It's sad, really. Really, really sad.

  2. I totally agree. If they really wanted to make their dolls more accessible to more girls, they would drop their price instead of making their boxes cheaper. Nice try, AG! I normally don't complain, but in the short 3 years I've begun collecting AG as an adult I have seen so many changes and all seem to be a decline in quality.

  3. It does NOT look easier to get a doll out of that type of box! I have spent many Christmas mornings and birthdays with scissors and box cutters. The wonderful thing about having a daughter who was old enough to be into AG was not needing to spend hours releasing her new things from the packages. We actually had this conversation last year. Their lovely boxes made you feel like you had paid more for quality. These changes are sooo sad!

  4. I would like to join your email followers but you have to subscribe to a different address than poppets and posies, and I am not sure if it is a safe site?

  5. Many may not know this, but the Caroline that I picked up in Costco was a combination of the new packaging and the old. The box top for the traditional AG box, was behind the bottom portion of the box. That was in another box, which had full window. AG already has a solution that would keep the two box types and 'please the retail partner' and the customer that wants the traditional box.