The Why #01: Why do people keep the boxes from expensive shoes and handbags?

3 min readJul 31, 2020


Dan Monheit, 31.07.2020


Thanks Carli. I love this observation, and it’s something that we don’t just see in luxury and designer fashion, but also in the universal pastime of hanging on to old iPhone boxes and displaying empty bottles of high-end liquor and perfume. It’s especially strange because we’d all agree, without much convincing, that the rational value of these second hand boxes or bags, once entrusted with carrying our most lusted after possessions, is essentially zero (though the 1,000+ empty Tiffany & Co boxes and bags on eBay may suggest otherwise).

The heuristic was first coined by American psychologist Edward Thorndike in his 1920 research paper “A constant error in psychological ratings”. In this study, Thorndike asked commanding officers in the military to evaluate a variety of qualities in their subordinate soldiers.

His research discovered that high ratings in one quality, such as attractiveness, carried over to other, unrelated qualities like leadership and character. Similarly, low ratings in a single trait tended to correlate with lower ratings across the board. From these results, Thorndike concluded that people take one outstanding trait and use it to form a view about a person’s entire personality.

The Halo Effect is why we assume tall people are more competent at their jobs (fair assumption for the NBA); why Ferrari can sell ballpoint pens for $370 and why good-looking people were found more likely to receive favourable treatment in the legal system (Sigall & Ostrove, 1975).

Luxury brands use the halo effect masterfully, shining it brightly from their flagship products to encompass everything around them, including the boxes, tissue paper and ribbons the products come in, the retail experiences around them and even the advertising we see before and afterwards. If we believe that the small silver charm we’ve just purchased is really worth $520, surely the small bag it came in is worth more than zero?!

In fact, Charles Lewis Tiffany realised this early on, and would famously refuse to sell or give away the iconic blue boxes separately, knowing that the box itself had a sacred and irrational value beyond the rings and necklaces they contained.

Before we know it, our designer box is no longer ‘just a box’, any more than a designer handbag is ‘just a handbag’. After all, the golden raised lettering, chic texture and new-box smell has to be worth something, right?

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about The Halo Effect and how brands
can use it on episode 25 of the Bad Decisions Podcast.

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