Shock! Boffins find popular products sell better


New research tells Rachael Taylor it’s all about herding. Well, duh.

After monitoring the app downloading habits of 50 million Facebook users, boffins at Oxford University have come to the grand conclusion that shoppers tend to like products better if their mates like them first.

Hmmm. Fifty quid cash in hand and I could have told them that.

Story continues below

A new research project by the university has identified this consumer trend and branded it the “herding instinct”. The insightful study also stated that “this instinct appears to switch off almost entirely if the product fails to achieve a certain popularity threshold”.

So let’s get this right. If a product is seen to be popular then it becomes more popular. If a product is seen as being less popular it is less popular. With me so far?

In my neck of the woods, i.e. Earth, we call this a trend. If Asos tell me I have to buy an aviator jacket, I see every other retailer and style magazine touting aviator jackets and I watch a slew of trendy-looking girls treading the high streets wearing aviator jackets, then more than likely I’m going to be heading off to buy an aviator jacket at the weekend. Well, not me personally, but those lesser slaves to fashion trends – let’s call them consumers.

The real science of the report was the threshold of popularity. The report discovered that once an app had reached a rate of about 55 installations a day, its popularity then soared to reach stellar proportions. A typical app was installed by 1,000 users, but the most popular app, called Top Friends, was in a different league, being adopted by 12 million users, almost a fifth of the entire Facebook population.

The obvious parallel in the jewellery industry has to be that of Pandora. Once any charm brand starts to get popular, let’s say 55 sales a day, then they might be stocked by, let’s say, 1,000 retailers. But in a different league, just like Top Friends, you have Pandora.

While 12 million shoppers might still be beyond even Pandora’s reach – although perhaps not once it completes its one-store-a-day roll-out programme – it is cashing in on that herding instinct. And those shiny new festive TV ads aren’t going to hurt.

In fact, they are zoning in right on the most herdable herd of all – male shoppers. They know they should buy their significant other a charm bracelet for Christmas, they’ve seen the multimillion-pound Pandora campaign and they are sure as hell not going to be herded anywhere else. They might have no clue why they are buying Pandora but the message of popularity conveyed through the extensive campaign will have them herding straight to their local concept store.

It’s sad, but the general buying public are sheep, or herds, if you like. If we weren’t then the term bestseller wouldn’t exist. And while you tell your mum you wouldn’t, if everyone else jumped off a bridge then, yes, you probably would too. Nothing shameful in it, it’s just the way it is. And thank goodness it is, or retailers would have a nightmare trying to pick stock that will sell. 

So herding; an interesting idea, although I’m quite sure it shouldn’t take spying on the profiles of 50 million Facebook users for some of the smartest people in the land to work out that popular products sell. Well as they say, common sense and genius rarely go hand in hand, and we all need a good excuse to get on Facebook during working hours.

Tags : JewelleryPandoraretail researchshopping
Staff Writer

The author Staff Writer

Leave a Response