September 30, 2009

Shopper behavior affected by empty shelf

An empty store shelf spurs shoppers to buy the closest substitute for the product that isn't there, Canadian researchers say.

Paul Messinger, a professor at the University of Alberta, found sold-out signs create a sense of urgency.

Sold-out products create a sense of immediacy for customers; they feel that if one product is gone, the next item could also sell out, Messinger said in a statement.

Our research shows there's also an information cascade, where people infer that if a product is sold out, it must have been good and therefore a similar available product will also be desirable.

The study found 61 percent of shoppers would buy a particular five-hour ski pass for $20, but that figure rose to 91 percent when they thought a 10-hour ski pass for the same mountain slope for $40 had sold out.

A similar study of merlot wines found 49 percent of consumers would buy a bottle if they had one choice, but if they thought a similar wine had sold out next to it on the shelf, nearly twice the number of shoppers would buy the available bottle.

The findings are published in the Journal of Retailing.