How many items should be displayed in a store?

When we are curious about value of an unknown object, we often consider how many people surround it. If it is alone, we believe it is expensive. If it is surrounded by many others, we believe it is cheap. This is because, according to O’Guinn’s et al. (2015), as the social density of a given space increases, “inference of the subjective social class and income of people in that space” fall. Although we like different degrees of crowdedness (D&Department in Tokyo) and even view the same degree of crowdedness differently (Kronen Vanlose in Copenhagen), crowdedness decreases the value of a product.

O’Guinn, T. C., Tanner, R. J., & Maeng, A. (2015). Turning to space: Social density, social class, and the value of things in stores. Journal of Consumer Research, 42(2), 196-213.

This article is about social space and material objects for sale within that space. We draw primarily on Goffman’s (1971) concepts of use space and possession territories to predict that as the social density of a given space increases, inferences of the subjective social class and income of people in that space fall. Eight studies confirm that this is indeed the case, with the result holding even for stick figures, thus controlling for typical visual indicators of social class such as clothing or jewelry. Furthermore, these social class inferences mediate a relationship between social density and product valuation, with individuals assessing both higher prices and a greater willingness to pay for products presented in less crowded contexts. This effect of inferred class on product valuation is explained by status-motivated individuals’ desire to associate with higher-status people. To the best of our knowledge, this research is the first to reveal the link between social density, status inferences, and object valuations. As such, it makes a novel contribution to what has come to be known in sociology as the topological turn: a renewed focus on social space.

Then, could we apply the same logic to stores where products are surrounded by other products? In other words, does “product crowdedness” decrease product value as well? This is an important question as stores display items in different ways.

Some stores display various items with a lot of stocks. For instance, at Annam Gourmet, Ho Chi Minh, only a few cans of sea food are on the shelf space with multiple stocks.

Other stores display only few items with few stocks. For instance, Decium, a Canadian cosmetic company introduces a few items without showing their stocks.  

Two contrasting examples show that stocks determine the perceived value of products. Designers and marketers should decrease the number of products displayed in the store to increase their perceived value. There is a 8-minute video about an inside look at Decium to see how the company has managed to find success in the highly competitive, the multi-billion-dollar world of skin care.

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