Study Finds Some Shoppers Have a Knack for Picking Flops

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If you repeatedly buy products that flop -- think Diet Crystal Pepsi and Watermelon Oreos -- you might be a "harbinger of failure."

If you buy products that tend to flop — think Diet Crystal Pepsi and Watermelon Oreos — you might be a harbinger of failure.

A recently published study has identified a specific type of shopper who has an unusually large tendency to purchase products that end up pulled from store shelves less than three years after their introduction.

The study authors, who dubbed this type of shopper a “harbinger of failure,” detail their findings in the Journal of Marketing Research.

Study co-author Catherine Tucker, a marketing professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains in a news release:

“If you’re the kind of person who bought something that really didn’t resonate with the market, say, coffee-flavored Coca-Cola, then that also means you’re more likely to buy a type of toothpaste or laundry detergent that fails to resonate with the market.”

Co-author Duncan Simester, also a marketing professor at MIT, explains this as a preference for risk. In other words, shoppers who are more willing to take a risk on an unusual product are more willing to take a risk in multiple categories.

Other possible explanations were ruled out. The researchers determined, for example, that the shopping habits of harbingers of failure don’t vary from those of other types of shoppers.

Tucker explains:

“It’s not the case that these people are buying goods at 2 in the morning, or something like that. They’re not inattentive.

Systematically, they are able to identify these really terrible products that fail to resonate with the mainstream.”

Simester tells NBC News that the phenomenon of the harbinger of failure also works the other way around. So shoppers who tend to buy successful products, like a Swiffer mop, are more likely to buy other successful products, like AriZona iced tea.

Consumers don’t need to worry about which type of shopper they are, however, Simester says. Instead, product developers and retailers should worry about whether harbingers of failure are drawn to their products.

What failed products have you purchased? Let us know below or on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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