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Sold-out products influence consumer choice, study says

If that hot new product you wanted appears sold out, it might just make you buy the next best thing.

If that hot new product you wanted appears sold out, it might just make you buy the next best thing.

According to a new study from the University of Alberta, an empty store shelf is a standing temptation for shoppers to buy the next best thing.

"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," University of Alberta business professor Paul Messinger said in a statement.

Messinger studied the sale of several types of items to determine how limited inventory would influence consumers' buying behavior.

Using ski passes as bait, the study found that 91 percent of shoppers would buy a five-hour pass for $20 if they thought a $40 10-hour pass for the same mountain was sold out.

If the $40 10-hour ski pass was readily available, however, just 61 percent of shoppers said they would buy the $20 five-hour pass.

A similar study of merlot wines found 49 percent of consumers would buy a bottle if they had one choice. But when shoppers thought a similar wine had sold out next to it on the shelf, almost twice as many people said they would take home the available bottle.

"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," Messinger said. "The use of sold-out signs creates a sense of urgency."

It's the same theory that applies to the parental shopping craze during the holiday season. Parents infer that because a product is in demand, it must be good -- and so they'll do almost anything to get it, regardless if their child would actually like it or not.

That also means that controlling inventory of hot, new items is one tool in a retailer's arsenal to spur sales.

The study is published this month in the Journal of Retailing.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com