What do people choose more often, the unique item or the common one?

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Imagine that you sell high-end coffee (or any other consumer product, for that matter). The best coffee that you have been selling comes from the highlands of Sumatra. However, you have just received a new shipment of rare coffee from Papua New Guinea that you think you can sell at a substantial markup.

You now need to decide how to display the new coffee. You have a special section for your best coffee that currently just displays the Sumatran coffee. Do you substitute only a few containers of the less profitable Sumatran coffee with the more profitable Papua New Guinea coffee in that section, or do you put mostly Papua New Guinea in that section with only a few Sumatran containers?

The solution in fact depends on the country in which your store is located. Research has found that when choosing an item from a set, Asians have a clear preference for picking the most common item, whereas Americans strongly prefer choosing the most unique item.

So in the above example, Asians will tend to pick the coffee that is the most common one, so you should put many containers of the more profitable Papua New Guinea coffee and only a few containers of the Sumatran coffee in your Asian stores.

On the other hand, Americans will tend to pick the coffee that is the most unique, so you should put only a few containers of the more profitable Papua New Guinea coffee and many containers of the less profitable Sumatran coffee in your North American stores.

A very simple strategy – varying whether the most profitable item is the unique item or the common one in a product display – is very likely to improve your bottom line.


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