Can Hiding Products Boost Sales?



Smart retailers make careful use of product placement. For example, stocking pet food at the back of the store encourages shoppers to browse other sections; placing impulse items up front can lead them to add “just one more thing” to their cart.

But recent research, shared in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), goes one step further to ask: Is it smarter for retailers to display their wares to customers a few at a time or all at once?

The answer, according to the HBR article, depends on the product category in question.

“What we found was that in product categories where the consumer is likely to purchase several products, the value of concealment tends to be positive,” one of the researchers explains. “However, for product categories where the consumer is likely to purchase one product at most, the value of concealment is typically negative, so it’s better to show them all at the same time.”

What This Means for Pet Stores
So, what common pet store categories might fall under each heading?

Items that shoppers are likely to purchase several of include toys, treats, chews, aquarium decor, etc. These are categories for which placing a selection of products is likely to ensure customers see something new each time they shop, encouraging them to bring home a new toy or treat each trip. 

Items where it makes sense to display everything on offer include crates, beds, bowls, fish tanks, aquariums, and live pets (with the possible exception of fish). 

Of course, in some of these categories—notably treats and chews—retailers will need to think through whether which items have crossed over from “special” purchases to staples in a shopper’s cart. It won’t do to have a shopper come in for a particular chew or bag of treats just to find none on the shelf. But, as an example, bakery-like cookies can certainly be rotated in and out to take advantage of this interesting research principle. 

There is one other caveat worth mentioning. The research makes the assumption that all the items in the category are priced similarly (which, of course, isn’t always the case on the sales floor). So, retailers may want to apply this strategy within the good-better-best hierarchy—offering a few “good” items, a few “better” items, and a few “best” items, and rotating selections within each of those, instead of viewing the category as a whole.

Experiments for Your Store 
The researchers plan to look next at how differing prices affect these results, but that doesn’t mean retailers can’t do a bit of their own research while waiting on the “official” results.

Heading into the holidays is the perfect time to use techniques like these to boost sales, especially since most gift-like items will fall into the “limited selection” category. 

Try experimenting with special displays and rotate the products featured or place one or two items in a specific category on sale at a time, and rotate which items get the discount. 

You can even try experimenting with these concepts in an online newsletter or your website — which items do you include when you send out an email? Which do they see first when they come on your site?

Strategies like these are what will set leading retailers apart from the competition in the year ahead. 


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