More and more retailers are looking to create excitement with product “drops”

The Little Sleepies are children’s pajamas and playwear made from bamboo cellulose. Bethanie Taylor, 27, mother of a five-month-old bab...


The Little Sleepies are children’s pajamas and playwear made from bamboo cellulose.

Bethanie Taylor, 27, mother of a five-month-old baby boy who lives in Springhill, Kansas, knows she loves the Little Sleepies. “But I don’t know if I was brainwashed,” she said.

There’s a lot to like for a discerning parent: the material is hypoallergenic, antifungal, odor resistant and has natural UV protection. Items come in thousands of patterns and designs, which the company releases weekly. Instead of offering all of these options on the company’s website like most retailers do, Little Sleepies “drops” these baby pajamas at some point.

It’s like a size 12-18 month sleep set, it’s the latest pair of Nike sneakers. “Stars & Stripes” pyjamas, perfect for the 4th of July, for example, became available at noon on a Tuesday in mid-May. A few days earlier, a camping model with bear cubs and cabins was abandoned. The company announces when the cuts will take place on social networks, where it has more than one hundred thousand subscribers.

Each collection is limited edition, which means there are not enough for everyone. Some items sell out in five minutes, so Ms Taylor, who is an operations manager at an insurance company, takes special steps to ensure she can catch what she wants.

“I sound an alarm if I know a drop is coming,” she said. “Some other moms even pre-upload gift cards to their account so they don’t lose the items if it takes too long to pay.”

The pajamas fit Ms Taylor’s son better than other brands she’s tried. “My son is very tall, and these fit him longer than the ones I would buy in the store,” she said. “I also love that bamboo is a good UV protector. I can’t put sunscreen on my son yet, so I feel good taking him outside with this.

Then there’s the undeniable allure of the hype.

“It’s kind of like a mob mentality,” she says. “You see them posting these new prints, and all the moms on Facebook love them. It makes you think, ‘I love this too, and they only have a limited number, so I have to get it before it sells out.’

A range of companies, large and small and in a variety of categories, are using “the drop”, releasing limited edition items in small numbers at any given time. Some businesses that opened during the pandemic only sold products this way. More established companies are moving away from more traditional sales models, such as releasing a collection each season or having a store that constantly has merchandise, and embrace this strategy.

Marketing and behavioral experts say there are several reasons why it works, especially now.

“What I love about product drops is that they give an element of surprise and scarcity,” said Silvia Bellezza, a marketing professor at Columbia Business School. “I think that excites a lot of consumers.”

She said customers were particularly responsive to this type of entertainment during the pandemic, when they were bored at home. “An interesting question would be in a year or two, is this a permanent change in the business model or are we going to go back to a more seasonal sales model?” she says.

It’s also changing consumer behavior, said Abigail Sussman, a behavioral scientist and professor of marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “It turns a decision you might put off — maybe you’ll buy something later or not at all — into something you need to buy now,” she said.

For small businesses, selling a set amount of inventory at specific times means less overhead.

Before the pandemic, Brooklyn-based Miriam Weiskind quit her job as an art director to pursue her passion for making pizza. His dream, like many chefs, is to open a restaurant, but the economics of it are daunting. So in the meantime, she launched The Za Report. Using a drop pattern, she sells her pies twice a week at beer halls and street fairs.

She announces where she’ll be on Instagram a few days in advance, and there are usually lines waiting for her when it opens. She sells 70 to 120 pies at a time, and some days they sell out in less than an hour.

She likes her overhead to be low and thinks this sales model allows her to sell her pies at higher prices (they range from $18 to $24). “It keeps demand high and supply low,” she said. “Each pie is special because I don’t make a lot of them, so I can charge a lot more.”

Bear Walker, in Daphne, Ala., makes skateboards that have pop culture themes like Pokemon or Marvel Comics. He releases a collection, each with only 250 boards, every six weeks.

By creating scarcity, Mr. Walker said he could make his product desirable. “These are high-end, handcrafted and difficult to manufacture,” he said. “When someone gets one, I want them to know it’s a special piece and a to-do list item.”

Some of his drops sell out in 45 minutes, which he watches happen live. “We have a big screen in the office with a map of the globe on it, and you can watch people go to websites and buy it,” he said. “I usually sit there for a few hours, just watching.”

Madison Tompkins, 28, a software developer who lives in Courvelle, Iowa, said the drops are just as exciting for consumers.

When a skateboard fall is about to happen, she cuts out two hours of her workday to make sure she gets the item she wants. “You also have to know how to do it. If you refresh the page every 10-15 seconds, the system will think you are a bot and block you,” she said. “It happened to me once. I wanted a board so quickly that I kept getting refreshed.

More established companies are also trying to take advantage of the scarcity trend.

Kate Quinn, a kidswear company like Little Sleepies, had been in business for 16 years, posting seasonal collections on her website with little fanfare, before starting to use product drops in 2018 as part of a new model for sale directly to consumers. Business has grown considerably since then.

The company has even started turning its website completely black hours before a release, which is generating excitement. “People who know how to buy Kate Quinn understand how it works and know how to be prepared,” said Paul Weinstein, chief operating officer and chief financial officer. “It can be confusing for new customers because we’re doing these drops, and the first 10 minutes are crazy, like we’re selling out items in minutes. So they’re like, ‘I don’t understand what just happened .’ (There’s even a second-hand market for these items.)

Mr. Weinstein said one of the benefits of the drops is that they provide unlimited social media content.

“There’s always something new to say,” he said. “We always have a new print coming out, we always have a new style, a new collection and a new drop.”

Ms Bellezza, from Columbia Business School, said one downside is that it encourages more consumption, especially at a time when some industry players are pushing for “slow fashion” and the idea that consumers should “buy less but buy better”.

“Drops do the opposite; they educate consumers to keep buying, and from a sustainability perspective, I don’t think that’s great,” she said.

And she sees this kind of consumption developing. The Four Seasons hotel in Philadelphia, for example, offers a “Night of Indulgence” package that guests can only purchase once a month.

“A lot of different companies are trying to kind of ride the wave,” Ms. Bellezza said. “People are now talking about drop culture.”

Companies that have tried product drops in the past are now finding a much more receptive audience.

The Scotch Malt Whiskey Society sells limited editions of one-of-a-kind Scotch whiskey every month. Rare bottles are not sold in stores. They’re only available to members – there are 36,000 worldwide – who purchase them online or over the phone on a first-come, first-served basis.

Ben Diedrich, the company’s senior manager, spent a lot of time explaining the sales model to new members. “They wouldn’t understand why they can’t sign up and buy things whenever they want,” he said.

Now those conversations almost never happen. “People understand now,” he said. “They understand that consumerism has changed.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: More and more retailers are looking to create excitement with product “drops”
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