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Long Tail or Steep Tail? A Field Investigation into How Online Popularity Information Affects the Distribution of Customer Choices

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Author Info

  • Tucker, Catherine
  • Zhang, Juanjuan

Abstract

The internet has made it easier for customers to find and buy a wide variety of products. This may lead to a "long tail" effect as more customers buy low-volume products. However, the internet has also made it easier for customers to find out which products are most popular. This could lead to a "steep tail" effect as customers flock towards the most popular products. Using data from a field experiment with a website that lists wedding service vendors, we find empirical evidence that a steep tail exists. The most popular vendors become more popular when customers can easily observe previous customers' click-through behavior. Then, we ask whether this steep tail effect "complements" the long tail, by attracting customers who would otherwise have chosen nothing, or "competes with" the long tail, by shifting customers from less popular vendors to popular ones. We find evidence of a complementary effect, where the steep tail indicates new interest in the most popular vendors from outside, with negligible cannibalization of interest for less popular vendors. The findings suggest that popularity information can serve as a powerful marketing tool that facilitates product category growth. They also explain the prevalence of firm practices to highlight bestsellers.

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/39811
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management in its series Working papers with number 39811.

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Date of creation: 07 Dec 2007
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Handle: RePEc:mit:sloanp:39811

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Postal: MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (MIT), SLOAN SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT, 50 MEMORIAL DRIVE CAMBRIDGE MASSACHUSETTS 02142 USA
Phone: 617-253-2659
Web page: http://mitsloan.mit.edu/
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Postal: MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY (MIT), SLOAN SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT, 50 MEMORIAL DRIVE CAMBRIDGE MASSACHUSETTS 02142 USA

Related research

Keywords: Long Tail; Steep Tail; Customer Learning; Decisions Under Uncertainty; Internet Marketing; Category Management;

This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

References

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  1. Brynjolfsson, Erik & Smith, Michael D. & Yu, (Jeffrey) Hu, 2003. "Consumer Surplus in the Digital Economy: Estimating the Value of Increased Product Variety at Online Booksellers," Working papers 4305-03, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  2. M. C. Jones, 2006. "Book Review," Journal of Applied Statistics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 33(10), pages 1149-1151.
  3. Rosen, Sherwin, 1981. "The Economics of Superstars," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(5), pages 845-58, December.
  4. Hausman, Jerry & Hall, Bronwyn H & Griliches, Zvi, 1984. "Econometric Models for Count Data with an Application to the Patents-R&D Relationship," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(4), pages 909-38, July.
  5. Judith A. Chevalier & Dina Mayzlin, 2003. "The Effect of Word of Mouth on Sales: Online Book Reviews," NBER Working Papers 10148, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Banerjee, Abhijit V, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817, August.
  7. Anderson, Lisa R & Holt, Charles A, 1997. "Information Cascades in the Laboratory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 847-62, December.
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Cited by:
  1. Ajay Agrawal & John Horton & Nicola Lacetera & Elizabeth Lyons, 2013. "Digitization and the Contract Labor Market: A Research Agenda," NBER Working Papers 19525, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Guillermo De Haro, 2008. "Cuando una ´long tail´ no es suficiente," Working Papers Economia wpe08-16, Instituto de Empresa, Area of Economic Environment.
  3. Claussen, Jörg & Kretschmer, Tobias & Mayrhofer, Philip, 2010. "Private Regulation by Platform Operators – Implications for Usage Intensity," Discussion Papers in Business Administration 11374, University of Munich, Munich School of Management.
  4. Gal OEstreicher-Singer & Barak Libai, 2011. "Assessing Value in Product Networks," Working Papers 11-29, NET Institute, revised Sep 2011.
  5. Engström, Per & Forsell, Eskil, 2013. "Demand effects of consumers’ stated and revealed preferences," Working Paper Series 2013:6, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.

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