In a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research, researchers identified particular kinds of consumers whose preferences can predict products that will flop, calling those folks “harbingers of failure,” reports the Chicago Tribune.
“Certain customers systematically purchase new products that prove unsuccessful,” wrote the study authors. “Their early adoption of a new product is a strong signal that a product will fail.”
Researchers looked at retail purchases made by about 130,000 consumers at a national convenience store chain, and found that 13% of them had buying habits that predicted failure of a new product. Failure in this case means surviving less than three years. About half or more of the products they bought were doomed to die before they had a chance to make it big.
This means if you’re the kind of person who liked the Zune, you probably also liked Frito Lay Lemonade, which apparently was a thing.
And “the more they buy, the less likely the product will succeed,” the researchers wrote.
This is because harbingers of failure are more likely to consistently buy things that other customers won’t, for whatever reason. Maybe they like to be different, or maybe they just have a soft spot for the things no one else likes.
For companies, this means that they’d need to be careful not to just focus on how many people are buying a new product, but who it is that’s doing the buying. If you’ve got a boatload of these harbingers of failure on board, your ship is sure to sink.