Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne share news of a new study on the best ways to group products.

Want to increase your sales of games?  According to this recent research by Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Uma Karmarkar, one way to increase sales of products is to group similar products together.  Granted, most game stores (and comic stores) for that matter, already do that, putting boardgames with boardgames and graphic novels with graphic novels, but what Karmarkar’s research shows us is that we are right to do this and, moreover, cross-merchandising may not be as effective a marketing technique as we have thought it is all these years.  Karmarkar’s research was done with online retailers, but her findings are applicable to the brick and mortar world as well.

In one experiment with 200 participants, Karmarkar took the Bananagrams game and displayed it on two separate web pages, one featuring Bananagrams along with the Apples to Apples and Catch Phrase games, and one showing Bananagrams and two unrelated items, such as a vanilla scented candle and a Swiss army knife.  The researchers asked participants how likely they were to purchase the Bananagrams.  Participants were statistically significantly more likely to indicate an intention to purchase Bananagrams when it was surrounded by other games on the page than when other items surrounded it.

In another experiment, Karmarkar showed participants a set of bath towels.  Randomly, participants were shown a page with the bath towels along with a computer mouse and a watch, a page with the towels along with other bathroom accessories, and a page with the towels along with other bath towels.  Again, purchase intention was highest when the targeted set of bath towels appeared on a page with other towels, less with the other bathroom accessories and still less when shown with unrelated items.

Somewhat surprisingly, featuring the targeted bath towels on the page with other towels did not distract the participant by providing competing alternatives.  Instead, the other items appeared to focus participant attention, with the cohesive display providing a frame for the main product, focusing the customer’s attention on the target towels.

It appears that having similar items grouped together helps keep the customer’s attention focused on the decision at hand, rather than providing a distraction as would happen when the targeted item is surrounded by dissimilar items.

What this means is that you should keep doing what you are doing:  group similar items together as that apparently helps the customer focus more on the item under consideration without the distraction of unrelated items.  What this also indicates is that cross-merchandising, a decades-old marketing technique in which related items are displayed together with the expectation that a customer looking for one items may be inclined to purchase related items i.e. merchandising Halloween candy with Halloween costumes and Halloween decorations, may not be as effective as displaying the cross-merchandised products with other similar products, i.e. putting Halloween candy in an area with other candy in order to focus attention on the candy purchase.  Similarly, while racking dice with D&D books would seem like a natural combination, this research indicates you would sell more dice by grouping all of the dice together and then cross-selling the dice when the customer purchases the D&D book.  Maybe Karmarkar will do some more research looking at this.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of