How a 5-lb. Bag of Gummi Bears Made the World Squat Down and Take Notice

Go to Amazon. Type the word “sugar” into the search bar. Unless you are in the Triangulum Galaxy, the first item to appear should be “sugar free gummy bears.” Click on it. Once again, if you’re not currently dodging asteroids in your Geonosian Solar Sailor, the first product you will see is a five-pound bag of Haribo Gold-Bears, a “Product of Turkey.” Note the number of customer reviews, which is 1,278 as I view the page. Now search M&M’s, the top selling candy in America. If you’re reading this prior to February 14th, you will most likely see the limited edition Valentine’s Day package leading the selections. You will also notice that the pretty pink package is, like a forlorn lover, awaiting its first review.

There’s something strange going on in the State of Amazon—thoroughly rotten, in fact, if you take the time to read some of the reviews, which bring new, digital meaning to the word “scatological.”

“I didn’t feel the need to plan my weekend around 5 small gummybears,” opens the initial review by Douglas Pope, who then describes in graphic detail a Gold-Bear induced romp in the men’s room before concluding with “So happy with my purchase, would recommend to friends and definitely buying again!” Awarding the Haribo bears five stars and pressing the enter button, Pope set off a low-brow, e-commerce literary competition themed to the laxative effects of the bears. The “Can you top this?” anthology of bathroom humor ranges from the terrible to the terse, such as arturogiovani’s authoritative, if xenophobic, précis: “I love Haribo. Usually they are made in Germany and delicious. This product is made in Turkey and made me sick to my stomach!!”

A sure sales killer for Haribo, right? Ah, my friends, not in these Uber-unpredictable times. Nope, according to Shmuli Goldberg, sales of five-pound bags of the jewel-colored, ursine confections could not be better. Goldberg, director of marketing for Feedvisor, an Israeli company that performs on-the-fly Amazon price optimization for a thousand-plus retail companies, says these questionable reviews (a thousand of them five-star) are bringing Turkish Gold-Bears out of hibernation. Essentially, he says, there’s no such thing as bad reviews if there are this many of them.

“This is a product that would usually sell a couple of units here and there. Instead, it’s doing millions of dollars in sales,” Goldberg says. “The huge number of reviews created false demand within Amazon’s platform, and so it moves it higher and higher up on the search list.”

Before you go pulling out your compendium of classic lavatory stall graffiti, know that this is not a phenomenon that can easily be duplicated. The magical element that sends product reviews viral has yet to be discovered. In fact—call it human unpredictability, call it chaos factor—but Feedvisor came across it in its everyday investigation of demand.

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“We set a price and look at many, many variables. Price elasticity. Future value. Sales,” Goldberg says. “These products kind of buck the trend, but they still follow all the rules of economics. Yes, this is a joke item and a joke page, but it actually sells, so this false economy created by Amazon becomes real over time.”

Real like a rad T-shirt with three wolves on it howling at the moon? The “Mountain Three Wolf Moon Short Sleeve Tee” is what apparently started all of this. This item that you most expect to see on an episode of Duck Dynasty had 1,451 reviews at press time and, yes, scads of sales, according to Feedvisor. The Internet Ibsen who set off this creative review-writing seminar is the anonymous “Amazon customer.”

After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Wal-mart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to ‘howl at the moon’ from time to time. The women that approached me wanted to know if I would be their boyfriend and/or give them money for something they called meth. I told them no, because they didn’t have enough teeth, and frankly a man with a wolf-shirt shouldn’t settle for the first thing that comes to him.

AC hit it out of the park with this summation:

Pros: Fits my girthy frame, has wolves on it, attracts women
Cons: Only 3 wolves (could probably use a few more on the ‘guns’)
 

There is a lesson for marketers in all this, says Goldberg, and it’s probably not what you think it is. The moral of all these terrible tall tales is one you’ve heard and will continue to hear for the remainder of your careers: Give great customer experience.

“If you work hard to deliver the best customer experience and get good reviews, you will sell more and sell at a higher price,” he says. “Reviews are not ever to be taken lightly.”

Nor are these wolf T-shirts. I think I’m going to go for the black one with the fluorescent green wolves that looks like I’m seeing them through my night vision goggles. Watch for my review.

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