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Did You Choose Your Collectibles, or Did They Choose You?

September 23, 2014

From precious coins and rare stamps to beer cans and refrigerator magnets, collectors of such items are more likely to inadvertently stumble into their hobby than plan it, says a researcher at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business.

Once someone possesses two – or especially three – items in a collectible series, they reach a tipping point: keeping the items seems to require a justification. So, some people discard, store or re-gift the items; others start a collection.

“Our argument is built on the assumption that unless people need multiple similar products for their functional utility, redundant possessions are wasteful and therefore call for an explanation,” says Yanliu Huang, an assistant professor of marketing at Drexel LeBow. “Collection, however, provides a good reason for people to possess multiple similar items that are removed from ordinary use.”

Her paper, co-written with scholars at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Stanford University, will be published this fall in the Journal of Marketing.

The finding has implications for marketers who plan to use collectibles as giveaways to build customer loyalty and generate repeat purchases.

“An initial marketing emphasis should not highlight ‘building a collection,’ which may temper consumers’ response,” they write. “Rather, marketers should focus on sparking consumer interest in obtaining individual collectibles. Only after consumers already own a few items should marketers highlight the benefits of building a collection.”

Huang and her colleagues based their findings on research in which subjects were rewarded with non-collectible items (non-descript pens, for example) or with collectibles such as World Cup pins, Snoopy the dog figurines and other items. Then, they were asked to choose more rewards for continued participation in the studies.

Having one collectible item had no influence on subsequent choices. Those who already had received two (and especially three) collectibles were more likely to choose another collectible item in that series. However, the effect diminished for more expensive collectible items. As the value went up, subjects became more likely to start a collection after having just one of the items.

While the scholars did not cite this in their paper, their finding does have an implication for home life. If your partner has an annoying, dust-magnet tchotchke, don’t let a second one show up. If a third arrives, it may be all over.

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Headshot of Yanliu Huang

Associate Professor, Marketing