If you’ve ever anxiously set an alarm to wait in a virtual line among thousands of others to shop for a limited product—with a high likelihood of not even getting what you came for—congratulations: You’ve participated in a product drop.
Product drops refer to the release of an item that’s only available for a limited time or in a limited quantity. And unlike traditional product launches, there’s no guarantee that the company will ever re-drop the item. Whether it’s Beyoncé merch or Nike Air Jordans in an exclusive colorway, product drops intentionally employ scarcity (be it imagined or manufactured) to get consumers to hit add to cart. Some call it FOMO; others call it anticipation psychology.
One of the best-known case studies is Supreme, an apparel brand inspired by skateboarding. The next time you’re out in a big city—from Beijing to LA to Milan—take note of the number of people sporting Supreme hats and graphic tees. Rather than make the entire season’s collection available at once, Supreme does weekly releases that are all but guaranteed to sell out in minutes… if that.
Product drops help build hype for a brand—and lots of it. In a world where e-commerce dominates and many people can’t remember the last time they set foot in a mall, product drops are the virtual equivalent of Black Friday excitement, with consumers strategizing to get what they want and participating in the community’s shared enthusiasm. Limited releases also enable brands to see how much of a particular product will sell and adjust their inventory accordingly.
Product drops aren’t just for tried-and-true products like sneakers or sweatshirts. Have you scrolled through TikTok lately and seen bright red boots that blur the line between ridiculous and chic? That’s the work of MSCHF (pronounced “mischief”), a Brooklyn-based art collective that uses product drops to sell its avant-garde items. The Big Red Boots’s success has a lot to do with a product drop model and the marketing alongside it, getting creators, fashion insiders, and even an NBA player to sport them. Check out their latest collab with Crocs.
While many consumers would prefer that products be available for longer than 60 seconds, product drops aren’t going anywhere. What started with sneakers now allows other industries—from food to furniture—to generate buzz, brand awareness, and a more engaged customer base.