On April 19, 2017, Starbucks introduced its Unicorn Frappuccino. Available for just four days, the Unicorn Frappuccino was a sensation. In some places, Unicorn ingredients ran out before the fourth day.
We responded to the Unicorn somewhat like Fortnite players are reacting to the new LeBron James skins:
Starbucks and Fortnite
While Starbucks has been pretty successful with limited edition drinks that include the Cloud Macchiato and Granita Refresher, its Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) has been the most popular. Annually, the PSL launches and then vanishes during its third month. Though not confirmed, this year we will probably see the first PSLs at the end of the summer:
Starting July 14th, the LeBron James items were available in the Fortnite Items Shop. However, no one is sure how long they will be there. Other skins (weapons, outfits, equipment) that players use during the game, might also sell for a limited time. Because the Items Shop changes every evening at approximately 8 PM, what you bought today–your emote dances, skins, harvesting tools, back blings, weapon wraps, and gliders–might not be sold tomorrow. Fortnite even tells you you how many hours, minutes, and seconds you have left until the new shop appears. Similarly, every month, Fortnite eliminates its previously sold crew packs and offers new ones. Consequently, players are very aware that the window to buy an item could be relatively brief.
Our Bottom Line: Diminishing Marginal Utility
Perhaps an economist told Starbucks and Fortnite to limit the amount of time that certain items are available. We can use a package of chocolate chip cookies to understand why. Typically, the first and maybe the second one are delicious. But after that, we get less enjoyment from each extra cookie. Where marginal means extra and utility means pleasure, an economist would say that as we kept eating, our marginal utility diminished.
Similarly, Starbucks and Fortnite prevent diminishing marginal utility with limited edition lattes and temporarily available skins. Those items will not be around long enough for our extra pleasure to plunge.