NY Times on RanKing RanQueen


The N.Y. Times has a little feature on the Japanese knick-knack chain RanKing RanQueen, which purports to sell only the “top” items in a product category. Most select shops operate like editorial-retail and choose goods based on subjective taste criteria.

So what makes RanKing interesting is their bold claim of scientifically-determined stock lists? Capitalist societies need middlemen to sort information and goods flowing in the stream between producer and consumer, but in the case of Japan where businesses interests dominate all other participants in the distribution chain, subjective rankings are a no-no, which explains the fascination with data-based vertical rankings in place of critical reviews.

But the main question is, where do RanKing’s rankings come from? According to the article, they are compiled based on Tokyu Hands sales figures and also, “numbers from independent research companies.” I’m suspicious about that last data set — seems like a perfect cover for the necessary tweaks to please the businesses supplying the goods for sale.

Since the mainstream political press and the consumer press all confer legitimacy upon themselves through an air of “independent review” and then pay the bills through direct financial payment from companies for pro quid pro positive press, I am really doubtful that these RanKing RanQueen rankings are actually “objective.” In the case of this particular retail store, I doubt anyone cares either way, but I do take objection to the idea that these stores are “reporting on trends” when they might just be “making them.”

W. David MARX (Marxy)
April 28, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

5 Responses

  1. gen Says:

    Definitely thinly veiled advertorial. They can choose to list just about whatever they want to.

    Why this culture is so list-oriented is just beyond me.

  2. marxy Says:

    Why this culture is so list-oriented is just beyond me.

    Three possible explanations:

    1) The vertical hierarchy of social organization is extending into consumer goods.

    2) Following that above, Japanese consumers do not want their media to give them various opinions, but a definitive “right” answer. The rankings provide an objective-looking way to legitimize products.

    3) The media has always been a wing of the political-economic system opposed to an independent social player, and so, stores and magazines risk isolation from the power structure through negative commentary. Rolling Stone can bash the new U2 album and then expect Island to advertise or participate in other artist interviews later. In Japan, consumer magazines get blackballed for speaking out because they have no real economic or structural power.

    So, consumers still need the media to sort/filter products, and objective rankings based on sales are the only way to do it without heading into politically-dangerous territory.

    If you turned all the critical reviews of the American media into ranking charts, I’m sure they would equal the number in Japan. It’s not that they’re “obsessed” with ranking as much as stuck with vertical rankings being the only way to sort products in the public sphere for their particular social structure.

  3. Dave Says:

    Oh the irony!

    Jean has published a ranking on his site.

  4. Brad Says:

    OK, so your belief is that RanKing/Queen basically is selling their rankings to the highest bidder, right? Whereas the chain says it’s actually a real, honest-to-gosh sales ranking. So why don’t you track what they sell in one or two categories over a couple of months? Follow how the rankings change. If the products change drastically within a span of say 2-3 months (if they are changing their rankings monthly) then it’s fairly obvious that the rankings are nothing more than another way to advertise. If the products generally seem to move up and then down the chart, then it would suggest a much more honest sales ranking. Or am I way off base here?

    Of course, this is all presupposing you actually care enough to do all of that.

  5. marxy Says:

    Interesting idea, but I don’t know if I have the will to do it at this point in time. I’m doing similar research with the music market…