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Trend tool forecasts flat shoes

Trend analysis of a billion social media posts has predicted that shoe heel heights are set to flatten out.

The IBM software can be applied to forecast anything from colour tastes to whether a generation prefers real or fake fur.

Experts looked at more than a billion online discussions and blog posts over four years to foretell the return of the low heel. The discovery goes against established belief that shoe heights rise with economic downturns.

The study found that online chatter about increasing heel height peaked towards the close of 2009. By mid 2011 many were writing about kitten heels and flats.

Trevor Davis, a consumer products expert with IBM Global Business Services, said: “We’ve had a couple of years of very high heels, which are a means of fantasy and escape, but now it’s time to come down which is maybe a manifestation of the ongoing recession.”

Davis said the software has already been used by the food, apparel, cinema and TV industries to gauge what consumers are thinking.

“We start off with a billion then shrink it down by identifying key influencers, or people who other people follow. The influencers tend to be amateurs who are not part of industry but who are fanatical about the subject.”

“It’s almost like a spider in the middle of a web and we watch how others are influenced by them.

“Old fashioned panel tests don’t always give good results,” he said. “Sometimes the only way to solve product problems is to ask – what are people not telling us? The only way to answer is to listen to the voice of the consumer talking passionately about their feelings.”

He said a luxury goods company is using the index to assess views on leather and real versus fake fur. “They want to know what the next generation thinks about leather and fur and how opinions vary between different social groups.”

IBM hopes the technology will be used by marketers, manufacturers and retailers to choose which products to focus on.

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