Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

News Release

Can a New Product Be Too New?

Research shows consumers prefer to purchase familiar products.

April 09, 2009

With all the hype before product launch, why were the sales of the Segway scooter so disappointing?  According to research by Duke alumnus David Alexander of the University of St. Thomas, John Lynch of Duke University, and Qing Wang of Warwick University, the highly-touted, innovative product may have been just too new and unfamiliar.

While novelty may create advertising buzz, when it comes time to part with their money, consumers prefer the familiar over the really new—especially when using the new product requires a behavior change.

The research, reported in “As Time Goes By: Warm Intentions and Cold Feet for Really New versus Incrementally New Products,” was funded by the Marketing Science Institute  (MSI).  It was recently awarded the Robert D. Buzzell MSI Best Paper Award, chosen by MSI trustees for its lasting value to marketing executives.

In their study, Alexander, Lynch and Wang surveyed 2,692 participants from a CBS Television City online panel about their intention to purchase each of 28 products in the communications and entertainment sector. The products were grouped by participants themselves as really new (e.g., streaming TV, blogging service, personal digital assistant) or incrementally new (e.g., flat-screen TV, DVD player, home theatre system).

When faced with a purchase decision, respondents were four times more likely to choose an incrementally new product over a really new one. Furthermore, when Lynch and colleagues looked at follow-through, they found that of those who reported an intention to buy a product (60% of the original participants, or 1,622 people), an actual purchase was twice as likely for the least-new as opposed to the most-new products. The difference increased over time.

“People naturally think abstractly about really new products,” noted Lynch, “and when you think abstractly about a positive intention to buy something, chances are you won’t follow through. . . . It just slips your mind over time.”

While the findings suggest that it may be a bad thing for a marketer’s new product to be perceived as too new at the purchase stage, the authors speculate that extreme newness may help garner attention for the product in the first place.

“Marketing a product may be like conducting a campaign for public office,” Lynch explains. “At first, when you’re an outlier and want coverage, it may make sense to position yourself as really new and different, but as you close in and you want people to intend to make a purchase you will want to seem more concrete and less psychologically new.”