How To Decide When To Discontinue Product Lines

A Big Long Queue

If you can not only master the ability to identify and source popular products before your competition but also know when to jump off the bandwagon, then you are 99% the way to ecommerce success. The former skill has been covered plenty of times. But what the art of letting go of a bubble about to burst is a much harder talent to acquire.

How do you tell the difference between loom bands or a Furby with a Wii or Pokemon?

Flash in a pan

the former are seemingly ‘flash in the pan’ products while Wii’s and Pokemon have an enduring demand:

Enduring

that eclipsed the flash-in-the-pan products:

Comparison

There are four main reasons why some products have a longer-lasting appeal to consumers: utility universality, regeneration and sociality.

Utility
If you take Wii consoles that are about one-hundred times the cost of Loom Bands. The utility or the enjoyment that a purchaser gets from that product has significant value. Video games are addictive and offer intense feelings of pleasure that can last many hours. While Loom Band addiction appears to be restricted to the odd Pinterest board.

The secret is to gauge how much expected utility your customers would have from a product. If products can be enjoyed for sustained periods and don’t necessarily require the involvement of others to enjoy their escapism, then you can expect to sell that product for at least a year or two.

If, however, there is little intrinsic utility, such as offered by what amounts to a rubber band, then the product would be in reasonable demand for no more than six months. Here you would stop purchasing more stock as the ‘queues are out of the door’. Or, if you have access to the data when sales start to slow. For Loom Bands, this was the last full week of August 2014.

Screenshot 2015-09-07 14.24.10

The CEO of Poundworld, Chris Edwards might also add some thoughts given the fact that his company was left with about £1m of Loom Bands after demand disappeared. When you’re forgetting about the economics of stocking products and air freighting in that what should be by container ship, then you’re falling for the hype that you should be trying to exploit yourself. When this happens: stop and move seek the next product.

Universality
The Wii console was a perfect example of universality as it not only appealed to young children but also adults, grandparents and even the odd ‘geek’. Compare that with loom bands, Furby’s and other toys. If the product only appeals to a very narrow segment of society that also is very prone to fads, then the six-month rule will also apply.  Children that are seven years old now won’t want to be playing with the same toys at eight. Their mindset is to continually evolve their interests. The same is true as adults to some degree.

Regeneration
Other products that have been a flash in the pan are slankets. These oddly-shaped blankets for people that wanted to keep warm while they ate cake were products in seasonal demand for years.

Slankets

Of course there would be little need in the middle of summer, but even in the colder months the demand didn’t last for a great time. You would have to acquire and sell stock in a matter of weeks. What’s more, there was no regeneration to the product. The colours changed, but there was no product evolution to keep people interested in new versions and late-adopters purchasing older versions.

But when products can evolve, become more sophisticated and allow people to customise with flavours, for example, that product then can become associated with a verb. Searches for electronic cigarettes tailed off and people started searching for the shorter word ‘vape’. Becuase of the opportunities for the product to continually evolve demand is likely to continue growing for some time. When this happens you continue to expand and update your range and the older versions, generally continue to be sold.

Redundancy is something to be aware of. Knowing that new versions of Apple products would be sold with the new lightening cable format as opposed to the older version should signal that you should not be stocking any accessories for the older formats.The same can be said of other product categories.

Sociality
Products that have excessive sociality or the desire of people to share their use of a product then the sales life of that product is likely to be extreme in intensity but short-lived. Loom-bands where played with together in the playground and everybody talked about it. And it quickly became boring for people. Products that have offered less in terms sociality may take longer to become ‘popular’, but they foster less stigma to make others that you use that product.

The attention life products have that become viral quickly fade. So when you’re personally bored of people sharing their use of a product then step back from selling it.

You need to establish, however, what type of business you’re in. Are you set up to take large risks on short-lived fashionable products or are you happy finding and serving a profitable niche well?

Trying to find high-intensity products is trying and can be catastrophic to the bottom-line when it goes wrong. So use those insights about knowing when to halt stocking products and use them actually to find sustainable niches with a good, steady, profitable stream of sales.