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Why product launches fail—and how to make sure yours doesn't

tips for a successful product launch

Bringing a new product to market can be as daunting as it is exciting.

After all, out of the 30,000+ new products launched every year, 95% fail, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen.

But despite this harsh reality, there are many steps you can take to boost your chances of success. In this post, we’ll cover some of the top reasons why product launches flop, plus tips for fortifying your own launch plan.

Why product launches fail (with some famous examples)

A new product launch isn’t just any old eCommerce marketing campaign. It requires the right product, the right timing, the right branding—and more than a little luck.

Let’s dig into some of the most common reasons why new products fail, plus several examples of launches-gone-bad. These may give you a chuckle, but they’re mainly meant to illustrate that any business regardless of size, stature, or industry can fall into these traps.

No one wants your product

One of the top culprits: people just aren’t that into your product.

Take, for example, Life Savers soda or Cheetos-flavored lip balm.

Whether because candy tastes better in solid form, or because smelling (and tasting) cheese on your lips isn’t that appealing, neither product lasted long.

The key takeaway: just because others are doing it, doesn’t mean you should. In your endeavor to create the next big thing, it can be all too easy to lean too heavily on assumption or personal opinion. But a successful launch requires thorough research and coming to grips with what your consumers actually want.

Your timing is off

Timing is key. Introduce your new offering too early, and you risk a lack of interest or demand. Introduce it too late, and you may get crowded out of the market.

A great (or terrible?) example of this is the Delorean MC-12.

A car that later became iconic through its appearance in the “Back to the Future” series, the Delorean MC-12 was an ambitious concept for 1981. Many would say that it was too ambitious, given that less than half of its units sold within a year of its launch (though other mechanical flaws contributed to its demise).

The Delorean Motor Company filed for bankruptcy that same year (1982), its fate sealed prior to the release of the first “Back to the Future” movie.

You lack the proper infrastructure

"Ready, fire, aim." This is the approach that too many businesses take when launching a new product or—in the case of one famous failure—when starting a new business. first opened its virtual doors in 1998 and went public in 2000, even though it was hemorrhaging money. While it was one of the most hyped new companies, raising $82.5 million in its IPO, the company was dishing out millions on advertising.

This included a now-infamous Super Bowl ad featuring a sock puppet dog.

Learn more: Product sourcing

The problem? Aside from being a little too ahead of its time, the company couldn't affordably ship large items like bulk dog food. With no clear path to profitability, liquidated its assets in November of 2000 (nine months after their IPO).

Likewise, other product launch failures can be traced back to an ability to keep up with the surge of new orders. Whether from a site crash or lack of inventory, it’s possible for a company to get in its own way of success.

Your marketing falls short

New product launches typically require ample marketing investment and early planning. This is especially true if you're launching something completely new to your product line.

For instance, in 2006, Microsoft took a gamble with a new iPod competitor: Zune. From the get-go, there were some reasons for concern. The Zune was significantly bulkier and heavier than the iPod. It was also late to the digital music party, with the iPod dominating the market by the time Zune appeared on the scene.

Beyond this, the marketing for Zune didn't resonate with its audience, according to the former executive who led the Zune launch.

“We did some really artsy ads that appealed to a very small segment of the music space, and we didn’t captivate the broad segment of music listeners,” said Robbie Bach during a Northwest Entrepreneur Network event.

The losses from Zune were never fully disclosed, but in one quarter alone, Microsoft reportedly lost $289 million.

10 snappy tips for launching a new product

So, what can you do to avoid going down in the books as the next product flop? Here are 10 tips to keep in mind when launching a new product.

01. Solve a problem

Even the best products will fail if you don't clearly define your target market first. That’s why even before you introduce—let alone develop—a new product, it’s important to dig deep into who exactly will want your product, what their pain points are, and how your product addresses those issues. (Think: all the steps you’d take when developing a buyer persona.)

02. Get your customers involved

Involve your customers during product ideation, beta feedback, and even the naming process of your product. Not only will this help customers feel valued and increase early buy-in, but you’ll benefit from honest, “on the ground” feedback.

03. Create a positioning statement

A product positioning statement articulates your product differentiators from the perspective of your target consumers. Is your product easier to use than others on the market? Do you use higher quality or sustainable materials? Note that one product can target multiple types of buyers. Create a product positioning statement for each of these segments so that your team is aligned on how to best promote your product.

04. Scope out everything

Don’t cut corners when assessing costs, labor, and materials for your product launch. You’ll want to avoid underestimating budget, overshooting (or underestimating) inventory needs, and/or spending money haphazardly without clear guardrails.

Similarly, make sure everyone from your 3PL to your marketing team is aligned with your launch plan, e.g, your 3PL should know all of your important launch dates in order to adjust storage and shipping schedules to accommodate.

05. Look under the hood of your online store

Nothing’s worse than dumping tons of time and money into a brilliant launch plan, only to face a site crash or other technical issues with your store on launch day. Ensure that your eCommerce platform is built to withstand a sudden influx of visitors. Wix eCommerce, for instance, leverages an autoscale infrastructure that is able to handle hundreds of million of pageviews per minute and 750 transactions per second.

06. Spruce up your product pages

In the same vein, you’ll want to make sure that your product pages are up to snuff. Make sure to include high-quality product photos, size charts (if applicable), and all the information customers need to feel comfortable making a purchase. Moreover, ensure that the checkout process is seamless and supports various types of payment options. Include “related products” carousels and other cross-selling features to increase AOV when interest in your product is highest.

07. Set performance goals based on past data

If you're launching a new product line, look at your current products to set expectations. Look at their historical performance across sales, conversion rate, AOV, etc. to get a baseline for how your new product should perform. If you lack this type of data, use competitor data and industry standards as a guide. It’s important to have a clear idea of what constitutes success, plus measurable targets to keep your team aligned throughout the launch process.

08. Choose the right launch date

While the “right” launch date is highly contingent on the type of business you run, you generally want to be mindful of high-selling seasons and events like Prime Day. In one sense, these events tend to attract the most eCommerce activity. However, you also don’t want your new product to get lost in all the noise. Consider when (and where) buyers are likely to be looking for a product like yours. Take advantage of social listening platforms or tools like Google Trends. Assess your risks and rewards to find the sweet spot.

09. Create buzz with pre-launch eCommerce marketing

Don’t let marketing be an afterthought. Start promoting your product well in advance, as well as after your launch date. Here are some examples of how:

  • Accept pre-orders to generate hype and test the waters

  • Create an email marketing campaign that builds anticipation around your product drop

  • Leverage content marketing (e.g., blog posts, social media posts, podcasts, or video) to engage buyers in a variety of ways

  • Grant subscribers or loyalty members early access to your new product by setting up restricted store pages

  • Collaborate with influencers to spread the word about your product

  • Set up retargeting ads and social ads to get in front of new audiences

  • Focus on PR efforts (e.g., press releases, special features, interviews) to increase trust and visibility

10. Measure your results and course-correct

After launching your product, take a step back and assess how things went. Which marketing channels drove the most sales? What were your conversion rates? What messaging seemed to resonate the best? Evaluate any other KPIs tied to the product launch and use this data to improve product rollout or inform your next initiative.

Fuel your next product launch with tools by Wix eCommerce

From custom product pages and marketing tools, to multichannel automation and analytics, Wix eCommerce equips you for your next product launch. Set your new product up for success—sign up to start selling with Wix eCommerce today.

Geraldine Feehily

Allison Lee

Editor, Wix eCommerce

Allison is the editor for the Wix eCommerce blog, with several years of experience reporting on eCommerce news, strategies, and founder stories.

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