A step-by-step breakdown of the product development process
In the movie version of your life as a legendary entrepreneur, the journey from inspiration to success would be a quick montage. But in reality, developing a product is a long, detail-oriented, and complex process.
Before you can sell online and begin counting the money in the bank, you need to identify an unmet customer need and figure out precisely how you’ll serve it. Spreadsheets and market research may not make for movie-worthy visuals, but they’re essential if you want your product to succeed.
What is product development?
Product development is the entire process of bringing a new product to market, from conception to manufacturing, marketing to sales.
This process may apply to something brand new. Or, it could involve an existing product that you want to upgrade or relaunch to a new audience.
Say, for example, that you want to start selling your product overseas. Your product may need to undergo many of the same steps as a newly developed item, including a complete overhaul of its labeling, packaging, fulfillment, and promotion.
Product development has the power to impact all aspects of your business. For this reason, you’ll want to consider assembling a cross-functional team with experts who can weigh in on store operations, warehousing, marketing, and more.
The 8 steps of new product development
Developing a successful product is a journey involving eight core steps.
You may start the product development journey with a specific idea in mind. Perhaps you’re looking to take your brand in a new direction, or you’re looking to fill a gap in your existing offering.
There are many different catalysts that could spawn great product ideas. If you’re in a creative rut, think about:
Variations on a theme - Could your existing catalog use some TLC? Are there any new technologies, materials, or customer demands (e.g., sustainability trends or requests for new sizes) that you should lean into?
Hyper-focused uses - Are any consumers underserved in your industry? Or, has someone discovered a new use for your product that you hadn’t thought of before? For instance, masking tape—which was originally created for auto painters—now doubles-up as decorative tape for many craft projects. Similarly, you could potentially create a line extension that solves for unmet needs.
New business models - Are there any services that you can/should offer in tandem with your products? Or, if you sell to retail stores, perhaps you can cut out a layer of distribution by testing a D2C model (beefing up your profits in the process)?
For example, Wix merchant House of Suppliez sells both single and bundled units of their products. While nail polish, manicure supplies, and eyelash extensions have been mainstays of the beauty aisle for decades, the company offers a new take on the subscription box model for professional nail and lash artists.
Once you have a product concept in mind, it may be tempting to try making your product right away. But a better next step is to back up your product idea with research. Not only can research validate your product idea; it can help you further hone in on requirements and features so that your eventual offering has a better chance of standing out.
Conduct research by studying:
Competitor results - Look at how similar products fare in the marketplace and analyze how competitor brands have positioned their offerings. Take note of discounting strategies. If prices are constantly being slashed, analyze whether you’ll be able to compete while maintaining a healthy profit margin.
Search trends - Use keyword research tools like Wix’s Semrush integration, or browse through marketplaces to discover what consumers are looking for within your chosen product category. What filters do your customers already use to whittle down their product search? What keywords and phrases do they type into search bars?
Audience input - Hear directly from the consumers that you’re hoping to serve. Conduct surveys and interview potential customers. Glean information in online groups and forums that attract enthusiasts in your category.
The goal of your research is to define your potential market as precisely as possible. The information you collect should help you project the size of your audience, form relationships with potential product testers, and inform your eventual marketing strategy.
After confirming that your idea is viable, it’s time to begin planning the specifics of how it will look, feel, and work.
Whether you choose to hand-sketch your product or create a list of materials and a method for assembly, the end result should be a workable concept that can easily be translated into a physical product.
Elements should include:
Dimensions - Even if you don’t yet have specific measurements, an idea of the item’s size relative to other objects will help the design process.
Functions - You should know how the product works and whether it includes the applicators, plugs, ports, or closures that buyers will need to use it.
Materials or ingredients - Think through whether you want your product to be sustainably sourced, and/or whether there are labeling and product safety requirements that you need to be aware of. Are there allergens to avoid? Are certain raw materials scarce and costly?
You may also want to plan a product roadmap, which outlines a sequence of new features or SKU options to add in the future.
For example, you may debut new apparel for adults, but later reinforce it with young adult sizing. In another instance, a line of electronic gadgets could be extended to include new accessories and new built-in features.
With your detailed plan in hand, you can build an actual prototype—a sample of your product, or even a limited-production test run—to see how your idea translates into concrete reality. Unless you have the technical expertise to create the item yourself, it’s best to hire a professional. This helps to ensure that the prototype is a realistic representation of your idea.
To the furthest extent possible, use the actual materials and colorways you plan to offer in this prototyping phase. That way, if your test is successful, you can use your prototype in product photos and more quickly create your initial marketing materials.
You can additionally use your prototype as a base model for designing other required elements, such as product packaging, labels, and tags.
A high-quality working prototype has another benefit: it enables you to test the product thoroughly before mass producing it.
But don’t just rely on your own feedback, Ask potential buyers to try your product and provide honest feedback. If there are quality or sustainability certifications you hope to obtain, you may be able to submit your prototype to get the process rolling and uncover any shortcomings.
As you conduct testing, go beyond confirming whether the product works the first time that it’s used. Things that you consider secondary could have a big impact on your product’s success, so take the time now to uncover any potential issues before your item hits the market.
Durability, shelf life, and expiration - Durable goods should be tested under real-life circumstances. Let kids play with the prototype of your new toy, or throw your prototype t-shirt into the wash. If your product is perishable or consumable, ask yourself, “How quickly does my product need to be delivered, and how long will it last?” Items like food and beauty products change over time, so consider the proper handling, expiration dates, packaging, and sizes for your products.
Instructions - If customers need to install, set up, or apply your product, are enclosures easy to follow and is the process quick? Inserts should prominently highlight ways to get in touch if buyers need help, and should be available online in case customers lose the physical copy. Care and cleaning instructions should be similarly accessible and straightforward.
Once you’ve perfected your prototype, you can use it to find a manufacturer who can make your product at mass scale. Identifying the right business partner is a mission-critical process. After all, the resulting product should be worthy of your brand name, and your reputation is on the line.
You’ll need to make a series of important decisions when selecting a manufacturer, including:
Location - Overseas manufacturing often comes at a much lower cost than factories in the U.S., due in part to competition. There are simply more factories abroad to choose from. However, the tradeoff is that it will be more difficult and costly to monitor product standards, and transportation costs may offset your savings.
Business type - You can partner with manufacturers in different ways. Factories focus solely on making products, while dropshipping companies store inventory on your behalf and handle fulfillment as part of their services. Choose the best type of partner with consideration to your team size, inventory needs, and plans to scale.
There’s more to a product pricing strategy than setting a number that covers your manufacturing costs.
To arrive at the true cost of your product (aka “COGS”), identify all the direct costs of building your product like materials and labor. Then, factor in your sales and marketing expenses, packaging and shipping costs, and administrative overhead (such as rent).
Now, with this number in mind, evaluate your pricing strategy carefully.
Your target audience likely has a preferred price point for the type of item you’re developing—and that number may change depending on where they’re shopping. They may additionally expect perks like fast shipping, which you could offset with a higher product price. (Alternatively, you could offer discounts for larger purchases.)
Anticipating and factoring in scenarios like this will help you land on a price that makes your product profitable from the start.
08. Product launch and commercialization
Now that the production line is ready to roll and you know how much to charge, your work is done, right?
Not quite. In fact, you’re just at the beginning of a whole new process.
To market a new product, you don’t necessarily need a large budget to start. However, you’ll need to invest as much care and attention as you did during the creation stages.
Note that consumers increasingly rely on blended physical and digital shopping experiences. This gives you more opportunities than ever to connect with your audience, but the sheer number of options can be dizzying.
Start by prioritizing the channels that your potential buyers use most. Consider these ideas for a successful launch:
Start with preview sales to brand loyalists. If you have an existing business and clientele, let your best customers pre-order and encourage them to spread the word, building word-of-mouth excitement before your product goes on sale to the general public. Consider offering an incentive for leaving reviews. And, leverage user-generated content to create initial momentum.
Take advantage of built-in eCommerce site tools. Having robust online store capabilities can contribute to a successful launch. For example, with Wix, you can easily create comprehensive product pages with rich SEO-friendly content. Wix Merchants can also highlight new products on their site with “New Release” ribbons or collections, and give them promotional real estate on the homepage. Consider cross-sell and up-sell opportunities too, making it easy for your customers to discover your new items.
Launch (with care) on social media. Avoid taking the spray-and-pray approach on social media—don’t simply create a TikTok account because it’s trendy. Rather, pick the social commerce channels that your target audience already uses, and invest resources to ensure that your content and customer service are up to the challenge.
Keep your destination in mind
The journey from inspiration to launch can be long, but uncovering as many contingencies as possible in advance will help you in the long run. With thorough research and a proven product idea, your brand will be much better poised for success.
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.