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Perception, Timing Crucial to New Products' Success


It’s long been said that new products are the lifeblood of retailing, by infusing verve into existing lines, creating completely new categories, and, most importantly, filling unmet needs not previously on consumers’ – or retailers’ – radar.

As we mark the 11th iteration of our Editors’ Picks awards in our September print edition, the progressive changes we’ve witnessed in new product development tell a remarkable story of innovation rooted in a compelling value proposition. However, given the harsh reality that thousands of product launches collapse within the first year for any number of reasons, nailing innovation at just the right moment remains the trickiest, and arguably the most essential, of all ingredients.

To be sure, there’s no denying the importance innovation plays in piquing consumers’ interest and getting them excited to buy, regardless of the shopping channel or medium. Affirming the same are recent insights from Lab42’s Innovation Survey, which took a detailed look at what innovation means to consumers, what sectors and brands are considered innovative, and what role innovation serves as a purchase motivator.

Among the highlights:

  • The perception of innovation is hugely important in purchase decisions.
  • Consumers are willing to pay a premium for innovative goods and services.
  • Half of consumers said they’ve bought a new product without fully understanding what it did or how it worked, solely because of the perception it was “cool.”

While I’ll readily confess to parting with countless Benjamins through the years for “cool” products – perceived or legitimate – I’m evidently in great company, according to Lab42’s recent Innovation Survey, which finds many consumers deeply interested in being early adopters of products promising to make life easier and/or better. However, while many of the survey’s panelists – whose synthesized feedback was based on 1,000 online interviews conducted last April – are keen to buy new products, they don’t necessarily want to be guinea pigs. To that end, 63 percent favor delaying a purchase until after a product’s been on the market for a while.

The Price of Innovation

In terms of how much more they’d be willing to pay for products from companies they deem innovative, nearly 85 percent were on board with paying more for innovation in electronics, with the remaining 15 percent willing to pay over 40 percent more. Innovation also rules when it comes to new grocery products, with 67 percent of Lab42 panelists willing to paying a premium for products they deem to be groundbreaking. 

Interestingly, beyond products themselves, key qualities of companies that are viewed as innovative are either low- or cost-free for their stakeholders: listening to customer feedback, excellent customer service, honesty, treatment of employees, and philanthropy/community outreach. With this in mind, Lab42’s insights demonstrate that new products and services, in and of themselves, aren’t the most important characteristics of innovative brands among today’s more educated, economizing shoppers, many of whom prioritize companies that listen, understand and respond to their needs while striving for continuous improvement in their current offerings. 

Food retailing innovation, of course, is hardly limited to consumer products. Indeed, the demand for sustainable operations and equipment solutions continues to dominate conversations across the whole store. But if history is any indication, some of today’s cutting-edge operational innovations might someday seem downright pedestrian when compared with one of the most of controversial developments in the early years of the supermarket business: the humble shopping cart.

As the story goes, Oklahoma City grocer Sylvan Goldman sat in his office one evening wondering how to make grocery shopping easier for customers. Staring idly at a wooden folding chair, Goldman initially toyed with the idea of rigging a basket on the seat and wheels on the legs. He eventually sought the assistance of a mechanic to help develop a better concept, the end result of which – a metal frame that held two wire baskets and was dubbed the “double basket” – debuted in 1937. The new carts, however, initially didn’t fly. Men felt they would make them look weak, women thought they were unfashionable, and older people didn’t want to appear helpless. Undaunted, Goldman hired models of both sexes and all ages to use the carts, which three years later earned their place in the sun on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

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