Don't ignore the habit: A lesson in launching new products

June 08, 2016

Is the juicer you purchased recently gathering dust in the pantry? Are you still wearing your fitness tracker?

Humans are creatures of habit, and a new USC-led study shows that this tendency influences whether we adopt new products or services.

The research team found that consumers were likely to resist products that require some change of habit, but they cottoned onto products that fit easily into existing routines.

"Marketers don't always go out in the field and see what people are doing and how they would use a new product," said author Wendy Wood, provost professor of psychology and business at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and Marshall School of Business. "But this is actually a critical part of new product launch. Even if consumers like a new product and want to use it, they won't do so if it conflicts with their habits."

For the research published today in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Wood and her team studied "habit slips" - the lapses in product use caused by falling back on our old habits.

Take debit cards, for instance. Although those hit the market in 1977, and bank customers liked the convenience, they were accustomed to toting a checkbook. As a result, the cards were not fully embraced until many years later.

"We think habit slips are a metaphor for many of the challenges people have in changing their behavior," Wood said. "If people want to change their exercise routines, for example, or to stop spending so much, they can only control their behavior for a short time. Eventually, they slip back into old habits."

Through a series of studies, the researchers showed that habit slips are a common barrier to new product adoption. But they also showed ways to stop these slip-ups.

Falling back

In response to a paid online survey, 150 people identified a product bought in the past six months that they thought they would use regularly but ended up rarely using, if at all.

The products varied from iPhones and computers, to a DVD cleaner, waffle maker and a picnic basket.

Falling back into their old habits was a common reason that participants cited for infrequent product use. In fact, one-quarter of all such products went unused because of habit slips.

"This is remarkable," Wood said, "because habit slips eclipsed many of the better known reasons for product failures -- not liking the product, expense, or difficulty using it."

In short, an otherwise perfectly good product failed due to consumers' habits, she said. "Their newly purchased exercise bike became a catch-all for clothing, the fancy new purse was forgotten for the old favorite, and who really needs a product to clean DVDs anyway?"

Encouraging use

The researchers also found a way to avoid this barrier to new product use. New products could be piggy-backed onto existing habits. Using the new product is then cued automatically along with the habit.

In a second survey, participants reported whether they spontaneously did this, integrating a new product, such as a new video game system or an e-book reader, into existing habits.

Those who used their products the most had adopted them into existing habits.

Successful examples of piggyback marketing abound. For example, PayPal, the secure payment website, gained popularity through its link to eBay. When customers bought items on the auction site, PayPal popped up as an option so that customers formed a purchase-PayPal habit.

To examine piggy-backing in detail, the researchers conducted a final study and trial in which 70 college students tried adding a new fabric refresher to already-established laundry routines.

The students received a free trial bottle of the fabric refresher and were instructed to, "for the next four weeks, try using it whenever you want to refresh clothes that you have already worn but would like to wear again."

Some students used a cognitive strategy to piggyback the refresher onto their laundry habits. They inserted the new product into their laundry routines by using a "sniff test" to determine if they were smelly, but instead of just rewearing or washing as was their habit, they followed a plan to use the refresher.

In weekly surveys, participants who made a plan to integrate it into their routine used it the most. The cognitive strategy inhibited the habit and led them to substitute the new product, the researchers wrote. But when participants paid no mind to the product's adoption, they fell back into their old routine.

In addition to offering cognitive strategies for using a product, companies can improve product success through packaging. A new tooth whitener might be marketed as part of the handle of a toothbrush, for example. Tooth whitening can then become part of the cleaning routine.

"The broad implication of our work is not to fight against consumers' past behavior, but instead to enlist it as an ally to promote the successful adoption of new products," the researchers concluded.
The study co-authors were Jennifer S. Labrecque of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, David T. Neal of Catalyst Behavioral Sciences, and Nick Harrington of Procter & Gamble.

The study was supported in part by Procter & Gamble's Corporate Products Research Division and a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the funders' views.

University of Southern California

Related Consumers Articles from Brightsurf:

When consumers trust AI recommendations--or resist them
The key factor in deciding how to incorporate AI recommenders is whether consumers are focused on the functional and practical aspects of a product (its utilitarian value) or on the experiential and sensory aspects of a product (its hedonic value).

Do consumers enjoy events more when commenting on them?
Generating content increases people's enjoyment of positive experiences.

Why consumers think pretty food is healthier
People tend to think that pretty-looking food is healthier (e.g., more nutrients, less fat) and more natural (e.g., purer, less processed) than ugly-looking versions of the same food.

How consumers responded to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has been a catalyst for laying out the different threats that consumers face, and that consumers must prepare themselves for a constantly shifting landscape moving forward.

Is less more? How consumers view sustainability claims
Communicating a product's reduced negative attribute might have unintended consequences if consumers approach it with the wrong mindset.

In the sharing economy, consumers see themselves as helpers
Whether you use a taxi or a rideshare app like Uber, you're still going to get a driver who will take you to your destination.

Helping consumers in a crisis
A new study shows that the central bank tool known as quantitative easing helped consumers substantially during the last big economic downturn -- a finding with clear relevance for today's pandemic-hit economy.

'Locally grown' broccoli looks, tastes better to consumers
In tests, consumers in upstate New York were willing to pay more for broccoli grown in New York when they knew where it came from, Cornell University researchers found.

Should patients be considered consumers?
No, and doing so can undermine efforts to promote patient-centered health care, write three Hastings Center scholars in the March issue of Health Affairs.

Consumers choose smartphones mostly because of their appearance
The more attractive the image and design of the telephone, the stronger the emotional relationship that consumers are going to have with the product, which is a clear influence on their purchasing decision.

Read More: Consumers News and Consumers Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to