Understanding Product Failures – Top Reasons and Examples

Here’s a -hopefully not very- familiar topic today: failure!

We have all heard about those vast Hollywood projects that open to a terrible box office and become very costly disasters, right? Just a small example to prove my point: ever heard of the movie called ”The Lone Ranger”? Johnny Depp is in it.

See, geez.

Today, let’s talk about the possibility of failure in your product, what it means, why it occurs and how you can prevent it.

What is a Product Failure?

When a product fails to gain a sufficient amount of demand after its launch, thus fails to recover its expenses, we know it’s a product failure. The symptoms often include a decline in sales, more costs than expected, and the inability to survive in the market.

Of course, to define something properly, you need to have a good understanding of what it is not just as much as what it is.

What is a product failure?

What is NOT a Product Failure?

There may be certain conditions under which the product may seem like a hopeless case, but could actually be brought back to life.

What are these conditions?

  • Lack of users in the process of your first launch
  • Wrong audience
  • Wrong-way of presentation
  • Wrong motto

Here are a couple of examples to gain a better understanding of the subject:

The Promising Video Game : No Man’s Sky

No Man's Sky - Product Failure

No Man’s Sky sure did have a lot to live up to. Having had such great potential, there is no wonder why it caused many speculations. With great power comes great responsibility, right?

When it was announced, it was presented to be something mind-blowing. The independent game studio, Hello Games, focused mainly on the theme of exploration with No Man’s Sky.

It was promised that everything would be discoverable in the game: stars, mountains, seas, and numerous planets each with its own ecosystem. However, shortly after the game’s launch, it almost looked like a 100% failure and the gamers were frustrated for sure. Negative comments, feedbacks, posts on social media…it was a horror show.

The gamers were convinced that the game was worthless and the producer’s statements were just his way of sugarcoating.

Most of the negative feedback included the repetitive scenes and color palettes in the game, the disappointment that came with the non-multiplayer structure, the horrible graphics… in short, everything that was quite the contrary of what had been promised.

Then, something very rare in the game industry occurred.

A process started: a process of recovery. The gamers were still furious, but they wanted to give it a chance when they found out about the new updates. These updates were and still are free and they continue to take the game to another level.

Naturally, the comments were positive this time because people started to get what they were promised without having to pay a penny:

  • Better visuals
  • Diversified planets
  • Multiplayer options
  • Detailed reflections, lightning improvements
  • A unique experience

In conclusion, Hello Games released a game that did not even come close to what was promised, but over the years, the feedback and the negative comments were taken into consideration, and lessons were learned from the mistakes.

Febreze

Febreze Scents - Product Failure

Febreze is one of P&G’s most loved and accepted brands today. The road to success was sure a little bumpy at times, though.

Febreze had to improve itself in order to survive in the market continuously. When it was first introduced to the market in 1998, it managed to be the center of attention right away. Sales were fine, customers seemed happy enough, and the product was a success in general.

Yet, detailed researches revealed some unpleasant facts: people did not use Febreze very often, in fact, it was found that %70 of consumers only used Febreze two or three times a year.

So, the Febreze team had to step up their game and try a different strategy. They started a throughout market research; they visited and talked to actual customers to get honest feedback. After talking to numerous pet owners, researchers noticed that Febreze only eliminated unwanted odors; it did not help people get that ”nice” smell in their homes.

They took immediate action and reworked the whole product to create what users yearned for – a clean and fresh smell in the air. They added more perfume, and they recreated their campaign all over again. The goal was to get to the point where customers eventually associated Febreze with the feeling of cleanliness.

Over the years, Febreze never took a break from innovation. They added more and more features that enabled the product to remove stains, purify the air and clean hard surfaces.

With the help of this strategy, P&G was able to save Febreze from getting dusty behind the shelves. As a result, Febreze became one of the best examples demonstrating how market research and a correct replanning of your campaign can be a game-changer.


Having thought about these examples, let’s now understand the thin line between success and failure. What makes a product successful or ineffective? How do we define such terms?

How to Define Product Success and Failure

A product’s success or failure is determined by its ability -or inability- to meet up to its audience’s expectations.

The definition of product success is highly connected with what the consumers make of your product, think of your product, how they react to your product. A successful product will have no problem surviving in the market, and it will bring positive feedback from the consumers.

On the other hand, product failure can be defined as an inability to persist in the market due to various reasons. Product failures occur when a new product fails to gain sufficient demand and creates a negative first impression, thus gets negative feedback from early users.


Product Failure Statistics and Benchmarks

For a beginner, the product failure rate is crucial since it gives an idea of the time and the way businesses tend to fail.

Here are some statistics to improve your vision.

According to Inez Blackburn from the University of Toronto, the failure statistics for new products launched in grocery is 70 to 80 percent. (Media Relations Agency)

In the United Kingdom, less than %50 of startups survive the first three years. (Writers Block Live)

According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, there are over 30,000 new products introduced each year, and 95 percent of them fail. (Inc)

In the first year, it is stated that 20% of small businesses fail. In the second year, 30% of small businesses fail and after half a decade, 50% of small businesses fail. Inevitably 70% of small businesses go down after a full decade. (Fundera)

Over 70% of new product launches in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry fail. (Media Relations Agency)

14% of businesses fail due to a lack of marketing skills. (Writers Block Live)

This failure rate may come as a shock to many but it’s only the truth, folks. So, what are the main reasons?

Let’s find out.

Why do New Products Fail?

Lack of Product Originality

If your product lacks originality, it will likely fall behind similar products that already exist in the market. Therefore, you need to offer something new and exciting to be able to be different and appealing. 

Inefficient Timing

In most cases, when the timing is wrong, the product might not get the attention it needs to survive. Therefore, it is crucial to consider the time factor before launch.

Poor Planning & Poor Execution of Marketing Plan

Poor planning or poor execution of a marketing plan will almost guarantee your product’s failure. But, on the other hand, a proper planning will not only help you create a clear strategy, but it will also help your product stick around for a long time.

Product Flaws

Flaws might be one of the top factors in a product’s failure. As soon as the consumers start to realize and have a personal experience with your flawed product, they immediately have a negative opinion about it. In most cases, there’s no turning back from there.

Wrong Market Research

Market research is essential since it allows you to have a clear understanding of your audience’s needs. If you do it correctly, it also plays a significant role in keeping an eye on your competitors.  

Incorrect Pricing

When your product is incorrectly priced, it becomes impossible for it to reach out to an average customer. Therefore, you won’t be able to sell much, and most people won’t be able to recognize your product or be familiar with it. 

Weak Launch

Your product’s launch is important because it enables you to get feedback from early users, and this will help you create opportunities to strengthen your product. 

Now let’s take a look at some examples and try to connect these reasons with failures.

10 Examples of Recent and Classic Product Fails

It is surprising to realize that there have been many product failures throughout history and people do not seem to remember many of them unless they had a personal experience with the product.

Here are some common examples that broke many hearts!

Samsung Galaxy Note 7

Technology Failures

I remember this product’s launch, my friend even bought one for his mom!

And he said after a couple of days, the phone started overheating and eventually burned while charging. We later found out that this was the case with all the galaxy note 7s. People worldwide had a lot to say on the matter coming from their experiences.

It was understood that a problem with the product’s battery software resulted in the phones catching fire on various occasions, including one on a flight. After this, the Department of Transportation had to jump in and made it illegal to carry a Note 7 on a flight.

Later that year, Samsung confirmed the product’s battery faults, and the product was abandoned entirely.

Why did it fail?

  • The product had flaws that rendered it unusable.

Apple Maps 

Navigation Product Failures

2012. September 19th.

We all remember the predictions of the Mayans concerning the world’s end that year. Well, it kind of did! According to Apple Maps, of course.

After updating to IOS 6, iPhone owners were surprised to learn about this new Apple Maps app.

And they immediately started using it… only to get lost in different parts of their city, see the misplacement of well-known landmarks, false footage of destroyed bridges and buildings.

Later on, it was figured that Apple Maps was rushed in development and was destined to fail in the first place.

Why did it fail?

  • The product was weak in terms of performance, and it was poorly planned.

Cyberpunk 2077

Game Industry Failures

What could possibly go wrong with the most anticipated game to be released in 2020, the year of disasters? 

Well, be it bad luck, or product shortcomings, the joy quickly hushed as the game turned out to be a disappointment for gamers worldwide for they found an enormous number of glitches and bugs.

It is later said that even the developers were unhappy with how the game was produced and how it turned out.

It was even rumored that under-experienced developers were hired to share the workload, which may be the reason that led to plenty of mistakes and sloppy work.

Why did it fail?

  • The product had flaws that made it unappealing and disappointing.

HP Touchpad

HP Touchpad - Product Failures

The Touchpad was supposed to rival Apple’s Ipad but it only lasted seven weeks on the market.

So what happened? The problem was wrong timing and a poor operating system.

The product was rushed into the market months after Apple’s Ipad 2, which was thinner in shape and faster in performance.

In general, the product had nothing new to offer to users that were already too friendly with the brand new iPad. Furthermore, the WebOS software turned out to be a huge flop, which did not help the situation for the better.

Why did it fail?

  • The product had a poor operating system which resulted in it being impractical.

Cheetos Lip Balm 

Cosmetic Failures

I will be honest with you. I have had and enjoyed many a Cheeto in my life but applying one on my lips and smelling like cheese ALL DAY? I will pass.

When you stop to think about it for a second, it is a fact that people are always struggling with Cheetos dust on their fingertips, hands, keyboards, and literally anything else, so it makes perfect sense that the idea of intentionally applying a Cheetos flavored lip balm on your lips eventually did not appeal to the customers. No matter how great they taste, not every snack belongs in our makeup routine.

What was the company thinking while launching such a product, we will never know. But what we know is, the result was what you would expect and the product was unable to stay on store shelves. 

Better production decisions have been made at 24/7 Las Vegas chapels after too many tequila shots if you ask me.

Why did it fail?

  • There was a lack of demand for this product. It did not speak to customer’s needs or wants.

Satisfries 

Food Industry Failures

Launched by Burger King in 2013, Satisfries was meant to be a healthier alternative to regular fries in that it was supposed to absorb less oil.

However, the fries turned out to be much costlier and did not speak to customers’ wants and needs in the first place: people prefer fries because they taste good, not because they are healthy.

The product was discontinued within a year and not missed by anyone! 

Why did it fail?

  • The product was incorrectly priced and it was not helpful in resolving an existing problem.

Microsoft Bob

Microsoft Failures

Bob was a failed experiment that Microsoft did back in 1995. The aim was to make your computer more beginner-friendly, easier to follow and understand. It was initially designed as a user-friendly interface to avoid intimidating new users.

However, it turned out that the users eventually found the interface boring and more irritating than useful.

It was later discontinued in early 1996, but years after, Bill Gates had something to say on the matter. He stated that the idea was ahead of its time and it needed a bigger market and hardware that was improved in performance.

Why did it fail?

  • The product failed to meet its goals, this situation caused a lack of demand among the users.

Facebook Home

Facebook Home Failure

Launched by Facebook in 2013, the app was designed to provide users with a better experience in a mobile atmosphere. It had some features that made the experience easier and faster for Facebook users. You could browse Facebook without having to unlock your phone, for instance.

Still, the product failed to engage with the market and did not speak to customers’ demands. It was also argued that the development team of the product consisted of iPhone users. This situation likely created confusion and inability to meet the expectations of Android users since the team was unfamiliar with the Android system.

Another reason for its downfall: Early users of the product complained about its operations, the difficulty of switching between the app and the original interface of their phones, and the lack of customization options.

Furthermore, in the 2010s, people’s realization of social media’s impacts on their lives was continuously progressing. Therefore Facebook Home was not the answer to reducing screen time or taking a break from social media.

Why did it fail?

  • The product team was unable to understand the audience, their strategy was wrong and the customers were not satisfied with the product.

Microsoft Zune

Microsoft Zune Failure

Microsoft’s Zune made its first launch five years after Apple’s iPod. At that time, the iPod was already on the go and was selling like crazy. So, was it a smart move to ignore the timing?

We know the product’s innovative features can sometimes make up for that bad timing, but this was not the case with Zune. It, unfortunately, did not have any special features to differentiate itself from the iPod.

Furthermore, it lacked some essentials that Apple provided: It did not offer what iTunes did and its commercials’ style did not speak to an average customer. Considering all these, Microsoft inevitably stopped production in 2012.

Why did it fail?

  • The product was not succesful in terms of innovation and marketing plan, therefore, it could not keep up with its competitor.

Apple Newton

Apple Newton Failure

Apple’s Newton, the touchscreen tablet, was primarily designed for users who preferred using something more practical and portable than computers. Launched in 1992, this ”personal digital assistant” blew everyone’s minds. Something that you can write on with your own handwriting, works as a calculator, comes with a built-in modem, AND fits in the palm of your hand? Sign me up!

Apple even believed that this product would trigger a brand new industry, so what went wrong?

First things first, the product had battery issues and some screen defects. Moreover, the highly anticipated feature that was presented as the most important one, the handwriting did not work as great as it was promised. It had glitches and overall, it was not successful at all.

Another factor in its failure was wrong pricing. Apple Newton was highly expensive at the time, ($699), making it a difficult purchase for consumers.

Why did it fail?

  • The product was not only incorrectly priced but it was also flawed in terms of many aspects and it failed to meet the expectations.

How to Prevent Your Product from Failing – Tips and Precautions

Every successful product has its own capability of solving our problems and contributing its functions to our daily lives. What makes a successful product has always had something to do with the experience of the user.

And a successful product has always led to growth.

Let’s find out how to avoid failure when it comes to your product.

Make Sure that You Have an Adequate Research on the Market.

When you’re developing your product, the biggest mistake you can make is to decide on an idea without conducting enough research on the market. Your product needs to speak to a particular demand or need from the users, and in order to understand what people want, do not neglect this crucial step. It is a game-changer in avoiding product failure.

Make Sure that Customers Have a Good Understanding of the Product.

It is known for a fact that no matter how great your product is, it is only great within the limits of your user’s comprehension. It is beneficial to include tooltips, instructive guides, and tutorials so that people have a better first introduction.

Carry Out a Well-Executed Marketing Plan.

Even if your product is the best, you won’t achieve much if people don’t know it is out there. Therefore, spend a tremendous effort in advertising, promoting, social networking, blogging, and publicizing your product.

Be Honest About Your Product’s Capabilities.

In most cases, people wait for years for a product to launch in the market after being exposed to all the ads. This may result in them having high expectations for your product. If not high, they at least expect to see what is promised to them. Therefore it is important, to be honest, and clear about your product and do not promise anything that you won’t be able to achieve!

Don’t Rush It.

Even though the will to get your product out on the market ASAP can be quite tempting, try to remember that creating something that has real value and will help you sustain your relationships with your customers can -and will- take time.


Final Words

I know that it can be challenging to get everything right and organized from the beginning, but once you understand the primary reasons for product failure and how to avoid them, the rest is a fruitful journey.

People are constantly in search of products that will make their lives easier, are more practical, and convenient. If you try to set your goals around this frame, it is more likely that you succeed.


Frequently Asked Questions


How do you manage Product Failure?

Perhaps the best way to manage a product failure is to accept responsibility first. After that, try to take all the feedback into consideration, learn from them , and be wise enough to use them to recreate your product in a better way.


What is the Product Failure Rate?

Clayton Christensen, a professor from Harvard Business school, states that there are over 30,000 new products introduced each year, and 95 percent of them fail.


How do you launch a new product successfully?

Think it through. Make sure that you have adequate research on the market. Planning and timing are the two steps that you should not neglect. Try to be specific about your product’s features. Do not rush the process. Offer something new and exciting.

Then, lean back and enjoy the ride.

Product Failures - Top Reasons and Examples

Suay Çakırca

Suay is the Creative Content Writer of UserGuiding, a code-free product walkthrough software that 2000+ companies trust in their user onboarding. When she is not writing, you can probably find her at the movies.

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