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Characteristics of the next popular product


Innovation is a hot word these days. Brands are constantly searching for ways to be more innovative, whether it is in their daily operations or the products they launch. But what does it mean to be truly innovative? We asked top Canadian retailers what types of new products excite them and, more importantly, what sells!


We decided to craft up a question and present it to some buyers at retail giants such as such as Walmart and Canadian Tire: If there was one product that you knew would blow up in popularity, what would it be and why?


The response was interesting, and similar from each respondent across the board. Rather than listing off types of popular products, respondents listed key characteristics of blockbuster products they have witnessed.


There were two key characteristics emerged from both answers I gathered from Walmart and Canadian Tire.


1.) Popular products create a new category


Retail buyers are presented with hundreds of new products each year. Each new product they accept (or “list” in their stores) must get them closer to achieving a multitude of goals, most often of which include increased sales versus the previous year.


Products that create a new category or address an unmet consumer “need” are received with a lot more enthusiasm than a “me, too” product. A “me, too” product is one that won’t make much of a splash in an existing category and will often just end up with consumers trading their purchasing dollars between brands. This doesn’t do much for a retailer’s overall category because consumers aren’t necessarily buying more.


One strategy for producing products that create new categories is to look at the pain points of existing products and zero-in on removing that pain point entirely.


Tablets created a new electronics category born out of the pain points of a pre-existing category: laptops. As one of our respondents, a seasoned buying professional, expressed, “Laptops became so good, that people were holding onto them longer, but ironically, they didn’t have the portability that a tablet could offer let alone the compatibility with smartphones.


ipad air 2


We have the same problem with TVs today. The market is saturated with large screen LEDs with built in smart technology and there’s no reason to upgrade.”


Other examples of popular products that created new categories include products like Fitbit and Sophie the Baby Teething Giraffe from France.  Sophie is an interesting example of using celebrity endorsement at the outset to gain popularity.  Sophie comes from France and is a must-have baby item in French households. Retailers like Amazon and Well.ca run specific ad campaigns to target searches for ‘Sophie the Giraffe’.


Sophie the Giraffe


After being turned down from mass retailers based solely on the suggested retail price of over $20 USD per giraffe, the manufacturer turned to high end boutiques in Beverly Hills to use as the distribution launch pad.  Once celebrities’ children were photographed with the giraffe, it took off.


Despite Sophie being 4-5x more expensive than the next teething item, the general population now sees the giraffe as a truly giftable item and is willing to pay the premium.  Fun fact: Sophie sells for approximately $12 USD in her home country of France!


2.) Popular products are typically first to market


If you want to avoid the “me, too” trap, be first to market! Set the trend in the industry and establish your product and brand as the benchmark. Take, for example, cosmetic BB (Beauty Balm) creams. Garnier was the first mass-market cosmetic brand to launch a BB cream in retailers such as Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Loblaws. To date, Garnier’s BB cream launch was the most successful launch in the category. In other words, the results of the “me, too” brands launches didn’t even compare.


Garnier BB Cream



When introducing products, try tackling a big challenge


If you need more inspiration, check out Wired’s interview with Larry Page, the CEO of Google. Page isn’t satisfied with mere 10% improvements on existing products. He challenges his employees to find 1000% improvements. It’s not enough to discover and fix a tiny inefficiency. Page pushes his teams to tackle a big problem. And his approach works. Without this encouragement, ubiquitous services like gmail and Google Chrome would not be in existence today.


Before you pick up the phone to book that product presentation to a buyer, ask yourself if what you are presenting is creating a new category and/or if you are first to market. If you answer no to one, or both, of these questions, it may be worth revisiting your concepts and strengthening your product. While this can seem daunting, have the courage to tackle a big challenge. After all, that’s where the biggest rewards are.


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