Great Business Ideas: Built-in obsolescence

Great Small Business Ideas to Start: Built-in obsolescence

Before you release a product, create a plan for when and how it will become obsolete. This allows you to control change in the market, prepare for it, and use it to your advantage.

The idea

The theory of “built-in obsolescence” can be described as “instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” This definition highlights the underlying nature of planned obsolescence.

Obsolescence is the point where a product has become useless— from being out of fashion, outmoded, incompatible with other operating systems, or simply expired. Two types of obsolescence exist: stylistic obsolescence and functional obsolescence. These two types are not mutually exclusive—they are often interrelated and lead to each other. By planning the point at which your product becomes obsolete, you can begin developing a replacement and an accompanying marketing campaign. It is also possible to trigger obsolescence to stimulate sales and ensure you remain ahead of competitors.

The majority of products are destined to become obsolete—in some markets, such as fashion and technology, obsolescence is fast-paced and woven into the fabric of the industry. Technology firm Apple provides an impressive example of this; it frequently develops new MP3 players that are upgraded in both style and technical features, making its older products stylistically and technically obsolete.

It is possible to use this strategy to make your competitors’ products obsolete. For example, by releasing a popular new computer chip you can trigger the obsolescence of your competitors’ operating systems.

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Obsolescence is inevitable—use it to your advantage.

In practice

  • Avoid triggering the obsolescence of products too frequently, as this is often an unnecessary investment and may cause a consumer backlash.
  • Base the engineering of a product on your “obsolescence strategy”—a product will not need to last for ten years if it will be obsolete after two.
  • Offer long-term warranties on products that will soon become obsolete—this will reassure customers and it is unlikely the guarantees will be claimed.
  • Do not make built-in obsolescence obvious to the consumer— this will lead to frustration and unwillingness to purchase.