7 Epic Product Fails and the Valuable Lessons They Can Teach Your Small Business

Launching a new product is always risky.

No matter how diligently you prepare, you can never guarantee success.

And, as you’ll see below, even the most successful businesses suffer the occasional flop.

But how do you know when a product is a flop?

Joan Schneider and Julie Hall of Harvard Business Review share that:

…about 75% of consumer packaged goods and retail products fail to earn even $7.5 million during their first year.

This is well below the $50 million benchmark of a “highly successful” product launch.

But many small businesses would be thrilled to earn even $1 million in the first year of a product launch.

If that $50 million goal feels right for your business, then go with that.

But, for smaller start-ups, here’s another perspective…

Tim Berry founder and chairman of Bplans offers this definition of product failure:

A product is a failure when its presence in the market leads to:

The withdrawal of the product from the market for any reason;
The inability of a product to realize the required market share to sustain its presence in the market;
The inability of a product to achieve the anticipated life cycle as defined by the organization due to any reason; or,
The ultimate failure of a product to achieve profitability.

So how can you make sure that this doesn’t happen to your product? After, all, while powerful psychology principles guide product design, there are still plenty of great failures in product design.

Mitigate some risk by learning from product failures.

By learning from the mistakes made by others, you can stand on the shoulders of giants and avoid their pitfalls.

Want to guide your product design to a successful launch and profitable life? Then read on to benefit from the hard-won lessons of 7 absolutely epic product fails.

 

Galaxy Note 7 (2016 – 2016)

Image courtesy of CNet

Samsung is a leader in the smartphone industry.

And it’s a good thing, too. A lesser company would not have survived the (literally) explosive fiasco that was the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

The Note 7 was the 6th iteration in the Galaxy Note smartphone line. The hybrid smartphone/tablet unexpectedly featured two battery design flaws which caused the phones to catch fire.

A mere two weeks after the smartphone was launched Samsung was forced to recall 2.5 million Note 7s. CNN Money journalists Jethro Mullen and Mark Thompson noted that Samsung’s credibility was on the line. Not to mention, analysts estimated that Samsung stood to lose around $9.5 billion in sales.

Samsung survived because they treated the problem with the respect it deserved and learned from it.

Samsung put the recalled phones and batteries through rigorous testing to determine what had gone wrong. Wired Magazine’s Tim Moynihan revealed that:

The findings were announced after testing 200,000 devices and 30,000 batteries in a giant charging and recharging test facility built for the task. Samsung mobile communications chief D.J. Koh says a team of 700 company engineers conducted internal testing, and independent reviews of potential problems were carried out…

This testing revealed the two design flaws that lead to the problem.

It also became clear that Samsung had learned their lesson. CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt reports:

The one thing we know for sure is that Samsung’s phone batteries will undergo much stricter testing procedures going forward, testing for the kind of failures that its pre-Note 7 protocol didn’t catch.

The Lesson: Test for products flaws before launching. And test rigorously.

It’s in your product’s best interest that you find any defects before sending that product out into the wild. A recall is far more costly – financially and for your brand reputation – than finding flaws early and fixing them pre-launch.

 

Orbitz (1997 – 1997)

Image courtesy of Bravo TV

Do you remember Orbitz soda?

Neither did I.

That’s probably because Orbitz appeared on shelves and was subsequently discontinued within a year.

So what went wrong?

Well, it may have something to do with the fact that Orbitz wasn’t actually a soda. And, it wasn’t a juice, either. Orbitz was a “beverage.” But beyond that, it was pretty hard to define.

Bustle’s Maddy Foley writes:

Creators of the drink were apparently banking on people buying it exclusively for its appearance, which, to be fair, was intriguing. Never before and never again has a drink looked like… that.

Orbitz was a non-carbonated fruit beverage filled with suspended balls of gelatin. To put it simply, bottles of Orbitz looked like mini lava lamps.

Creative packaging design can lead to a successful product, but the product itself must also perform the job for which it was designed.

Sadly, the taste and texture left something to be desired. Was this the result of the use of gellan gum – a substance that helped keep the small gel balls afloat? Or perhaps it was the strange flavor combinations like Vanilla Orange or Pineapple Banana Cherry Coconut?

Whatever the cause, while people were fascinated by Orbitz’s appearance, no one wanted to drink it.

The Lesson: A clever gimmick can’t make up for a poor product.

You may capture consumers’ attention and make an initial sale with a clever gimmick. But, without the product performance to back it up, word will quickly spread and your sales will fall.

For sustained sales, opt for substance over show. But, if you can nail both, you’ll be golden.

 

Juicero (2016 – 2017)

Image courtesy of Fortune Magazine

The Juicero was an adequately functional, if overhyped, juice press.

But, Juicero’s real success was becoming an internet punchline.

Sadly, internet infamy was not the business model Juicero was aiming for.

The business shuttered in September of 2017 – less than 6 months after two Bloomberg reporters revealed that the Juicero press was not even necessary to create juice from the proprietary Juicero juice packs.

Alyssa Bereznak explains in her article The Parable of Juicero: A Tech Lesson for 2017,

The short clip demonstrated that a very expensive gadget—which cost roughly the same amount as a round-trip plane ticket—could essentially be replaced with a little arm muscle.

The hi-tech kitchen accessory had already come under fire for its hefty price tag, but, the Bloomberg revelation was Juicero’s final death knell.

The cat was out of the bag – the expensive product was redundant and unnecessary.

The NY Times’ David Gelles may have summed it up best:

The company sold a $700 Wi-Fi-enabled juicer, trying to solve a problem that did not exist.

Before long Juicero was forced to slash prices, offer refunds and finally close their doors completely.

The Lesson: Don’t be redundant.

And… especially don’t be redundant and unnecessarily expensive.

When considering a new product idea, ask yourself if there is a simpler, less expensive solution to the problem you’re solving. If so, consumers will probably figure that out, too.

If your product brings an overly complex solution to a problem that already has a simple fix, it may be time to rethink your approach.

 

Microsoft Zune (2006 -2012)

Image courtesy of Wired

In 2001 Apple launched the iPod and the way we listen to music changed forever.

While mp3 music players already existed before the iPod, they achieved only a middling success.

But, the iPod’s superior performance and sleek design changed all that.

In 2006, enter the Zune; Microsoft’s bid to compete with Apple’s iPod. Sadly, despite the backing of a world-renowned tech giant, the Zune was ill-equipped to compete.

Microsoft’s former head of the home entertainment and mobile division, Robbie Bach, later confessed,

We just weren’t brave enough, honestly, and we ended up chasing Apple with a product that actually wasn’t a bad product, but it was still a chasing product, and there wasn’t a reason for somebody to say, oh, I have to go out and get that thing.

The Zune was never able to make much of a dent in Apple’s astronomical 77% market share, and it finally surrendered in 2012.

Lesson: If you’re gonna compete with the big boys, bring your “A” game.

The old saying goes, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Microsoft’s Zune failed because it did just that. Metaphorically speaking.

If you intend to compete in a sector dominated by an established product make sure your product is bold enough, unique enough, and strong enough to really compete.

 

New Coke (1985 – 2002)

Image courtesy of CBS News

In 1985 Pepsi was breathing down Coke’s neck.

The competition was getting stiffer and Coke was losing market share to Pepsi-Co.

To fight back, Coke decided to experiment with their classic recipe. In fact, they decided to try to make it sweeter – like Pepsi.

The result became known as New Coke; and, it replaced the Coca-Cola recipe everyone had known and loved for the past 99 years. The cola-drinking public was not amused.

The backlash was swift and merciless. In fact, Coke was forced to bring back their original formula – now called Coca-Cola Classic – only 77 days after New Coke was released.

While the two beverages remained on the shelves together until “New Coke” was discontinued in North America in 2002, New Coke’s legacy is still one of failure to this day.

The Lessons:

Lean into your brand.

Don’t give up what makes your brand unique trying to be a second-rate version of another brand. Coke made the mistake of trying to be more like their competitor. And, when they did, they deeply offended their brand loyalists.

Make sure your products are the best representatives of your brand that they can be.

Learn from your mistakes.

When Coke’s fans demanded the classic formula back, Coke listened. And when Coke Classic returned it was more popular than ever. Listen to your customers and quickly fix your missteps.

 

Apple’s Newton MessagePad (1993 – 1998)

Shrine Of Apple: Newton MessagePad

Believe it or not, Apple wasn’t always the bullet-proof tech behemoth they are today.

Apple has had a few epic fails of their own, including their very first tablet – the Newton MessagePad.

For those of you who don’t remember the Newton, it was one of the first hand-held computing devices  – a touchscreen personal assistant.

Benj Edwards of MacWorld explains that:

Lacking a keyboard, the MessagePad depended on handwriting recognition for text-based user input—a futuristic feature that captivated the public’s imagination when trumpeted by Apple marketing, but one that fell far short of expectations when the product actually shipped.

Instead of the flawless handwriting recognition that Apple promised, the software delivered (as Edwards put it) “frustrating and bizarre nonsequiturs.” Since handwriting recognition was the MessagePad’s primary selling feature, the pocket computer quickly stumbled.

The MessagePad series lasted only five years and showed mediocre sales figures at best. It must have been hard for consumers to justify spending $700 on a computerized notepad that didn’t work as well as a pad of paper.

Lesson: Make sure your product does what it claims to do.

Delivering on your promises is vitally important to maintaining a brand’s positive reputation.

The best way to build sales is to make an awesome promise and then deliver on that promise. You stand to lose sales and trust in your brand if your product doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

 

McDonald’s Arch Deluxe (1996 – 1996)

Image courtesy of Cooking Panda

In 1996 McDonald’s released the Arch Deluxe.

As the name suggests, the Arch Deluxe was meant to be a “sophisticated” hamburger  – ostensibly for adult hamburger connoisseurs.

But, McDonald’s may have miscalculated in thinking that connoisseurs of anything would seek to appease their elevated tastes at McDonald’s.

The Arch Deluxe (which consisted of double beef patties, cheese, lettuce, onions, ketchup, tomatoes and a “fancy” dijon-mayo called “Arch Sauce,” on a potato bread roll) was a huge flop.

Marketing 91’s Hitesh Bhasin hazards this guess why:

The trouble was that nobody goes to McDonald’s for sophistication, they go for convenience. Part of this convenience is knowing exactly what to expect.

McDonald’s in the 90’s was known for their cheap, quick, and kid-friendly fare. While this is still true, McDonald’s was even more kid-centric in 1996 than it is today. In fact, the Arch Deluxe ads featured kids sneering at the new “grown-up” burger instead of adults enjoying it.

A sophisticated adult burger was distinctly outside of the McDonald’s brand wheelhouse – in other words: unexpected. Paired with a heftier price ($2.29 to the BigMac’s $1.90), this inconsistency doomed the Arch Deluxe to fail.

The Lesson: Don’t release a product inconsistent with your brand.

Know your brand inside and out. And, let your brand guide you when deciding which new products to pursue.

While it’s always a good idea to expand your business in a direction that is consistent with your brand, steer clear of product paths that deviate from your brand’s core message.

 

Look to the Past to Find Your Future

Doing business demands bravery.

You put your money and your livelihood on the line every time you make a new business decision.

You can close your eyes, cross your fingers, and hope it all works out… Or, you can do everything in your power to make the best choices.

Philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is as true in business as in any other aspect of life.

So be brave, and remember to learn from the past when planning your future products.

 

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