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September 25, 2017

The End of the Product Life Cycle: Is There Life After Death?

Lucy Bishop

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©© GettyImages/DutchScenery

Remember the Walkman? What about the Game Boy? Videotapes and cassettes, anyone?

We might remember some of these products with fondness. Others we might be glad to see the back of.

I, for one, recall the long and painful hours that I spent carefully trying to wind the cassette tape back into its case using a pencil or a fingertip, in the vain hope that I could save my favorite recording from ruin. And there was that time when I left my precious Discman on the back seat of the car on a very hot summer day. I returned to find a melted pile of plastic in its place (that was a bad day!).

Is the End Really the End?

For many products that reach the final phase of their product life cycle, the end means the end. After all, these products went away for a good reason, did they not? We're now blessed with all manner of modern technology, and no longer have to worry about tape being ruined, or music players melting!

But for some products, there's an unlikely second wave of demand.

Instant film cameras, for example, have made a comeback recently. Many such products were discontinued in the early 2000s, as digital cameras and smartphones took hold.

But, in 2015, Amazon revealed that the best-selling item in its camera category was Fujifilm’s Instax Mini Instant Film Pack. In April 2016, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Instax camera was selling in record numbers, far outpacing the company’s digital products. Around five million units were sold.

Physical Vs. Digital Media

The reason? Well, for all the wonderful advantages that digital photography offers, it just isn't the same as physical photos.

Physical photos! Remember them? You'd take your film down to your local photographic store to be developed. And wait for hours or even days while they were being processed and printed. Perhaps you'd store them away lovingly in your photo album. Or even, if there was a really good one, frame it and put it up on the wall.

Nowadays, we just don't bother. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of photos and videos stored on our phones. But do we ever actually take the time to look at them?

The Polaroid was a groundbreaking innovation in its day because it delighted consumers: we got the instant gratification of seeing the photo that we'd just taken. Arguably the same can be said of digital snaps. But you can't hold a digital photo. It's instantly forgotten. Stored away in the mysterious dimension that is "the cloud," possibly never to be seen again.

Vinyl Records: A Retro Success

One of the biggest success stories of the past few years has been vinyl records. In fact, in 2016, vinyl reached a 25-year high, with spending on vinyl outstripping the amount spent on digital downloads.

As a child of the '80s myself, I remember being fascinated by my parents' record player. Mostly because I was always being told to stay away from it in case I scratched one of Dad's precious albums. So, instead, I'd watch him as he ever so carefully slipped the record out of its case, before placing it on the turntable and gently lowering the needle. And then, away he'd go, "dad-dancing" around the room to Led Zep, Status Quo, "Ziggy Stardust," while I watched, embarrassed for him, despite no one being around.

But soon enough the record player disappeared. And in its place arrived a much smaller CD player, which, although very shiny, just didn't seem to have the same "gravitas" as the record player. But, we were assured by the salesman, it was much more modern and thus much better!

Nowadays, we don't even need a CD player! What's the point when you have all music ever recorded at your fingertips, wherever you are, thanks to online streaming?

Younger Consumers Fuel Growth

The interesting thing is, it's not just older consumers or nostalgia for the past that's behind vinyl's recent resurgence. In fact, younger consumers are fueling the growth, too.

As Vanessa Higgens, CEO of Regent Street and Gold Bar Records, suggests, "People think millennials just stream and are just digital, but actually I think we are going to see increasingly over this coming year that young people still want something tangible and real, and that's where vinyl is taking on the role that the CD used to have."

So, while we might use Spotify to discover new music, we are turning to vinyl (over other physical music formats) when we like something so much that we want to own and keep it.

Moving Beyond the Product Life Cycle

So, how have these products managed to escape the "death" predicted by the product life cycle? After all, they've been through the four main phases: Introduction, Growth, Maturity, and Decline. Surely they should be dead and buried? And we should be embracing bigger, better, newer, and more modern things?

Or should we? According to, some companies that have "kept their hand in," so to speak, even after a product has declined, can move beyond the product life cycle, to a new phase of "growth and rebirth."

Although rare, it can happen – as we've seen with vinyl and instant film cameras.

In this fifth stage of the product life cycle, most competitors have left the market, believing it to be completely dead. However, if there is still demand out there, the companies that have stayed the course can reap the rewards of having no competition if and when a resurgence does occur. A risky business, no doubt, but one that can have a significant payoff.

What's Next?

So, what's next on the horizon for retro-tech? What products did you love when you were younger, and now want to see make a comeback? Let us know in the comments section below...

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