Retail brands can lose hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of dollars on expensive vanity projects each year launching failed new products.
The solution? Validate your ideas first by leveraging one of your most powerful assets: your existing customer data.
Launching new products can be a powerful retention lever if you nail the process. Get it wrong, and your bottom line will bleed more than a surgeon’s table.
In this article, I’ve teamed up with DTC veteran and fractional CFO Valentin Kuznetcov to provide a comprehensive guide to help you de-risk the R&D process and scale your store to the next level with 6 simple steps.
Step 1: Product Ideation
Start with the whiteboard - sharpen the axe before chopping down the tree.
Draft a list of new product concepts, from physical to digital. Evaluate the pros & cons of each product on the overall strategy - do you want to go broad or narrow?
Rushing into product launches without a complete understanding of the “WHYs” will lead to overstock as well as result in working capital issues and unwanted stress.
At the product ideation phase, survey your most loyal customers by using the 80/20 rule. By identifying your “whales” who generate the most revenue, you’ll discover new angles from your top spenders that could lead to increased Lifetime Value (LTV) by giving more of your existing customers more of what they want.
Example of VIP segment to survey in Klaviyo
The caveat to this, of course, is that sometimes, new angles are required to reach new audiences. This may mean you have to think outside the box and beyond your existing customer base to truly scale your brand, especially if you operate in a “niche” market.
Step 2: Supply & Demand Evaluation
The feasibility of a new product launch begins with the supply chain.
Evaluate “Supply Constraints” by gathering and analyzing supplier and market data.
For profitability, look at unit economics and pricing analysis. For cash flow, look at MOQs, production lead times, payment terms.
The next step is to forecast “Product Demand”. You will never get a super accurate prediction, but with each new product release, you’ll learn from the documented results.
Leverage existing customer base to gather insights and test product concepts. Send them a “new product survey” to learn more about their preferences and needs.
If you are adept at SEO and Google Analytics, analyze search trends and data. This will help you identify the gaps between your survey results and market research.
Once both supply and demand are in place, it’s time to build the product launch into your current financial model / projections and evaluate its impact on cash flow and profitability.
Perform sensitivity analysis to understand breakeven levels (minimum number of units that must be sold to not lose money) and the implications of potential overstock on cash flow.
Step 3: Product Prototyping (if the product doesn’t exist yet)
Work with a technical product designer to sketch out the selected product concept.
If you want to stand out from the competition, convert it to 3D using AI (low investment) or 3D artists (medium-to-high investment). Use the render to showcase the product on your website and email designs to collect more feedback.
Order a limited number of sample units to give away as part of the testing and validation stage.
If you want to make this step more interactive with your audience, there’s an excellent opportunity to create competitions to generate the best ideas for packaging and positioning.
One of our clients was able to generate great engagement from their database and strengthen brand affinity by leaning into this strategy.
Doing this also builds anticipation ahead of the launch as customers feel more engaged with the process.
Step 4: Product Testing & Validation
The goal is not to make money, but to validate.
Offer exclusive access to the top customers for free in exchange for their feedback and reviews.
Analyze and leverage the collected feedback to improve the product based. Convert their reviews into UGC to create early traction for your future releases.
Use the collected data from your surveys to segment customers and distribute targeted pre-orders. Prioritize the top choice for customers that didn’t complete the survey.
Measure the survey-to-preorder conversion rate. It will serve as the highest point of intent.
Your owned channels are your best friends here.
Build an engaged segment of your best customers for limited run access in the beginning, and gradually expand the net outwards based on supply & demand.
This is also an excellent opportunity to build your SMS list as part of the product launch.
We frequently run these for clients to scale their SMS list growth monthly and it works a charm each time.
Ask email subscribers to provide consent to this channel to increase the reach of your retention channels with genuine value to your audience.
Step 5: MOQ Production & Sales
If the pre-orders fall far below the MOQ, sacrifice margin to avoid overstock. Speak to the suppliers about lowering the MOQ even if that means higher unit cost.
Once the agreement is reached, coordinate the upcoming launch with the marketing team. Ensure a consistent customer experience, from the final product packaging design to emails to landing pages.
If lowering the MOQ is not an option, make a calculated risk. Go back to your cash flow model and evaluate the implications of potential overstock.
Whatever the case, measure sell-through rate (how quickly the products are sold) and incremental conversions (sales that went beyond the pre-order quantities).
Collect more post-purchase customer data and reviews to fuel further interest.
As an extra step, add the "Notify when back in stock" button on the product page to gauge demand signals.
Step 6: Product Line
If you sell through the ordered products within 30 days, collect great customer reviews and identify more demand signals, you can proceed with a larger production order.
The validation is sufficient to de-risk further investment.
And if the product launch tanks and doesn't gain traction?
Use the surplus inventory as part of your acquisition funnels (GWP), clearance sales, and even experiment with them as part of post-purchase flows to recoup your initial investment.
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