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It’s Time to Retire Planned Obsolescence

Eradicating planned obsolescence is not only a cost-saving measure but a necessary action to engage an increasingly customer-driven and climate-focused market.

While today’s economy has a myriad of weaknesses to examine, one conversation that needs more airtime is its focus on quick production and increased consumption. 

Many companies still follow traditional linear processes when it comes to producing consumer goods, including planned obsolescence. 

With the current state of the climate, it’s almost difficult to believe it’s still standard practice that as soon as a new product is developed, old products are discarded regardless of their durability and long-term usability. 

But the reality is competition has long driven companies to continually develop brand-new products after a period of time to meet the rapidly changing demands of the market. Think of the example of iPhones and how each time Apple releases the shiny new model, everyone clamors for it. What do you think happens to all that inventory of last year’s model sitting on shelves? 

In this particular case, the waste isn’t incidental—it’s the desired outcome. This racket business strategy is called “perceived obsolescence,” meaning when the new iPhone comes out, consumers are led to believe that the older iPhone model is no longer valuable.

And it worked. For a while. 

With climate change ramping up and nearly constant headlines about the next terrifying extreme weather event, consumers are less inclined to support unnecessary waste.

Without a business strategy to encourage the sale of older or existing products, an immense amount of waste is inevitable. And perhaps more to the point, the majority of product companies are missing out on a lot of benefits their competitors are seeing when they rethink their product life cycle practices.

There are plenty of reasons why, in the past, it has been difficult to stray from traditional manufacturing processes that have been proven to work—but recent events are forcing the issue.

New environmental policies and regulations paired with inflation and increases in material costs have compelled these more traditional companies to look at new ways to improve their processes. 

The outcome of these improvements includes product lifespans that can be renewed with iterations—such as new operating systems and updates to the internal tech. These iterative product management systems give the products useful life cycles that provide learnings to the company. 

Hence, the rocketship rise of the subscription economy.

Subscription models are here to stay

Nowadays, you can’t throw a stone without hitting another new subscription product on the market. And there’s a reason for that.

For a relatively new product model, subscription-based business strategies are revolutionizing product innovation. And that’s largely due to the fact that they effectively eradicate the issues caused by built-in obsolescence. 

Because subscription models are inherently cyclical, as customers subscribe to these new iterations, product and R&D can incorporate feedback from continued use of the product and make alterations for the next cycle. This allows the development strategy to revolve around iterations and improvements, rather than entirely new designs.

As expected, the benefits of this model can be profound.

1. Waste Reduction

When you eliminate the practice of replacing every product with a brand new design, right away, that’s a huge reduction in waste—with regard to both business cost as well as the actual waste that ends up in landfills.

Cutting down on product waste takes the bloat out of the procurement phase of a company’s supply chain. By recycling and reusing raw materials, the procurement of these materials is streamlined and clearer from the beginning. 

By streamlining the design process to incorporate previous iterations and feedback, raw material waste is significantly decreased. Electronic waste products and out-of-date gadgets need to be disposed of in a specific manner that’s more expensive than typical waste management. By reducing waste, companies are able to shave off a part of this waste removal overhead. 

2. Efficiency

Moreover, this creates efficiency in the business’ supply chain process. Rather than starting from scratch, the product manager is able to look at feature backlogs and customer feedback to improve the next iteration.  

3. Digital Market Expansion

Many subscription model companies are starting to expand their offerings into the digital space to support the physical product subscription. When leveraged thoughtfully, the recent boom in omnichannel commerce can provide huge inroads for companies looking to switch over to subscription models. 

Additionally, the advent of using tech to support users, such as mobile apps, is a strong value-add for a product with iterative changes throughout its subscription lifecycle. These apps can provide user instructions, warranty information, and any software updates necessary for the prolonged life of a product. 

4. Sustainability

Using subscription-based business models, companies are implementing long-lasting sustainable changes. Subscription model businesses cut down on raw materials used and related waste. 

From an environmental perspective, a decrease in production waste and raw material usage is a straightforward benefit. Not only is there less waste, but also fringe benefits such as a reduction in transportation-related emissions. With companies looking to make an impact on climate change, lower emissions help them get there.  

These efficiencies in the supply chain have a trickle-down effect not only as a benefit to the environment but also to the brand. 

The salient point is that your brand can’t afford to defend a wasteful product model. The world, and likewise consumers, is evolving and sustainability isn’t just something that comes up in regulatory audits anymore. Given the greater role sustainability plays in consumers’ decision to purchase, taking measures like these can make or break your business. 

5. Revenue Growth

With less waste, lower costs, more efficiency, and greater potential market share, increased revenue is a natural outcome of the subscription model. Subscriptions are cyclical, and therefore provide a steady, predictable revenue stream and built-in customer retention.

With the subscription model, the ultimate goal for modern product companies is well within reach—freeing up businesses to innovate more robust product experiences for a market that demands continuous customer engagement.

Learn more about how subscription models can reduce your carbon footprint in our webinar featuring Zero100’s Kevin O’Marah, Reaching Carbon Zero with Supply Chain Balance.

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Post by
Mary Houlette
Digital Project Manager, SS Industries

Mary has been working in the manufacturing industry for the past 7 years and loves using modern tech and strategies to help companies grow. With a focus on lead generation website development and project management, Mary acts as the voice of all stakeholders in the production process.

Fun Fact: Mary's worked for a staircase manufacturer since college and can tell you anything you need to know about a spiral stairs.

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Mary Houlette