Take a quick look in your closet: how many items of clothing have you impulsively purchased as a result of a fleeting micro-fashion trend that went out of style less than a month later? What about in your storage closets? Do you have any relics of a time gone by, like CDs, VHS tapes, flip phones, or iPods? What about food products you can’t buy anymore that may have played a large role in your childhood: TV dinners, Twinkies, Altoids Sours—the list goes on. Whether the products were discontinued or just faded out of relevancy, each of these is an example of a product in the decline stage of the product life cycle.

When you consider these examples, you may find yourself wondering if there’s any way for a product to move out of the decline stage. To answer that, let’s consider the product life cycle as a whole.

What is the Product Life Cycle?

The product life cycle is the process through which a product is developed, goes into the market, and is ultimately removed. It’s widely used by marketers and business owners to make important decisions. Understanding which stage your product is in at any given time is crucial to better strategy development because you can use that information to increase your product’s lifespan or make necessary changes to adapt to evolving consumer needs.

What Are the Stages of the Product Life Cycle?

There are generally five stages in the product life cycle:

  1. Development: Development is where the product journey begins. During this stage, companies invest in market research and product development strategies to develop prototypes.
  2. Introduction: The introduction stage of a product is when it’s first launched in a marketplace.
  3. Growth: The growth stage of a product starts when the product has made its place in the market and consumers have embraced it.
  4. Maturity: The maturity stage of a product is when the product is at its peak, and this stage is when you may reach market saturation and face increased competition.
  5. Decline: The decline stage of a product is when a mature product loses customer interest and its sales start drifting downward.

What Happens During the Decline Stage of the Product Life Cycle?

During the decline stage, brands will experience a decline in sales in the face of heightened competition or dwindling consumer demand. This phase is difficult to overcome; typically, companies will either discontinue their product, sell their company, or find new ways to iterate on their product in an attempt to revive sales.

Why Do Products Enter the Decline Stage?

Products enter the decline stage when consumer appeal and sales drift downward. This happens every day: consumers get bored, markets are oversaturated, or a newer, better product is introduced that eclipses its predecessors.

It’s important to remember that not every product will necessarily face a decline stage. For example, it’s hard to imagine a world in which people aren’t purchasing iPhones—while older models of the phone have been discontinued, Apple continues to iterate on each model and revive consumer demand on a regular basis. Or, think of the beloved Coca-Cola: while the formula has changed over time since the late 1800s, it’s been regularly stocked on store shelves ever since. Companies that aren’t globally recognized can also implement strategies to avoid, or exit, the decline stage—more on that below.

How Does a Product Get Out of the Decline Stage?

Getting out of the decline stage can be challenging, but not impossible. You can improve your standing in the marketplace by agilely responding to changing customer needs with strategies like social listening, and using product concept and price testing to determine how best to add new offerings to your lineup. These can help you stay relevant in the marketplace and revive (or sustain) consumer demand.

One of the best things you can do to avoid entering the decline stage (or delaying its onset) is to start planning before your product is even released to the market. One incredibly helpful strategy is to attempt to sketch out the life of a product, which includes:

  • Outlining future product lines
  • Sketching out competitive moves
  • Define important tactical moves for expansion or iteration once the product is brought to market
  • Looking to the future to try and get a better idea of your competitive environment

This strategy can help you expand the life of a product and puts you in a better position to weather challenging market environments.

If you find that a product is approaching, or recently entered, the decline stage, here are some other strategies you can use:

  • Prolong the product’s life: By regularly promoting the brand and releasing new updates, you can reinvigorate consumer demand before any products can fall into the decline stage. By doing this, you can boost the popularity of previous releases and extend the product’s lifecycle. Consider multi-part video game series or movie adaptations of popular books: when a new release is announced, consumers flock to previous or original releases in anticipation of a new installment. This strategy requires ongoing work and careful timing, otherwise, your product may reach decline before you have a chance to boost its popularity.  
  • Change direction: If consumers stop purchasing your product, it might be time to start exploring alternative uses for it. You might consider selling in a different industry, or modifying your product so it’s more appealing to other market segments. Play-Doh, for instance, was invented in the 1930s as a wall cleaner. Once demand dropped, they discovered it held mass appeal for teachers who used it in their classrooms for arts and crafts. Here’s another example: remember when Netflix was a mail-order DVD service? The streaming giant pivoted to adapt to a changing market landscape and started appealing to consumers who were more interested in streaming services than physical DVDs.
  • Capitalize on nostalgia marketing: In rare instances, certain consumer products from our past can make a reappearance and experience a revival in demand. When this happens, sales of a product gain a new vitality—sometimes even surpassing their previous sales peak. Companies achieve this revival by relying on nostalgia marketing and reminding consumers of the positive experiences they had with their products in the past. A recent example of this phenomenon is Dunkaroos, a popular snack from the 90s and early 00s that was discontinued in the United States in 2012 after a slow decline in popularity. However, nearly a decade later (and following a mass social media effort to bring back Dunkaroos), the brand announced that Dunkaroos would be returning to shelves in 2020. As of today, they’ve released close to ten products (some new, some old) and still rely heavily on nostalgia marketing to sustain their popularity.

The decline stage of a product's life cycle - examples include DVD players, VCR players and record players


Not every product will reach the decline stage, but for those that do, it can be challenging to overcome. It’s important to start the planning process for your product’s eventual decline before your product is even released to the market.

To make this process easier, Starlight Analytics offers solutions like product concept testing, price testing, and social listening to help you refine your product throughout its product life cycle and identify opportunities to enter new markets, and adapt to consumer needs by gaining firsthand feedback from consumers.