The Product Life Cycle

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What is the product life cycle?

The PLC indicates that products have four things in common: (1) they have a limited lifespan; (2) their sales pass through a number of distinct stages, each of which has different characteristics, challenges, and opportunities; (3) their profits are not static but increase and decrease through these stages; and (4) the financial, human resource, manufacturing, marketing and purchasing strategies that products require at each stage in the life cycle varies (Kotler and Keller, 2006). Whilst there is a common pattern to a product's life cycle, which is bell-shaped in nature, this pattern does vary depending on the specific characteristics of a given product. These life cycle patterns are illustrated and discussed in the subsequent section.

What are the main aspects of the product life cycle?

The typical PLC consists of five main aspects: (1) product development; (2) introduction; (3) growth; (4) maturity; and (5) decline. In the diagram below, the respective sales (in red) and profits (in blue) across these five stages are illustrated.

The PLC begins with product development, during which time the firm devises and creates a new product. Whilst the end aim of this development process is to have a profitable, well-performing product on the market, this initial stage is characterised by zero sales, the firm bearing the costs of such development, typically resulting in negative profitability (Kotler and Armstrong, 2004). Recent product developments include the likes of the iPod by Apple and the Serene by Bang and Olufsen. However, despite the importance of the product development process, the PLC literature tends to focus on the subsequent four stages, which are discussed in more detail belo...

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...ons to the common PLC, the concept can also be used to describe (1) fads, (2) fashion, and (3) style. Fads are fashions that are introduced and adopted very quickly, but just as quickly can fall. They typically have a limited following, but are nonetheless adopted with real zeal, such as the hula-hoop. Fashions grow more slowly but still quite quickly before eventually witnessing a decline. However, in some cases these become a style; that is, they come back into fashion. For example, Beanies and Yo-Yos were in fashion during the 1950s and 1960s respectively before largely dropping off the radar until the 1990s when both products witnessed a revival (Kotler et al., 1996; Kotler and Keller, 2006).

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