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Customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are among the main goals for companies. In this context, the moment of and reason for obsolescence of a product is of particular importance for the customer satisfaction and repurchase decision. The reasons for obsolescence are manifold and usually unknown to the producing company. Besides product failures, a decrease in modern design, changing customer needs or new technologies available can cause obsolescence. This paper presents a study for investigating obsolescence from a customer perspective. To this end, social media reviews from Amazon have been extracted and analyzed in order to reveal the reasons of obsolescence with respect to product category.
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2212-8271 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
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doi: 10.1016/j.procir.2016.04.147
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26th CIRP Design Conference
Social media analysis of perceived product obsolescence
Antonia Felsa,*,Bj
¨
orn Falka, Robert Schmitta
aLaboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL), RWTH Aachen University, Aachen, Germany
Corresponding author. Tel.: +49-241-80-26969; fax: +49-241-80-22193. E-mail address: A.Fels@wzl.rwth-aachen.de
Abstract
Customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are among the main goals for companies. In this context, the moment of and reason for obsolescence
of a product is of particular importance for the customer satisfaction and repurchase decision. The reasons for obsolescence are manifold and
usually unknown to the producing company. Besides product failures, a decrease in modern design, changing customer needs or new technologies
available can cause obsolescence. This paper presents a study for investigating obsolescence from a customer perspective. To this end, social
media reviews from Amazon have been extracted and analyzed in order to reveal the reasons of obsolescence with respect to product category.
c
2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.
Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Professor Lihui Wang.
Keywords: obsolescence; customer satisfaction; social media
1. Introduction and Motivation
Numerous trends influence companies’ product oers as
well as customers’ buying behavior. The rapid advancements
in technology as well as the customer demands for the latest
technology evoke shorter product use time. Furthermore, cu-
stomers wish for highly individualized products and their buy-
ing decision is influenced by an increased ecological awareness.
The latter induces companies to develop sustainably and aims
at a thoughtful exploitation of resources.
From a company’s perspective, multiple measures have been
taken to intensify the customer focus. A trend towards a wider
range of product varieties, or even customer-tailored products
can be observed as well as shorter product life cycles. Services
accompanying products serve to support the holistic solution of
customer needs [1].
These measures aim at meeting the customer demands at most
and increase customer satisfaction - not just at the moment of
purchase, but throughout the whole time of use until the product
becomes obsolete. For monitoring and assurance of customer
satisfaction, its indicators as well as point in time of the survey
need to be specified.
While specific definitions of customer satisfaction vary in li-
terature, it can be stated that customer satisfaction is related
to the experience a customer makes with a product or a ser-
vice and the level to which it meets his expectations [2]. The
conformation/dis-confirmation paradigm is the most-cited theo-
ry concerning the formation of satisfaction [3]. Indicators of cu-
stomer satisfaction are the customer’s recommendation or com-
plaint behavior, the self-reported level of satisfaction (from tra-
ditional surveys) or - summed up in the term customer loyalty -
the cross-buying or re-buying behavior [4] [5].
Customer satisfaction evolves through the whole utilization-
phase; it is thus not sucient to gather feedback only imme-
diately after the purchase. Especially important for a highly sa-
tisfied customer over time is also the matter of obsolescence,
i.e. the period in time towards the end of use phase. The re-
asons for obsolescence and its presumable eect on customer
satisfaction or repurchase behavior have not yet been discussed
broadly. Theories such as the causal attribution“ support the
assumption that the reason for obsolescence, i.e. whether cu-
stomers blame the producer for obsolescence, aects customer
satisfaction. Thus, this subject will be outlined and analyzed
henceforth. The paper is structured as follows: Firstly, the state
of the art concerning product obsolescence will be illustrated in
section 2, leading to the present research questions. In section
3, the current research methodology is outlined, followed by the
results in section 4 and the discussion and outlook in section 5.
2. Product obsolescence
In the most common definition, obsolescence refers to the
process of aging of a product [6]. An obsolete product is out of
use“ or out of date“ [7], it is possibly sorted out and replaced.
The subject of obsolescence has been focus of numerous rese-
arch projects. On the one hand the theoretical construct of pro-
duct obsolescence has been examined extensively - including a
specification of the definition and the revelation of dierent re-
asons that lead to obsolescence [8] [9] [7]. On the other hand,
the meaning of product obsolescence for companies or microe-
conomics has been discussed [10] [11] [12]. In this context, the
so-called planned obsolescence“ has emerged. Planned obso-
lescence refers to the intentional diminution of products’ life
2212-8271 c
2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.
Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Professor Lihui Wang.
© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of the 26th CIRP Design Conference
572 Antonia Fels et al. / Procedia CIRP 50 ( 2016 ) 571 – 576
span by the producer [13].
To understand the occurrence of obsolescence in the life span
of a product, and especially the point in time when a product
reaches the state of being obsolete, its definition will be speci-
fied.
2.1. Relative vs. absolute obsolescence
The state of obsolescence is referred to as out of use or
out of date . Since this definition provides a rather vague con-
cept, researchers dierentiate between the relative- and the ab-
solute obsolescence [7]. Absolute obsolescence is viewed as the
point in time, at which the product is technically worn out, whe-
reas the relative obsolescence marks the point in time where the
user sets the product out of order. Thus in general, relative ob-
solescence takes place before absolute obsolescence, see figure
1. That means that customers do not use a product until the
technical end of the life span, as they perceive the product to
be obsolete beforehand [7]. Given a certain product, of which
have been sold many at time t=tPurchase, figure 1 illustrates the
distribution of physical product wear-outs - i.e. absolute obsole-
scence - and the real distribution of the discarding of products
according to relative obsolescence. This leads to a timely gap
of a product’s technical life expectancy and the product’s time
of use tRelative obsolescence <tAb solute obsolescence. The diagrammed
variance of the number of worn-out and number of discarded
products is due to the statistical distribution of product failu-
res and varying product obsolescence depending on individual
perception respectively.
Figure 1. Relative Obsolescence
The occurrence of relative obsolescence implies that there
are other reasons for customers to reject a product than mere
technical failures. These will be presented henceforth.
2.2. Reasons for relative obsolescence
Several approaches concerning the reasons for relative ob-
solescence have been promoted in literature [14] [15] [16]. The
model of Cooper, however, is the most accepted, taking into
account the other researchers’ preliminarily work. The author
identifies 3 categories of relative obsolescence, namely techno-
logical,psychological and economic obsolescence [7]. Accor-
ding to Cooper, technological obsolescence occurs due to the
fact that the functional quality of a product in use is of minor
value compared to newer models appearing on the market. Psy-
chological obsolescence arises when the product’s attractiven-
ess has decreased or the customer is no longer satisfied. Finally,
the financial disadvantage of keeping an existing product in-
stead of discarding it or replacing it by a dierent product is
referred to as economic obsolescence.
The definition of psychological obsolescence leaves the largest
room for interpretation. A loss of attractiveness or satisfacti-
on is clearly subjective depending on the individual customer
and can also owe to changing customer needs. Furthermore, it
implies a comparison of the obsolete to the initial state of at-
tractiveness or satisfaction, which would need to be known for
an accurate assignment.
Experimental research has been carried out regarding specific
questions related to obsolescence to underline the theoretical
construct. In the work mentioned above, Cooper examined at-
titudes and customer behavior towards product life spans and
the level of satisfaction with current life spans of dierent pro-
duct categories [7]. Grewal focused on the timing of the repeat
purchase and how it is aected by dierent dimensions of the
customers’ attitude [9]. A third example of research to date is
Parksstudy who investigated the likelihood of a replacement
of a still functioning product by a customer depending on the
oering of a trade-in, the customer’s usage goal (hedonic vs.
utilitarian) and the willingness to pay.
Before leading over to the current study a brief overview of the
meaning of obsolescence for companies is presented.
2.3. Implications of obsolescence for companies
The eects of obsolescence - and especially planned
obsolescence - have been studied on a microeconomic level as
with regard to companies [17] [18]. London first investigated
planned obsolescence as a measure to overcome the Depression
in 1932 [19]. A more recent project focused on the eect of
variety of goods and product redesign - as an inducement of
perceived obsolescence - on welfare: according the Blonigen
et al, welfare can be increased by redesigning products [20].
In the same research project it was shown that the above
mentioned influencing variables had likewise a positive eect
on companies’ profit. A similar result was yielded by Hua
et al who found a positive correlation between the product
change intensity (frequency of replacement products) and the
companies’ performance, measured in sales and market share
[21]. Fishman goes even further by stating that planned obsole-
scence is a necessary condition for technological progress and
innovation within a company [11]. He argues that innovators
lack incentives to invent new technologies or products if the
ones current on the market are too durable.
Besides these favorable eects, possible disadvantages or
negative side-eects might be evoked by (planned) obsole-
scence. That is, the disapproval of customers can lead to a de-
crease in sales in the long run and even aect the company’s
brand image negatively. Cooper discovered that customers are
dissatisfied if a product wears out too fast, as measured by a
reasonable life span depending on the product category [7].
Additionally, Billen states that customers who are facing a re-
purchase, base their decision on the experience they have made
with the product in use [22]. An undesirable experience could
be caused by a rapidly worn-out product, but could be also ari-
sing from the reason of obsolescence, if it is viewed as unfavo-
rable by the customer. It is important for the customer satisfac-
tion whether the customer ascribes the reason of obsolescence
to the company or to other influences, e.g. self-inflicted, reaso-
nable life-span etc. In this context it is referred to as causal at-
tribution“ [4]. The question if the failing of a product feature is
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Antonia Fels et al. / Procedia CIRP 50 ( 2016 ) 571 – 576
acceptable depends on the product category and the customers’
preferences concerning relevant product features. Since the re-
levance of product features has been shown to be changing over
time [23], the identification and strict conservation of attributes
relevant to the (initial) purchase is not necessarily expedient. In
other words, the reasons for obsolescence need to be examined
at the point in time it occurs and cannot be extrapolated from
information at the time of purchase or the time of use.
As mentioned in the introduction, fast obsolescence of pro-
ducts may furthermore have negative impacts on the producer in
terms of brand image. On the one hand, an unacceptable decre-
ase of functionality or a product failure can be associated with
a lack of quality; on the other hand, the customers’ favor for
ecologically aware companies which develop sustainably will
not be met. Besides the customers’ attitude towards ecological
factors, social or ethical aspects of planned obsolescence have
often been discussed as well [1] [12].
Taking sections 2.2 and 2.3 into consideration, the current
research question can be formulated as follows:
1. From a customer’s perspective: which reason for obsole-
scence is predominant depending on the product category?
2. Does the reason of obsolescence influence the customers’
satisfaction in terms of product rating and repurchase de-
cision?
3. Current research methodology
To investigate the identified research questions, an analysis
of customer reviews is conducted. Customer reviews as basis
of information are advantageous in many respects. Customers
share experiences with products over the whole time of use,
including the moment of obsolescence. They give information
voluntarily and unbiased, which makes the data particularly
valuable.
The platform selected for this study is Amazon.de.Amazon
is one of the largest internet-based retailers for a great variety
of products - and it has also become a popular platform for
customers to rate products and share their experiences and
opinions.
To account for possible product and brand specific eects,
two dierent product categories - namely vacuum cleaners
and mobile phones - as well as two dierent brands have
been chosen for this study. For the sake of discretion, brands
will simply be referred to as Brand 1 and Brand 2 . In
each brand and product category 250 customer reviews have
been randomly extracted, resulting in a total number of 1000
reviews. See table 1 for the distribution of star ratings in each
group.
Table 1. Number of product reviews extracted
product category vacuum cleaner mobile phone
star-rating 12345 12345
Brand 1 9982819641 13 15 29 152
Brand 2 24 23 27 47 129 32 15 20 53 130
The average customer ratings were noted as 4.6 (brand 1)
and 4.2 (brand 2) for vacuum cleaners and 3.9 (brand 1 and 2)
for mobile phones respectively. The analysis was conducted on
a textual basis according to the scheme described in section 3.1.
3.1. Text analysis
In step 1, the reviews that contained information about the
occurrence and reason for obsolescence were selected. The
mention could either relate to the currently bought product or
to its preceding one, i.e. the one that was found to be obsolete
beforehand and led to the current purchase. The occurrence and
reason for obsolescence had to be mentioned distinctly in the
text. Since the word obsolescence is however not common
in the vocabulary rut of most people, selection rules had been
defined for an objective judgment.
Selection rules for the identification of obsolescence:
Mention that a product had been taken out of order by the
user/thrown away
Mention of the definitive intention that it will not be used
anymore/will be replaced by a dierent product.
Besides, only those reviews have been selected for further
research, where a distinct reason as to why the product has
become obsolete was mentioned.
In a second step, the mentions of obsolescence have been
categorized according to type of obsolescence and reason gi-
ven by the writer. Thus, it was recorded if the product had been
indicated as absolutely or relatively obsolete by the customer
or, if the process of obsolescence had been portrayed. For the
categorization of reason, a pre-study was conducted examining
reviews of similar products. The following categories, which
covered the possible reasoning scope for obsolescence could be
identified: 1. decrease in ergonomics, 2. decreasing in sensory
quality 3. changing customer needs 4. decrease in functions 5.
high working costs, 6. wear-out. The identified categories are
similar to the ones introduced by Cooper [7], although psycho-
logical obsolescence has been subdivided into more detailed
categories, see figure 2. As stated in section 2.2, psychologi-
cal obsolescence arises from a decrease in either attractiveness
or satisfaction. Concerning the chosen products, attractiveness
and satisfaction are hence measured in three dimensions, na-
mely the physical appearance of the product (sensory quality),
ergonomics when handling the product in use (ergonomics) and
the customer’s usage goal (changing customer needs) which
is highly relevant for the overall satisfaction. Although it was
found in the pre-study that working costs play a minor role, this
reason has been kept for the main study for the sake of comple-
teness.
Figure 2. Mapping of identified categories to Cooperstheory
Examples for each reason for obsolescence is given with re-
gard to product category in figure 3, for mobile phones and va-
574 Antonia Fels et al. / Procedia CIRP 50 ( 2016 ) 571 – 576
cuum cleaners respectively. If multiple reasons were given by
the writer leading to obsolescence, each reason is recorded.
Figure 3. Examples for reasons for obsolescence
For subsequent analysis, it has been further noted if the oc-
currence of obsolescence was related to the current or preceding
product. If it was related to the current product it has been no-
ted if the writer distinctly indicated that he had no intention of
buying this brand again in the future. In the latter case it has
been evaluated whether the same or a dierent product/brand
was chosen in the current purchase. Lastly, the time of use until
obsolescence has been - if explicitly stated by the customer -
noted.
Results of the text analysis are presented in the subsequent sec-
tion 4.
4. Results
The number of reviews containing information about the oc-
currence of obsolescence per product category as defined in sec-
tion 3.1 are given in table 2.
Table 2. Number of reviews containing mention of obsolescence
Product category vacuum cleaner mobile phone
Brand 1 62 52
Brand 2 60 68
Approximately 24.8% (brand 1) and 24% (brand 2) of re-
views concerning vacuum cleaners inclose information about
occurrence and reason of obsolescence, in comparison to ap-
proximately 20.8% (brand 1) and 27.2% (brand 2) of reviews
concerning mobile phones. That is, approximately every fourth
customer provides information in the review about why some-
thing has become obsolete.
The in-depth analysis and categorization disclosed the distribu-
tion of reasons for obsolescence. The results are illustrated in
figure 4 per product category, answering research question one.
Figure 4. Distribution of reasons of obsolescence by product category
The distributions appear similar between the two product
categories. Decreasing or insucient functions are mentioned
most frequently, followed by physical wear-out and a decrease
in sensory quality. When accumulating the reasons according
to Cooper (see figure 2), perceived obsolescence is mostly
due to psychological factors, i.e. a decrease in attractiveness
or satisfaction. As anticipated and stated above, the matter of
working costs is of low relevance. However, working costs
for the user of vacuum cleaners arise in form of cleaner bags;
working costs for mobile phones are mostly connected to the
contract and not the product itself. Therefore, this factor might
play a minor role simply owing to the choice of product.
Approaching research question two, it has been analyzed
whether the reasons for obsolescence correlate with the indi-
cators of customer satisfaction and loyalty. To this end, three
specific relations have been examined, which will be outlined
below:
1. reason for obsolescence of preceding product/
repurchase of the same brand or other brand
2. reason for obsolescence of current product/
no repurchase of the same brand intended
3. reason for obsolescence of current product/
star-rating of current product
To examine relation 1, i.e the relation between the preceding
product and repurchase decision (same brand/other brand), on-
ly those reviews, which held information about the brand of the
previous product, were considered. This is due to the fact that
customers name the reason for obsolescence but not necessarily
the brand of the preceding product.
In total, 122 customers specified the brand of the preceding pro-
duct; in 89 cases the customer chose a dierent brand and in 33
cases he remained loyal. See below for the results in table 3.
Table 3. Reason for obsolescence and repurchase decision
Product category vacuum cleaner mobile phone
same brand other brand same brand other brand
ergonomics 0811
sensory quality 0611
changing needs 0 13 7 10
functional 2 18 4 9
working costs 0200
wear-out 11 14 7 7
sum 13 61 20 28
A 2-sample proportion test regarding the sum in each pro-
duct category yielded a significant dierence (z=5.00,p=
0.000) at a level of significance of α=5%. Clearly, the cu-
stomers of vacuum cleaners tend to change the brand when
their preceding product has become obsolete. This does not ap-
ply, however, when the reason for obsolescence was a physical
wear-out.
Taking a closer look at this data revealed a possible
dependency of the brand choice on the time of use until
obsolescence, see figure 5. This suggests that if the durability
of a vacuum cleaner exceeds a certain age, customers value
the long-lasting product rather than that they disapprove the
occurred obsolescence. The data supports Cooperssurvey:
in average, the reasonable durability of vacuum cleaners
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Antonia Fels et al. / Procedia CIRP 50 ( 2016 ) 571 – 576
was numbered as 9 years by interviewed householders [7]. A
close-up look at the reviews from mobile phones show similar
tendencies, however customers rarely mentioned the time until
wear-out.
Figure 5. Wear-out time of vacuum cleaners and brand loyalty
Comparing the data concerning vacuum cleaners and mobi-
les phones it also becomes apparent that customers of mobile
phones do not change brands as often, when a change in needs
has made the preceding product obsolete. This might be due to
little technological dierence between mobile phones on the
market. That is, the wish for a bigger screen or water-prove
case can be satisfied by the same producer, whereas a change
in need regarding vacuum cleaners (easy cleaning/quiet in use)
might be attributed to a specific brand.
The second relation to be examined focuses on the reason
for obsolescence of the current product and intention of the
customer not to buy the same brand again. For the sake of
objectivity, the latter attribute has only been assigned to the
review if the customer mentions explicitly that he is not going
to repurchase this brand. Table 4 illustrates the results by
product category. The number in brackets indicates the total
number of occurrences in obsolescence of the current product.
In order to discover if one reason for obsolescence prevents
significantly more or less customer from repurchasing the same
brand again, a 2-sample proportion test was conducted (level
of significance α=5%).
Table 4. Repurchase of current brand not intended by reason for obsolescence
Product category vacuum cleaner mobile phone
ergonomics 4 (16) 3 (14)
sensory quality 6 (25) 9 (26)
changing needs 0 (0) 1 (1)
functional 6 (34) 14 (43)
working costs 0 (0) 1 (2)
wear-out 0 (10) 3 (28)
Comparing each reason’s proportion to the rest of the data
as a reference showed that for vacuum cleaners, only the pro-
portion of wear-out is significantly lower. Pairwise comparison
of reason’s proportions yielded also significant dierences
between ergonomics and wear-out (z=2.31,p=0.021),
sensory quality and wear-out (z=2.8,p=0.005) as well as
functional and wear-out (z=2.7,=0.007).
The proportion of one reason was also tested against the
remaining reasons combined. In the case of mobile phones,
a significant deviation could only be found for the wear-out
(z=0.28,p=0.005). That is, a wear-out induces customers
under-proportionally to change the brand. Pairwise compari-
sons further indicated that a decrease in sensory quality leads
significantly more often to a change in brand than wear-out
(z=2.17,p=0.03) as well as functional obsolescence
compared to wear-out (z=2.37,p=0.018).
Thus, similar to the results to relation 1, customers react
significantly rarely with a change of brand if wear-out is
the reason for obsolescence. Yet, especially occurrences of
obsolescence owing to a decrease in sensory quality or function
prevent customers from buying the same brand again. Overall,
it is remarkable that 27.2% of mobile phone customers and
18.8% of vacuum cleaner customers whose product became
obsolete refuse to buy the same brand again. The necessity for
products that satisfy customers throughout the whole time of
use cannot be dismissed.
The third relation addresses the reason for obsolescence of
the current product and its star rating. The star rating serves here
as a general indicator of satisfaction and numerical judgment of
the product by the customer. Obviously the rating of products
which have become obsolete is lower than the overall rating,
compare table 1.
Of interest is though whether the ratings are influenced by
the reason for obsolescence. To this end, a Mann-Whitney U
test was conducted comparing each the rating of a reason of
obsolescence to the accumulated rest. The medians of the dis-
tribution are examined regarding significant dierences. Howe-
ver, no significant dierence could be found allowing a level of
significance of α=5%. Hence, no reason of obsolescence has
a stronger impact on the (low) rating than the others.
5. Summary and outlook
This paper addresses the matter of product obsolescence and
its relevance for customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.
The distribution of reasons for obsolescence were examined
through an in-depth analysis of customer reviews from Amazon.
It was found that obsolescence is often perceived by a decrease
in function or sensory quality, a physical wear-out of the pro-
duct or is due to changing customer needs. It was further disco-
vered that customer loyalty - in terms of repurchase of the same
brand - is dependent on the specific reason of obsolescence as
well as on the time span the customer used the product until ob-
solescence. Thus, the durability of relevant product features is
an indispensable factor for customer satisfaction and retention.
Further research will need to study the possibility of mainte-
nance and repair and its eect on the perception of obsole-
scence. Additionally, the aect of product obsolescence for the
judgment of a new product in the repurchase decision is of in-
terest.
Empirical observation within this study suggest that the
occurrence of obsolescence induces customers to rate the new,
substituting product higher. The arithmetic means of the ratings
of products whose preceding product has become obsolete and
the remaining ratings are shown in table 5.
To search for significant dierences, a Chi-Square test was
conducted for the data pair of vacuum cleaners and mobile pho-
nes respectively. Customers rated vacuum cleaners significantly
576 Antonia Fels et al. / Procedia CIRP 50 ( 2016 ) 571 – 576
higher when the preceding one was mentioned to have beco-
me obsolete (χ2=12.5862, p=0.013). This customer beha-
vior was likewise observed for mobile phones (χ2=9.7498,
p=0.045).
Table 5. Arithmetic mean of ratings
Product category vacuum cleaner mobile phone all products
Mean rating of products 4.626 4.490 4.577
whose preceding product
has become obsolete
Mean rating of all others 4.173 3.879 4.023
The results suggest that when a customer is conscious about
the reason for obsolescence of the preceding product he per-
ceives the new product over-proportionally good. Yet, further
research needs to be conducted to thoroughly investigate this
topic.
Acknowledgments
This paper results from the research project PWuse2
(SCHM1856/36-3) of the Laboratory for Machine Tools and
Product Engineering (WZL), RWTH Aachen University, Ger-
many. The research project has been funded by the German Na-
tional Science Foundation (DFG). The authors would like to
express their gratitude to all parties involved.
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