Barriers to Adoption

What is it?

Barriers to Adoption are all the things that prevent you using a new product. They may range from inconveniences, the need to buy ancillary products, the difficulty getting it to work or the learning curve.

When is it useful?

Use this concept when you are designing and launching a new product.

Great effort goes into thinking through the value proposition for new products. Less effort usually goes into thinking about all the barriers that will stop adoption. Eliminating barriers can often be more valuable than adding additional reasons to buy.

Once customers have bought your product, you can build barriers that make it harder for them to adopt competitors products. These are called switching costs, and can enable you to earn a premium compared to equal competitors products.

For example, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google are investing heavily in virtual assistants (Alexa, Cortana, Siri, and Google Assistant). They expect this service to be very profitable because of the huge switching costs-  over time the AI learns what you like and becomes indispensable (think Samantha in the movie Her) Starting from scratch with no history/data would be inconceivable.

An Example?

You are probably using a Qwerty keyboard now. It was made popular by the Remington No. 2 in 1878, and has survived the shift from manual to electronic keyboards and still has over 95% market share.

It has survived not because it is the best layout. The layout was designed in order to slow down typists, by putting frequently used keys apart. This prevented keys getting stuck in a manual era. With the advent of electronic keyboards this rationale disappeared and more ergonomic fast layouts were invented, like the Dvorak keyboard shown here.KB_United_States_Dvorak.svg


Non-Qwerty keyboard layouts were not successful despite being better products because of the huge barriers to adoption:

  • Once a typist has learnt how to touch type using the Qwerty keyboard, they are going to resist switching to a new keyboard.
  • If they do learn how to type fast using a new Dvorak layout, the skill is not transferable – when they are away from their home keyboard, they will have to switch back to a standard Qwerty keyboard.
  • No business will invest in Dvorak keyboards, because it would then have to retrain all their staff
  • There will be no typing schools teaching how to type with a Dvorak layout because of the lack of demand.
  • No keyboard manufacturers will want to licence Dvorak because of the lack of demand.
  • No retailers will want to stock Dvorak keyboards because of the slow turnover.

A new keyboard design would have to overcome all these barriers in order to break into the market.

The persistence of Qwerty keyboards in the face of superior products is a classic case of the power of standards. Another example is the battle between VHS and Betamax.

I want to know more

Joel Spolsky gives a great example of eliminating barriers to adoption for Microsoft Excel.

In his classic book “Diffusion of Innovations”, Everett Rogers discusses barriers to adoption at length, covering the compatability, trialability and complexity of an innovation.