Today, consumers change their buying interests as fast as toddlers change their minds. Keeping up with “hot” products feels impossible.
How do you sell a cool product before it goes out of style?
The answer? You don’t.
You don’t want to sell “hot” fads that are here today and gone tomorrow — but you do want to get in on trends that alter and impact culture.
How do you tell the difference between a short-term fad and a long-term trend? And how can your business maximize on this difference for ultimate profits?
What’s the difference between a trend and fad?
Let’s start with the fleeting, fading fad. Fads are short-lived crazes. They draw a large crowd and get a lot of publicity, but don’t mistake this popularity for status. Fads quickly fall into obscurity. People not only stop buying them—but they forget about them entirely. Fads waltz in for a dance, leaving just as swiftly as they appeared. They can last for a season or less than a month.
Recent fads include fidget spinners, Pokémon Go, and chokers.
Fads are not built on a substantial foundation, which means it’s easy for their walls to crumble and crack.
Trends have a more lasting impact on society. They’re not evergreen, but they last significantly longer than fads. They tend to come and go over time. What’s trending today might make way for next season’s trends, but that same trend could reappear in two years. That’s because movements are built on values and cultural behaviors, not on the product itself.
Similarly, they have an interaction with culture. Society influences the movements that come out, but the reverse is true as well—trends can also influence culture.
For example, ‘90s fashion has recently hit the scene for the first time since, well, the ‘90s. There has also been a recent fascination with a return to ‘90s culture. Beanie Babies are selling for thousands of dollars. Tamagotchi re-launched a line of products. Nickelodeon shows are popping up on TV on-demand services.
The reemergence of the ‘90s is a movement that’s popped up in a variety of spheres, like fashion, games, and movies. Some say that ‘90s fashion on the runway reminded consumers of their childhoods, which caused other industries to focus on ‘90s as well. Others say that a surge of nostalgia in the culture caused fashion designers to optimize on trends of decades past.
A fad has a beginning and an end. A trend has an ebb and flow that comes and goes.
Another popular example of a trend is athleisure. This is fashion style where athletic clothing is worn in casual or social occasions aside from exercising. Companies like Lulu Lemon and Athletica dominate the athleisure world, but even high-end luxury designers have started creating their own athleisure lines.
This is because health awareness has become a part of our culture and society. Working out has become engrained into our society. With this consciousness, people have a greater focus on “health” in all areas of their lives—including in their fashion.
A third movement example is wearable technology. A lot of companies—from tech businesses to clothing designers—are releasing lines of wearable technology. This does not show signs of slowing down anytime soon, and technology is only continuing to get more advanced.
Wearable tech is in its first stages of popularity, but it’s constantly in a state of change. Fitbit and other health monitors were the “hot” wearable tech, and now Apple Watch and other phone-based tech are popular.
Notice that fads tend to be specific products while trends tend towards product styles.
What should you invest in?
Fads will leave as quickly as they come. Some businesses have made money on selling fads… but only if they started the craze.
For example, original fidget spinner companies sold hundreds of thousands of products. But then other companies started getting on board—as the craze was ending. Now large brands, including Disney theme parks, are stuck with fidget spinner inventory that isn’t selling through.
In most cases, hopping on a fad is a quick way to lose money. By the time you receive the product order from your supplier, the fad is out of style.
Don’t invest in fads.
Trends, though, can be a strong investment. This is because they move along with changes in culture, politics, and society. Optimizing on a trend can place your business within the cultural shifts of society. This is exciting for companies to stay engaged and motivated, and it can be a profitable marketing tactic.
Trends can position you as an influence in your industry. You become a “hip” brand that knows how to cater to its audience. You’re not stagnant. You’re flowing with society and your consumers’ wants. This can be a great way to differentiate your brand.
How can you tell the difference between fads and trends?
How do you know which is which? Below are the questions to consider when adding new units to your portfolio.
1. Is this a product or a behavior?
Singular products generally aren’t a trend. Products are "trendy" when they’re part of an overall behavior. For example, pink sneakers with the word “robot” on them would be a fad. But white sneakers that match with the ‘90s craze would be part of a trend.
Consider whether the product is just a product or part of an overall movement of cultural behaviors.
2. Is this gaining steam?
Is the product trending upwards or downwards? How quickly?
“Fads” tend to get popular fast and furious. Even if the product is moving up in popularity, you want to note how steep the curve is. If the product gained popularity overnight, it’s likely a fad. If the product has been steadily gaining traction over time, it’s trending.
You want a slow progression upwards.
Check out Google Trends to determine how often people are searching for a given item. This is a great way to see a graph of the popularity of your potential product.
3. Would I use this even if no one else were?
Don’t necessarily think about where you yourself would personally use the product, but consider your general audience. Would your ideal audience member still want this product if it wasn’t popular?
For most business owners, they instinctively want to answer “yes.” But take a deeper dive into what your consumers really want.
Would customers really want a fidget spinner if no one else had them? Maybe some might—if they want to use it to calm their nerves or anxieties. But, in most cases, your audience wouldn’t spend money on an item that simply keeps their hands busy if the product wasn’t popular.
How do you optimize on trends?
How can you utilize them to push your business further, faster?
Remember that you don’t want to be a part of every movement. You want to be at the forefront of a single trend that’s in your specific niche. The more refined and defined your portfolio, the greater your chance of success with your audience.
This can also help you avoid fads because your business doesn’t follow every shiny, new product. You’re centered on a movement that’s related to your business and has expected, projected upward growth.
The Bottom Line
Fads are fleeting. Trends are enduring. Selling a fad could leave you with lost inventory, profits, and low market share. Selling with trends can leave you with heightened brand awareness, loyal clients, and a boost in profits.