New research published in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review (available for free here) shows that changes in product quality do not immediately get perceived as such by customers – in fact it can take years for perceptions to catch up with actual changes.
The study, which covered 241 products in 46 categories over a period of 12 years, and which involved over 30,000 consumers, found that most of the perception catch-up happens after the second year following the quality change. Full adjustment to the changes takes 5 to 7 years. Those numbers vary depending on the brand, frequency and purchase and other factors, but even with products where consumers were quick to gauge the change, like toothpaste, it took 3.9 years.
This has some far reaching implications. Not only does it explain other research that shows that it takes 5 to 10 years for product quality improvements to result in higher profits, it also means that companies have a long time to course-correct when something bad happens with their product (assuming they do not get hammered in the blogosphere that is).