Maximizing Growth: Understanding Market Cannibalization


Market cannibalization is a strategic phenomenon in business where a new product’s introduction impacts the sales of an older product within the same company. This article delves comprehensively into the concept, its types, strategies, prevention methods, and the advantages and disadvantages. By understanding market cannibalization, businesses can make informed decisions to optimize growth.

Unraveling market cannibalization

Market cannibalization, often referred to as corporate cannibalism, is a strategic consideration in the business world. It occurs when a company’s introduction of a new product disrupts the market for an older product it already offers. Instead of expanding its market share, the company essentially competes with itself. Let’s explore this concept in depth.

Understanding market cannibalization

Market cannibalization can be likened to a double-edged sword. On one side, it represents innovation and adaptation, while on the other, it risks internal competition. It typically happens when a new product, often more advanced or appealing, targets the same customer base as an existing product within the company’s portfolio. This shift in consumer preference leads to stagnant market share growth for the company despite increased sales of the new product.

How market cannibalization works

Market cannibalization can occur unintentionally when marketing or advertising campaigns for new products inadvertently draw customers away from established ones. This can be detrimental to a company’s profitability and market positioning.

Conversely, some companies intentionally employ market cannibalization as a strategy for growth. For example, a supermarket chain might open a new store near an older one, knowing that both locations will vie for the same customers. This can disrupt competitors and ultimately increase the company’s overall market share.

Types of market cannibalization

Planned cannibalism: This type occurs when companies consciously release new product versions, even if it affects sales of older models. By doing so, they aim to attract new buyers while sacrificing some sales of older, yet still popular, models.

Cannibalization through discounts: Many retailers offer products at discounted prices to boost cash flow or make room for newer items. However, regular discounts can lead to cannibalization if customers come to expect routine price reductions. Retailers may find themselves compelled to offer steeper discounts, impacting profitability.

Cannibalization through eCommerce: Traditional retailers venturing into the online sales space can inadvertently cannibalize their brick-and-mortar sales. However, these losses may be offset if online sales attract new customers who were previously outside the retailer’s usual customer base.

Strategies to prevent market cannibalization

To prevent new products from cannibalizing older ones, companies must thoughtfully consider branding and pricing. Products with similar pricing and placement, such as new flavors or added features, pose a high risk of market cannibalization. To mitigate this risk, companies can employ the following strategies:

Distinctive branding: Creating distinct brand identities for new products can help prevent cannibalization. This involves developing unique marketing strategies and positioning that differentiates the new offering from existing ones.

Timed releases: Careful timing of new product releases can minimize disruption to older offerings. Companies should evaluate market dynamics and consumer demand before introducing new products.

‘Fighting brands’: Companies can create inexpensive “fighting brands” to compete with low-cost competitors without cannibalizing sales from premium brands. This way, they can capture a broader range of consumers without compromising premium products.

When market cannibalism is unavoidable

In some cases, market cannibalization cannot be avoided. For example, the shift towards e-commerce has compelled traditional retailers to establish online presences, even if it means competing with their own brick-and-mortar stores. Companies must adapt to changing market dynamics or risk losing market share to more agile competitors.

Advantages and disadvantages of market cannibalization

Benefits of market cannibalization

Reviving interest: New product offerings can reignite interest in older product lines, keeping them relevant and appealing to consumers.

Competitive edge: Offering “bargain” alternatives can deter competitors from undercutting a company’s core brand, protecting market share.

Innovation driver: Market cannibalization often fuels innovation and encourages companies to stay ahead of evolving consumer preferences.

Risks of market cannibalization

Brand dilution: Introducing low-priced versions of products can dilute the value of premium brands, potentially eroding their market appeal.

Market saturation: In some cases, market cannibalization can lead to saturation, with multiple similar products competing for the same customers. This can impact pricing and profitability.

Examples of market cannibalization

Companies across various industries use market cannibalization strategically. A prominent example is Apple, known for its regular releases of new iPhones. While these releases may affect sales of older models, Apple anticipates that they will attract new buyers, thus increasing its overall market share.

Measuring market cannibalization

The degree of market cannibalization can be quantified using the Cannibalization Rate:

Cannibalization Rate = (Lost sales on old product) / (Sales of new product) x 100

Frequently asked questions

Is product cannibalization good or bad?

Product cannibalization is a natural consequence of launching new product lines. Whether it’s good or bad depends on the strategy and how well it’s executed. A well-planned launch can help a company gain overall market share.

How can you measure product cannibalization?

Product cannibalization is measured using the cannibalization rate, which calculates the percentage of new sales that come at the expense of old product lines. It’s computed by dividing lost sales for older products by the total sales of the new product.

Why is product cannibalization important?

Product cannibalization is crucial in brand marketing. Launching new products can poach customers from existing product lines, making it essential to thoroughly research the market and conduct testing to assess risks and benefits.

Key takeaways

  • Market cannibalization is when a new product from a company impacts the sales of an existing product, potentially leading to stagnant market share growth.
  • This phenomenon can occur unintentionally through marketing efforts or be a deliberate strategy for growth.
  • Types of market cannibalization include planned cannibalism, cannibalization through discounts, and cannibalization through eCommerce.
  • Preventing market cannibalization involves careful branding, timing of new product releases, and creating distinctive product lines.
  • When market cannibalism is unavoidable, companies must adapt to changing market dynamics or risk losing market share.
  • Market cannibalization has both advantages, such as reviving interest in older products, and disadvantages, including brand dilution.
  • Companies like Apple use market cannibalization strategically to attract new customers and stay competitive.
  • The Cannibalization Rate measures the extent of market cannibalization, calculated as (Lost sales on old product) / (Sales of new product) x 100.
View Article Sources
  1. Product cannibalization: a case study – University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  2. Consumer Preferences, Cannibalization, and Competition: Evidence from the Personal Computer Industry – MIS Quarterly
  3. Measuring reverse cannibalization: Strategic implications for category and product line management – University of Massachusetts Amherst
  4. Branding, Cannibalization, and Spatial Preemption: An Application to the Hotel Industry – Federal Trade Commission