The Disruption that Never Was: Unpacking the Process of Product Substitution

TUM Main Campus
Room tbd.
Arcisstr. 21
80333 München

Hybrid Seminar (Zoom link via separate invitation)
29 Apr 2024
11:00 am (Central European Time)

Author: Stine Grodal (Northeastern University)


Abstract: Market disruption is a central topic in management theory. For a new product to disrupt an existing market users need to view the existing and the new products as substitutes. However, in most studies of market disruption, the process underlying product substitution is black-boxed. Understanding the process underlying product substitution is important because otherwise we cannot understand whether or not market disruption will occur. To advance knowledge in this area, we conducted an inductive qualitative study of the introduction of e-cigarettes into the U.S. market. Initially, experts—financial analysts, vape shop owners and e-cigarette producers—predicted that e-cigarettes would disrupt the market for traditional combustible cigarettes. However, this disruption never occurred, instead e-cigarettes were exapted by another user group—teenagers and young adults. Another group of experts—public health researchers—then predicted that e-cigarettes users would switch to combustible cigarettes. Yet, this reverse substitution also did not occur. We explain this lack of substitution by pointing to differences in how experts and users judged product substitutability. We found that while experts relied on the technical dimension of the product, users focused primarily on the products socio-cognitive and social dimensions to judge product substitutability. This paper extends theories of market disruption by unpacking the black box of product substitution by showing that different stakeholder groups judge product substitution along different product dimensions. We show that without an understanding of how multiple stakeholder groups—including experts and users from both the existing and the new market—assess the substitutability of products along multiple dimensions, we cannot make accurate predictions about when market disruption will or will not occur nor understand the process through which market disruption unfolds.


Host: Ami Zhao Ding