A Model of Innovation Resistance

S. Ram, University of Arizona
[ to cite ]:
S. Ram (1987) ,"A Model of Innovation Resistance", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 208-212.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, 1987      Pages 208-212


S. Ram, University of Arizona

[I wish to thank Jagdish N. Sheth and ACR reviewers for their comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this manuscript.]

The vast literature on innovations has predominantly restricted itself to the adoption and diffusion perspectives (Gatignon & Robertson, 1985). In fact, this restricted view extends across the numerous disciplines that have examined the innovation process: rural sociology (Rogers, 1983), geography (Brown, 1981). medical sociology (Coleman et.al.. 1957). cultural anthropology (Barnett. 1953). economics (Mansfield. 1961). and marketing (Bass. 1969; Mahajan & Muller. 1979). The chief reason for this has been the "pro- innovation bias" of researchers (Rogers. 1983). and their tendency to classify late adopters as "laggards." This, in turn. is based on the premise that all innovations are good for the consumer and are surefire improvements over existing product substitutes. If this were indeed true. one would be at a loss to explain the high rate of new product failure in the economy (Booz, Allen & Hamilton. 1981). The problem has been compounded by the fact that. but for a handful of studies, past research has been devoted primarily to the study of the adoption and diffusion of successful innovations alone.

Innovations impose change on the consumer. and resistance to change is a normal consumer response. Not all change is necessarily healthy and resistance on its own merit may be desirable and useful (Klein, 1967; Stiles & Robinson, 1973). Some scholars have, thus, suggested that viewing innovations from the adoption and diffusion perspectives should be de-emphasized, and studying the process of innovation resistance must be given attention: " . . . the vast majority of people who have no a priori desire to change may be more typical and even more rational than a small minority of individuals who seek change for its own sake rather than, or in addition to, the intrinsic value of the innovations. Therefore. it is about time we respect to individuals who resist change. understand their psychology of resistance and utilize this knowledge in the development and promotion of innovations rather than thrust upon them preconceived innovations.." (Sheth. 1981).

More importantly, Innovation Resistance is not the obverse of Innovation Adoption. Adoption begins only after the initial resistance offered by the consumers is overcome. Thus, it is the Resistance perspective which looks at what happens to the innovation since the time it is conceived. If the resistance is too high. the innovation dies and there is no adoption. Further. resistance and adoption can coexist during the life of an innovation. Hence, it is quite important that innovation resistance per se is studied. The objective of this paper is to develop a model of innovation resistance. identify the factors that affect resistance and suggest testable propositions in this neglected perspective of innovation research.

Innovation and Innovation Resistance

At the outset, let us define innovation and innovation resistance.

At a very general level, an innovation has been defined as an "...idea, practice or object that people see as different" (Zaltman & Wallendorf. 1983). From a marketer's point of view. the definition needs to be more focussed: thus, an innovation is defined as a product which is perceived by the consumer as new. This perceived newness may be due to change(s) in just one attribute of the product (e.g. a new shape for a wine bottle). or radical change in the product concept (e.g. 8 Picturephone instead of the "voice-only" telephones). A firm may come up with an "intended" innovation - however. if the consumer fails to perceive newness. then the firm has a different problem on its hand. The lack of adoption. in this case. is not due to consumer resistance to the new product. but due to failure on the part of the firm to stimulate optimal newness. Addressing the causes for and solutions to this problem is beyond the scope of this paper. What emerges from the foregoing discussion, however. is that what is perceived to be new by a firm need not necessarily be an innovation to the consumer. Yet, every product in the market will be a potential innovation for consumers who perceive it to be so. Further. innovation resistance is triggered off only if the consumer perceives a product to be an innovation. It is from this perspective that the study of innovation resistance has been approached here.

"Resistance to change may be defined as any conduct that serves to maintain status quo in the face of pressure to alter the status quo" (Zaltman Q Wallendorf. 1983) and is associated with the degree to which individuals feel themselves threatened by change. Innovation Resistance is the resistance offered by consumers to changes imposed by innovations. To the extent that consumers can suffer changes in the way they acquire information about. purchase. use or dispose of nev products. innovation resistance is but a special version of resistance to change. Several theories in psychology explicitly deal with resistance to change (Newcomb. 1953; Osgood & Tannenbaum. 1955; Heider, 1958). All these theories suggest that consumers have an intrinsic desire for psychological equilibrium. Any change imposed on their behavior has the potential to disturb this equilibrium the consumer thus more often opts for resisting the change than going through a disturbing process of readjustment. In other words. resistance would seem to be a normal response of consumers when confronted with innovations.

A Model of Innovation Resistance

Based on past literature, the Innovation Resistance of a consumer can be viewed as dependent on three sets of factors: Perceived Innovation Characteristics. Consumer Characteristics. and. Characteristics of Propagation Mechanisms (See Figure A).

A consumer is exposed to an innovation through direct contact with the innovation and through one or more of several propagation mechanisms. If the consumer perceives a high degree of change in using the innovation. then he resists it. If the innovation encounters consumer resistance, then it needs to be modified by the firm to suit consumer needs and reduce the resistance. The most important characteristic for an innovation to be successful is its amenability to modification. The modification to be made would depend on what caused the resistance: if the resistance vas due to lack of compatibility. the modification would attempt to improve the compatibility of the innovation; if the perceived relative disadvantage caused the resistance. the would need to reduce this. If the innovation cannot be modified. consumer resistance cannot be overcome and it is bound to be rejected. If it can be modified. then the modification is effected and the never version of the innovation is once again exposed to the consumer. The cycle is repeated leading to ultimate acceptance or failure of the innovation.



The model of Innovation Resistance is set in the contest of Cultural, Situational and Social factors, since a variation in each of these can affect Resistance. The impact of these factors is not addressed in this paper. Let us now examine how each of the three major groups of factors - Perceived Innovation Characteristics, Consumer Characteristics, and Characteristics of Propagation Mechanisms affect Innovation Resistance.

Perceived Innovation Characteristics

The characteristics of an innovation, as perceived by the consumer, determine the amount of resistance generated. Rogers (1962) has enumerated five important characteristics of an innovation: Relative Advantage, Compatibility, Perceived Risk, Trialability, and Communicability.

The Relative Advantage of an innovation may be in the form of economic gain or in the form of cost savings. The costs that are saved could be either financial, such as investment costs. or social, such as ridicule, ostracism or expulsion from peer groups (Homans. 1961). The innovation could also provide improved performance at comparatively lower costs - in other words, higher "value." If the Innovation provides a low relative advantage over existing substitutes (or, in fact. provides higher relative disadvantage). then consumers are more likely to resist it. One must note that a high cost disadvantage (say a $100 price disadvantage) could operate differently on generating consumer resistance than a low cost advantage (a $5 price advantage).

P1: The higher the perceived relative disadvantage (or lover the perceived relative advantage). the higher the innovation resistance.

Compatibility of an innovation is "...the degree to which an innovation is perceived as consistent with the existing values. past experiences and needs of the receiver" (Rogers & Shoemaker. 1971). Extending this definition, compatibility represents not only consistency with the existing values of the consumer, but also with traditional and cultural values, and with current lifestyles of the consumer. Linked to compatibility is the notion of pervasiveness. Pervasiveness of an innovation is the degree to which it relates to and requires changes or adjustments on the part of the consumer (Barnett, 1953). The higher the pervasiveness, the more the behavioral change. For example, when a manager, who is used to a personal secretary, is asked to rely on a central word-processing pool (of secretaries) for his secretarial needs, s/he is confronted with a high degree of behavioral adjustment (pervasiveness). The innovation is incompatible with the manager's current lifestyle - s/he no longer has the benefit of a flexible, one-on-one relationship with a personal secretary - and this may create resistance to the concept of the word-processing secretarial pool.

P2: The lower the perceived compatibility (or higher the pervasiveness) of an innovation, the higher the innovation resistance.

Perceived Risk is the risk associated with adopting the innovation, and can be of several types: physical risk, functional risk (performance uncertainty), psychological risk and social risk. The level of perceived risk depends on the type of innovation. "Minor" or "Continuous" innovations (Robertson, 1971) have lower levels of perceived risk for the consumer. while "Major" or "Discontinuous" innovations threaten disruption of routine behavior and have higher levels of perceived risk associated with them.

P3: The higher the levels of any of the perceived risk components (physical, functional, psychological or social), the higher the innovation resistance.

Trialability of an innovation relates to how easily the innovation can be tried by the consumer prior to adoption, and impacts on the perceived risk associated with the innovation. If, for instance. a product based on an entirely new technology cannot be tried by the consumer prior to purchase, then the consumer is likely to perceive a high level of risk in purchasing the product. If. on the other hand, the consumer has a successful trial with the product, the risk associated with the product is likely to decrease. Related to trialability is the concept of divisibility of the innovation. Divisibility measures whether an innovation can be attempted in stages.

P4: The lower the trialability of an innovation, the higher the innovation resistance.

P5: The lower the divisibility of an innovation, the higher the innovation resistance.

Communicability of an innovation is the ease and effectiveness with which the results of an innovation can be disseminated to others (Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971). In the contest of innovations, this would imply the ease with which the benefits of the product can be conveyed to the consumer. Communicability has two components: tangibility of the benefits from adopting the innovation, and ability of the marketer to communicate the benefits. If either or both of these components is lacking, then the innovation is likely to meet with high resistance.

P6: The lower the communicability of an innovation, the higher the innovation resistance.

The complexity of an innovation arises from two dimensions: complexity of the idea (is it easy to understand?), and complexity of execution (is it easy to implement?). Complexity has to be reduced on both these dimensions for the consumer.

P7: The higher the complexity of an innovation, the higher the innovation resistance.

Zaltman et.al. (1973) have identified some other characteristics of innovations which are relevant in the contest of Innovation Resistance. These are Reversibility, Realization, Amenability to Modification, and Effect on Adoption of Other Innovations.

Reversibility denotes the option that a consumer may have in terms of being able to discontinue adoption of the innovation (at least temporarily), if 80 desired.

P8: The lower the reversibility of an innovation, the higher the innovation resistance.

Realization is how soon the consumer expects to receive the benefits from the innovation.

P9: The lower the realization of an innovation, the higher the innovation resistance.

Amenability to Modification reflects the flexibility with which the innovation can be modified to ensure consumer satisfaction. In fact, this is the most important factor in reducing consumer resistance. If innovation modification is not feasible, the innovation may be rejected immediately.

P10: The lower the amenability to modification of an innovation, the higher the innovation resistance.

In some cases, the adoption of one innovation may have an inhibitory effect on the adoption of other profitable innovations. If this were the case, the consumer may opt out of the problematic innovation.

P11: The higher the inhibitory effect of an innovation on the adoption of other beneficial innovations, the higher the consumer resistance to this innovation.

Kelly & Kranzberg (1978) have classified all characteristics of innovations into two categories: those that are dependent on the consumer and those that are not. According to them. Trialability. Divisibility. Reversibility. and the Form of the innovation (idea. product. or process) would be consumer-independent. These factors can be expected to create the same type of resistance across all consumers. All other characteristics such as Relative Disadvantage. Compatibility etc. would be consumer-dependent. and would generate resistance depending on how each consumer perceived the innovation on each of these attributes.

Consumer Characteristics

An innovation is newness as perceived by the consumer. Thus, the resistance to an innovation is dependent on the psychological characteristics of the consumer. Some of the factors that have been identified as relevant to consumer behavior in the context of innovations are: Personality, Attitudes. Value Orientation. Previous Innovative Experience (Brandner & Kearl. 1964). Perception. Motivation (Zaltman & Wallendorf. 1983). and Beliefs (Yeracaris. 1961).

Of these factors. we have already seen how the consumer's perception of the innovation characteristics affects resistance. Unless the consumer perceives the need for the innovation. he is likely to resist it. Further. unless the consumer's perception of the innovation remains favorable both before and after adoption. he is likely to revert to resistance.

P12: The higher the consumer's perceived lack of need for the product. the higher the innovation resistance.

A second source of resistance is consumer motivation. Behaviors that are comfortable. based on "habit" (Sheth. 1981) are resistant to change. If the consumer is quite content with the current routine. and the innovation threatens to disrupt established usage patterns. then he is likely to resist the innovation. The more discontinuous the innovation. the more likely this is to happen.

P13: The more discontinuous the innovation. the lower the motivation for the consumer to adopt. and higher the innovation resistance.

The consumer's personality is a major determinant of innovation resistance. For instance. innovators or variety-seekers love innovating for the sake of the new experience and will therefore have lower resistance to new products. Personality traits such as self-confidence and dogmatism play an important role in how consumers react to innovations. For example, in the case of innovations which cannot be tested prior to purchase. consumers with lower self-confidence would rather wait until the performance of the product has been demonstrated adequately. Similarly, based on the dogmatism scale developed by Rokeach (1973). it is ewident that high dogmatics will tend to be more uncomfortable, anxious and threatened by the prospect of change and will be more resistant to innovations.

P14: The lower the consumer's self-confidence. the higher the innovation resistance.

P15: The higher the consumer's dogmatism. the higher the innovation resistance.

The consumer's attitudes and beliefs determine the amount of resistance that he offers to an innovation. For example. if a consumer desires to maintain or enhance self-prestige. and believes that the innovation will be instrumental in doing so. then his resistance to the innovation will be low. Similarly. if the consumer believes that he would need to seek information from others in order to use the innovation. and that receiving others' help is an admission of inferiority (Rice. 1963; Czepiel. 1972) then resistance to the innovation will be high.

P16: The more positive a consumer's beliefs about an innovation. the lower the innovation resistance.

P17: The more positive a consumer's attitude towards adopting an innovation. the lover the innovation resistance.

The Previous Innovative Experience of a consumer also affects innovation resistance. The biasing influence of past experience that-an individual brings to a present problem-solving or decision-making activity is known as "mind set." and mind-set plays an important role in shaping consumer perception and attitude formation.

P18: The more favorable a consumer's previous innovative experience. the lower the innovation resistance.

Thus far. we have seen the psychological characteristics of a consumer that affect innovation resistance. These characteristics reflect the consumer's Willingness to Innovate. However. a consumer with the willingness to innovate may not have the Ability to Innovate. The consumer characteristics which affect the consumer's ability to innovate are the demographic variables such as Education. Income. Mobility and Age. Consumers with a high willingness to adopt the innovation may not do so because it is well beyond their means or too sophisticated for them to comprehend.

P19: The poorer the ability of the consumers to innovate. the higher the innovation resistance.

Characteristics of Propagation Mechanisms

The role of propagation mechanisms in the adoption and diffusion of innovations has been extensively examined (Arndt. 1967; Manusco. 1969: Czepiel. 1972). While the effectiveness of propagation mechanisms in the case of successful innovations has been studied. the case of ineffective propagation mechanisms creating consumer resistance to innovations has been ignored.



Propagation mechanisms can be classified on two dimensions: the Extent of Marketer Control and Type of Contact with the Consumer (See Figure E). When the innovation is introduced to the market. the Marketer-Controlled propagation mechanisms such as advertising and testimonials play an important role in reducing consumer resistance.

As more and more people begin to use the product, propagation mechanisms outside Marketer Control such as word-of-mouth and Consumer Reports play an important role in reducing consumer resistance (Robertson. 1971).

P20: The earlier the innovation is in its life cycle. the greater the effectiveness of marketer-controlled propagation mechanisms (such as mass media) in reducing innovation resistance.

P21: The later the innovation is in its life cycle. the greater the effectiveness of propagation mechanisms not controlled by the marketer in reducing innovation resistance.

P22: Propagation mechanisms which involve direct and personal contact with the consumer (such as word-of-mouth and opinion leadership) are more effective than those which involve indirect contact with the consumer in reducing innovation resistance.

Regardless of the type of propagation mechanism. the characteristics of the propagation mechanism will have an impact on the consumer's innovation resistance (Robertson. 1971). First. the less clear the communication is to the consumer. the less motivated he will be to seek further information. and this may lead to higher resistance. Second. the less convincing the propagation mechanism is. the less likely the consumer will be to develop favorable predispositions to the innovation and higher the innovation resistance. Third, the less credible the propagation mechanism, or the lower the perceived expertise of the propagation mechanism, the less likely it is that the consumer will accept favorable messages about the innovation. and higher the resistance. Fourth. the less informative the propagation mechanism is about the innovation. the worse off the consumer is with respect to making a decision about the innovation. Finally. the higher the perceived similarity of the source (typically in propagation mechanisms involving direct contact with the consumer). the higher the attractiveness of the source, and the higher the receptivity to the information - hence, lower the innovation resistance.

P23: The higher the clarity of the propagation mechanism. the lower the innovation resistance.

P24: The higher the credibility (perceived expertise) of the propagation mechanism. the lower the innovation resistance .

P25: The higher the informativeness of the propagation mechanism. the lower the innovation resistance.

P26: The higher the perceived source similarity/attractiveness. the lower the innovation resistance.

Implications of the Innovation Resistance Perspective

Understanding the factors that drive innovation resistance of consumers has important implications for both theory development and managerial action.

From a theory development perspective. little empirical research has yet been reported on innovation resistance. It would be essential to see whether consumer resistance varies across product classes. or whether the same set of factors cause innovation resistance in similar product categories (such as durables. non-durables etc.). The notion of threshold resistance needs to be addressed.

Each consumer can be considered to have a minimum level of tolerance on each product attribute (the threshold). If the resistance due to any product attribute exceeds the threshold level. then the overall resistance to the product itself becomes very high. Once again. research needs to be directed at establishing threshold levels of resistance across the various product attributes in different product classes. Finally. the theory of innovation resistance can be linked with the theory of adoption to obtain an overall theory of innovations. which would explain the life of an innovation right from the time of its conception rather than after its acceptance. From 8 managerial perspective. innovation resistance is a very useful concept. First. understanding the resistance process will help marketing firms design and develop new products so as to ensure market success. The high rate of new product failure that is prevalent today can be reduced. Firms will cease innovating merely because they have access to a new technology, and will first assess the likely market resistance that the innovation will face before deciding to go ahead. Second. once firms know the underlying causes of innovation resistance, they may be able to create consumer resistance to competitive products. Third, consumer groups or activists would be quite successful in diffusing resistance among consumers to potentially harmful or hazardous innovations.

In conclusion. it is high time that consumer researchers devoted attention to a useful. yet neglected. perspective in the study of innovations. The model developed here looks at the direct effects of the three major sets of factors on innovation resistance. A more interesting aspect would be to examine the interactive effects of the factors on innovation resistance. and it is an issue that merits future study.


Barnett. H. G. (1953), Innovation: The Basis of Cultural Change. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Bass. Frank M. (1969). "A New Product Growth Model For Consumer Durables." Management Science. 15(2).

Booz. Allen & Hamilton Inc. (1981). Product Management in the 1980's. Chicago Booz. Allen & Hamilton.

Brandner, Lowell and Bryant Kearl (1964). "Evaluation for Congruence as a Factor in Adoption Rate of Innovations," Rural Sociology. 29. 288-303.

Bright. J. R. (1970). "Evaluating Signals Of Technological Change, Harvard Business Review. 48. 62-70.

Brown. Lawrence A. (1981). Innovation Diffusion: A New Perspective. New York: Methuen.

Coleman. James. Elihu Katz and Herbert Menzel (1957). "The Diffusion of an Innovation Among Physicians." SociometrY, 20 (December). 253-270.

Czepiel. John A. (1972). "The Diffusion of a Major Technological Innovation in a Complex Industrial Community: An Analysis of Social Processes in the American Steel Industry." Ph.D. Dissertation. Northwestern University.

Gatignon. Hubert and Thomas S. Robertson (1985). "A Propositional Inventory for New Diffusion Research." Journal of Consumer Research. 11 (March). 849-867.

Homans. G. C. (1961). Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms. New York: Harcourt. Brace and Hovanovich.

Kelly, Patrick and Melvin Kranzberg (1978), "Technological Innovation: A Critical Review of Current Knowledge," San Francisco: San Francisco Press Inc.

Klein. Donald (1967). "Some Notes on the Dynamics of Resistance to Change: The Defender Role." in Concepts for Social Change ed. G. Watson. Washington D.C.: National Institute for Applied Behavioral Science.

Mahajan. Vijay and Eitan Muller (1979). "Innovation Diffusion and Nev Product Growth Models in Marketing, Journal of Marketing. 43 (Fall). 55-68

Mansfield. Edwin (1961). "Technical Change and the Rate of Imitation." Econometrica. 29 (October). 741-766.

Robertson. Thomas S. (1971). Innovative Behavior and Communication. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Rogers. Everett M. (1983). Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press.

Rokeach. Milton (1973). The Nature of Human Values. New York: Free Press.

Sheth. Jagdish N. (1981). "Psychology of Innovation Resistance: The Less Developed Concept (LDC) in Diffusion Research." in Research in Marketing ed. J. N. Sheth. 4. Jai Press Inc.. 273-282.

Stiles. Lindley J. and Beecham Robinson (19730. "Change in Education," in Processes and Phenomena of Social Change ed. G. Zaltman. New York: Wiley Interscience.

Yeracaris. C. A. (1961). "Social Factors Associated with the Acceptance of Medical Innovations: A Pilot Study." Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 3. 193-198.

Zaltman. Gerald. Robert Duncan and Johnny Holbek (1973). Innovations and Organizations. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Zaltman. Gerald and Melanie Wallendorf (1983). Consumer Behavior: Basic Findings and Management Implications. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Remaining references available upon request.