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The performance effects of creative imitation on original products: Evidence from lab and field experiments

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Research Summary: A market entrant often challenges the incumbent using creative imitation: The entrant creatively combines imitated aspects of the original with its own innovative characteristics to create a distinct offering. Using lab and field experiments to examine creative imitation in China, we find the effects of creative imitations on the originals depend on the creative imitation's quality. We explore the underlying mechanisms, and show that including a low-quality creative imitation in the retail choice set increases satisfaction with and choice of the original, while a moderate-quality creative imitation does the opposite. Moreover, creative imitation affects consumers' satisfaction with the original by influencing whether their experience with the original verifies their expectations. Our paper reveals creative imitation effects to help incumbent firms effectively address them. Managerial Summary: When the incumbent is challenged by an entrant using creative imitation, consumers may react differently to the incumbent, and understanding consumers' reactions allows the incumbent to make better strategic decisions about how to address the challenge. Using lab and field experiments, we investigate creative imitations with two quality levels common in our empirical context, low quality and moderate quality, and examine how and why they differentially affect the originals. We find the presence of a low-quality creative imitation actually increased choice of the original by enhancing consumers' satisfaction with it, while a moderate-quality creative imitation reduced choice of the original by undermining satisfaction with it. Our research suggests the incumbent should address moderate-quality creative imitations' challenges to customer satisfaction, while temporarily tolerating low-quality creative imitations.

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