What it is:
An early adopter is a person who purchases or tries new products -- typically technology -- before most other consumers.
How it works/Example:
Early adopters are one of five types of consumers (the others are innovators, early majority, late majority, and laggards) along the "Diffusion of Innovations Curve" pioneered by Everett Rogers. Rogers stated that 2.5% of those who adopt a new technology do so very early (the innovators); the early adopters represent the next 13.5% of consumers; the early majority (34% of the adopters) come next; the late majority (another 34% of the adopters) come next; and the laggards (16% of the adopters) are the last to try the technology.
Market researchers often describe early adopters as social leaders who are popular and educated. Often, they will stand in line to purchase new products even when they know a new or cheaper version of the product will be available soon.
For example, the first iPhone, launched in 2007, came with a $600 price tag. Two months later, Apple lowered the price to $400; in June 2009, the price fell again to $200 and the phone offered twice the storage. Nonetheless, early adopters camped out in front of Apple stores and other retailers in 2007 to get their hands on the first version.
Why it matters:
Though economists my contend that early adopters exhibit irrational behavior, many researchers believe early adopters stand in lines for the newest products because of what buying those products says about them rather than because the gadget will make them more productive or perform a specific function.
Early adopters also serve as guinea pigs for new products and as such, often provide vendors with valuable feedback for future releases as well as create valuable word-of-mouth publicity for products. As a result, advertisers and vendors often recruit and cultivate early adopters.