Friday, May 8, 2009

Profitability Analysis Framework, pt 5 - Price: Elasticity and Differentiation

Profitability Analysis Framework Series
[ 1. Overview, 2. Fixed Costs, 3. Variable Costs, 4. Sales, 5. Price ]

Price is probably one of the most universally important characteristics about a product or service. It usually acts as the primary (and fundamentally important) characteristic about a product. There are different ways to structure fees and payments.

From a strictly economic point of view, price will influence other factors such as quantity supplied and demanded (your standard micro-economic curves).

Your customer's price elasticity will also affect what price you can charge depending on your customers propensity to consume additional (or less) increments of your products.

One way to capture more consumer surplus is to differentiate your product (assuming that it is non-transferable). There are several strategies for accomplishing this task including product differentiation and consumer segmentation. Another consideration related to differentiation is whether customers would benefit of our product if we could customize certain characteristics. Can we achieve economies of scope in developing new product lines (leveraging technology and skill sets) and use these product lines to further refine our sales practices?

Where economics has a more difficult time modeling pricing is in luxury goods and brand equity (and is probably more interesting as well). Looking at similar competitors products in the market, some similar products sell at multiples of competitors products with similar features. For instance, clothing at stores like Banana Republic will sell Khakis at multiples versus what is available at Gap or Old Navy (all owned under GAP Inc). Here the product line differentiation is coupled with very strong brand identities based on design and style to command higher price points for similar products. To be able to understand what the public wants and to determine the best way to appeal to your customers is the ultimate goal of sales and marketing.

For products or services which are larger outlays versus the customers income (houses, cars etc) the high price and required cash outlay may make the purchases inaccessible. However, with financing plans with reasonable interest, potential customers with good credit still have access to purchase these goods whether the financing is arranged through a bank or through the company itself.

Also, for frequent purchases where there is some negotiation, it is important to look at the discounts being offered to close deals. Compensation models and sales commission structures are an important motivator for your sales staff, but they should not come at the expense of the sales team as a whole. Predatory pricing can be just as market inefficient as collusion.

[Case Study] Airlines need to maximize the capacity of an airplane in order to make a profit, however, they can also begin to differentiate between customers as their product is generally non-transferable.

For instance, a family going on vacation or a student knows that he or she is coming home for the holidays and can therefore plan ahead and book a ticket in advance. However, a business consultant only finds out at the last minute that they need to travel to a client site the next day.

Airlines can differentiate between these two groups by charging the first group a lower rate for booking in advance while charging the consultant a premium for last minute bookings. Also, a business class passenger gets a differentiated product.

Along with the additional lead time before a purchasing decision is made, there is also more flexibility (elasticity) in the first group than the second.

Profitability Analysis Framework Series
[ 1. Overview, 2. Fixed Costs, 3. Variable Costs, 4. Sales, 5. Price ]

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