Managers should start setting prices during the development stage as part of strategic pricing to avoid launching products or services that cannot sustain profitable prices in the market. This approach to pricing enables companies to either fit costs to prices or scrap products or services that cannot be generated cost-effectively. Through systematic pricing policies and strategies, companies can reap greater profits and increase or defend their market shares. Setting prices is one of the principal tasks of marketing and finance managers in that the price of a product or service often plays a significant role in that product's or service's success, not to mention in a company's profitability. Generally, pricing policy refers how a company sets the prices of its products and services based on costs, value, demand, and competition. Pricing strategy, on the other hand, refers to how a company uses pricing to achieve its strategic goals, such as offering lower prices to increase sales volume or higher prices to decrease backlog. Despite some degree of difference, pricing policy and strategy tend to overlap, and the different policies and strategies are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
After establishing the bases for their prices, managers can begin developing pricing strategies by determining company pricing goals, such as increasing short-term and long-term profits, stabilizing prices, increasing cash flow, and warding off competition. Managers also must take into account current market conditions when developing pricing strategies to ensure that the prices they choose fit market conditions. In addition, effective pricing strategy involves considering customers, costs, competition, and different market segments.
Pricing strategy entails more than reacting to market conditions, such as reducing pricing because competitors have reduced their prices. Instead, it encompasses more thorough planning and consideration of customers, competitors, and company goals. Furthermore, pricing strategies tend to vary depending on whether a company is a new entrant into a market or an established firm. New entrants sometimes offer products at low cost to attract market share, while incumbents' reactions vary. Incumbents that fear the new entrant will challenge the incumbents' customer base may match prices or go even lower than the new entrant to protect its market share. If incumbents do not view the new entrant as a serious threat, incumbents may simply resort to increased advertising aimed at enhancing customer loyalty, but have no change in price in efforts to keep the new entrant from stealing away customers.
The following sections explain various ways companies develop pricing policy and strategy. First, cost-based pricing is considered. This is followed by the second topic of value-based pricing. Third, demand-based pricing is addressed followed by competition-based pricing. After this, several strategies for new and established pricing strategies are explained.
The traditional pricing policy can be summarized by the formula:
Cost + Fixed profit percentage = Selling price.
Cost-based pricing involves the determination of all fixed and variable costs associated with a product or service. After the total costs attributable to the product or service have been determined, managers add a desired profit margin to each unit such as a 5 or 10 percent markup. The goal of the cost-oriented approach is to cover all costs incurred in producing or delivering products or services and to achieve a targeted level of profit.
By itself, this method is simple and straightforward, requiring only that managers study financial and accounting records to determine prices. This pricing approach does not involve examining the market or considering the competition and other factors that might have an impact on pricing. Cost-oriented pricing also is popular because it is an age-old practice that uses internal information that managers can obtain easily. In addition, a company can defend its prices based on costs, and demonstrate that its prices cover costs plus a markup for profit.
However, critics contend that the cost-oriented strategy fails to provide a company with an effective pricing policy. One problem with the cost-plus strategy is that determining a unit's cost before its price is difficult in many industries because unit costs may vary depending on volume. As a result, many business analysts have criticized this method, arguing that it is no longer appropriate for modern market conditions. Cost-based pricing generally leads to high prices in weak markets and low prices in strong markets, thereby impeding profitability because these prices are the exact opposites of what strategic prices would be if market conditions were taken into consideration.
While managers must consider costs when developing a pricing policy and strategy, costs alone should not determine prices. Many managers of industrial goods and service companies sell their products and services at incremental cost, and make their substantial profits from their best customers and from short-notice deliveries. When considering costs, managers should ask what costs they can afford to pay, taking into account the prices the market allows, and still allow for a profit on the sale. In addition, managers must consider production costs in order to determine what goods to produce and in what amounts. Nevertheless, pricing generally involves determining what prices customers can afford before determining what amount of products to produce. By bearing in mind the prices they can charge and the costs they can afford to pay, managers can determine whether their costs enable them to compete in the low-cost market, where customers are concerned primarily with price, or whether they must compete in the premium-price market, in which customers are primarily concerned with quality and features.
Value pricers adhere to the thinking that the optimal selling price is a reflection of a product or service's perceived value by customers, not just the company's costs to produce or provide a product or service. The value of a product or service is derived from customer needs, preferences, expectations, and financial resources as well as from competitors' offerings. Consequently, this approach calls for managers to query customers and research the market to determine how much they value a product or service. In addition, managers must compare their products or services with those of their competitors to identify their value advantages and disadvantages.
Yet, value-based pricing is not just creating customer satisfaction or making sales because customer satisfaction may be achieved through discounting alone, a pricing strategy that could also lead to greater sales. However, discounting may not necessarily lead to profitability. Value pricing involves setting prices to increase profitability by tapping into more of a product or service's value attributes. This approach to pricing also depends heavily on strong advertising, especially for new products or services, in order to communicate the value of products or services to customers and to motivate customers to pay more if necessary for the value provided by these products or services.
Managers adopting demand-based pricing policies are, like value pricers, not fully concerned with costs. Instead, they concentrate on the behavior and characteristics of customers and the quality and characteristics of their products or services. Demand-oriented pricing focuses on the level of demand for a product or service, not on the cost of materials, labor, and so forth.
According to this pricing policy, managers try to determine the amount of products or services they can sell at different prices. Managers need demand schedules in order to determine prices based on demand. Using demand schedules, managers can figure out which production and sales levels would be the most profitable. To determine the most profitable production and sales levels, managers examine production and marketing costs estimates at different sales levels. The prices are determined by considering the cost estimates at different sales levels and expected revenues from sales volumes associated with projected prices.
The success of this strategy depends on the reliability of demand estimates. Hence, the crucial obstacle managers face with this approach is accurately gauging demand, which requires extensive knowledge of the manifold market factors that may have an impact on the number of products sold. Two common options managers have for obtaining accurate estimates are enlisting the help from either sales representatives or market experts. Managers frequently ask sales representatives to estimate increases or decreases in demand stemming from specific increases or decreases in a product or service's price, since sales representatives generally are attuned to market trends and customer demands. Alternatively, managers can seek the assistance of experts such as market researchers or consultants to provide estimates of sales levels at various unit prices.
With a competition-based pricing policy, a company sets its prices by determining what other companies competing in the market charge. A company begins developing competition-based prices by identifying its present competitors. Next, a company assesses its own product or service. After this step, a company sets it prices higher than, lower than, or on par with the competitors based on the advantages and disadvantages of a company's product or service as well as on the expected response by competitors to the set price. This last consideration-the response of competitors-is an important part of competition-based pricing, especially in markets with only a few competitors. In such a market, if one competitor lowers its price, the others will most likely lower theirs as well.
This pricing policy allows companies to set prices quickly with relatively little effort, since it does not require as accurate market data as the demand pricing. Competitive pricing also makes distributors more receptive to a company's products because they are priced within the range the distributor already handles. Furthermore, this pricing policy enables companies to select from a variety of different pricing strategies to achieve their strategic goals. In other words, companies can choose to mark their prices above, below, or on par with their competitors' prices and thereby influence customer perceptions of their products. For example, if a Company A sets its prices above those of its competitors, the higher price could suggest that Company A's products or services are superior in quality. Harley Davidson used this with great success. Although Harley-Davidson uses many of the same parts suppliers as Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Honda, they price well above the competitive price of these competitors. Harley's high prices combined with its customer loyalty and mystique help overcome buyer resistance to higher prices. Production efficiencies over the last two decades, however, have made quality among motorcycle producers about equal, but pricing above the market signals quality to buyers, whether or not they get the quality premium they pay for.
Product pricing strategies frequently depend on the stage a product or service is in its life cycle; that is, new products often require different pricing strategies than established products or mature products.
Entrants often rely on pricing strategies that allow them to capture market share quickly. When there are several competitors in a market, entrants usually use lower pricing to change consumer spending habits and acquire market share. To appeal to customers effectively, entrants generally implement a simple or transparent pricing structure, which enables customers to compare prices easily and understand that the entrants have lower prices than established incumbent companies.
Complex pricing arrangements, however, prevent lower pricing from being a successful strategy in that customers cannot readily compare prices with hidden and contingent costs. The long-distance telephone market illustrates this point; large corporations have lengthy telephone bills that include numerous contingent costs, which depend on location, use, and service features. Consequently, competitors in the corporate long-distance telephone service market do not use lower pricing as the primary pricing strategy, as they do in the consumer and small-business markets, where telephone billing is much simpler.
Another example is the computer industry. Dell, Fujitsu, HP, and many others personal computer makers offer bundles of products that make it more difficult for consumers to sort out the true differences among these competitors. For example, consumers purchasing an HP computer from the retailer, Best Buy, will have not only the computer itself, but also six months of "free" Internet access bundled into the price. Comparing the absolute value of each personal computer become more difficult as an increasing number of other products such as Quicken, Adobe's Photoshop Elements, and other software are sold together with the purchase. For Macintosh users or for those who might consider switching from a personal computer to a Macintosh, Apple announced in 2005 that it would begin selling the Mac Mini, a Macintosh that, as with PC makers, bundles its iLife ® software into the mix. By extending its brand to non-premium price tiers, Apple will compete head-to-head with established firms. And although the Mac Mini is at a low price point, starting at $499, it will be difficult for consumers to directly compare the bundled products of PCs directly with the bundled products of Apple's Mac Mini. The complexity of these comparisons is what can make such new product pricing successful.
Sometimes established companies need not adjust their prices at all in response to entrants and their lower prices, because customers frequently are willing to pay more for the products or services of an established company to avoid perceived risks associated with switching products or services.
However, when established companies do not have this advantage, they must implement other pricing strategies to preserve their market share and profits. When entrants are involved, established companies sometimes attempt to hide their actual prices by embedding them in complex prices. This tactic makes it difficult for customers to compare prices, which is advantageous to established companies competing with entrants that have lower prices. In addition, established companies also may use a more complex pricing plan, such as a two-part pricing tactic. This tactic especially benefits companies with significant market power. Local telephone companies, for example, use this strategy, charging both fixed and per-minute charges.
Because all customers do not have the same needs, expectations, and financial resources, managers can improve their pricing strategies by segmenting markets. Successful segmentation comes about when managers determine what motivates particular markets and what differences exist in the market when taken as a whole. For example, some customers may be motivated largely by price, while others are motivated by functionality and utility. The idea behind segmentation is to divide a large group into a set of smaller groups that share significant characteristics such as age, income, geographic location, lifestyle, and so on. By dividing a market into two or more segments, a company can devise a pricing scheme that will appeal to the motivations of each of the different market segments or it can decide to target only particular segments of the market that best correspond to its products or services and their prices.
Managers can use market segmentation strategically to price products or services in order to attain company objectives. Companies can set prices differently for different segments based on factors such as location, time of sale, quantity of sale, product design, and a number of others, depending on the way companies divide up the market. By doing so, companies can increase their profits, market share, cash flow, and so forth.
SEE ALSO: Product Design ; Product Life Cycle and Industry Life Cycle ; Product-Process Matrix ; Strategy Formulation
Revised by Scott B. Droege
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