Dr Joern Meissner

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Random House Fears E-Book Price War on iPad

March 30th, 2010 by Joern Meissner

The iPad, Apple’s newest technological wonder, will be released on April 3rd, just a few short weeks from now, but one thing probably missing from its advertised digital bookstore, iBookstore, will be the books from the world’s sales leader in publishing, Random House.

In the Financial Times article ‘Random House fears iPad price war’, Random House chief executive Markus Dohle said that Random House was still reviewing their options, as they fear that Apple’s pricing policy is of an interest to their stakeholders. The publisher was still in discussions with their agents and authors over the decision.

Random House is a division of Bertelsmann, whose profits declined over the past year, thanks in large part to the recession. And while the company believes they will make gains this year, they are not sure that allowing Apple to control the pricing policy of their e-books is the way to go about it.

Apple’s current e-book policy is that publishers will set the price for their own books, with Apple receiving 30 cents off every dollar. While the other five major publishers (which account for nearly all of Random House’s competition) have already signed on with Apple and their iBookstore, this new pricing scheme is very different from standard publishing policies.

In standard publishing pricing, the publishers sell books to the bookstores at a wholesale rate. The bookstores then make a profit by marking up the books from the wholesale rate. Bookstores can even return unsold books. Even Amazon, one of the world’s top bestsellers and one of the darlings of e-commerce, sells its book this way. While the publishers and Apple both agree that e-books are here to stay, neither is quite sure how to actually price them successfully to make both companies and their customers happy.

In the end, Random House must realize that a price war of any type is not beneficial to their company. If Random House takes Apple’s offer of controlling their own prices, they must quickly realize that trying to price their bestsellers at a price lower than their competitors will only result in spend-thrifty customers and low revenues. And if Random House decides to take Apple’s deal and then prices their books far too low, customers will always expect that price. And they will now be simply a few touches on the touchscreen away from picking up a book from Harper-Collins or Macmillan instead.

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Who Benefits from Bundling?

March 23rd, 2010 by Joern Meissner

Bundling is the act of grouping services and products together to create a new price point. This technique is common in most industries, but the question remains of whether the buyer or the seller actually benefits more from the bundling itself.

In the recent article ‘The Pros and Cons of Bundling’ by Anthony Tjan (The Harvard Business Review, February 26, 2010), Tjan discussed how bundling, in his opinion, ultimately benefits the seller. His argument is based on the lack of transparency in bundling; the sellers can group products and services together in a way that hides how much the customer pays for each individual item. This illusion then prompts the customer to pay more for simple items than they would if the bundle had been broken into a product-by-product invoice.

An illustration of this idea is when customers buy all-inclusion cruise packages – the customer does not know how much they are paying for each individual part of the cruise but only the total price. For example, the overall price for one person could $1050, which doesn’t sound bad to the customer, but if they knew that when the prices were broken down, they were paying $50 for their breakfasts every morning, they might reconsider the price or demand a lower one, as they don’t eat breakfast anyway.

Tjan does point out that this is not always true. Fast food restaurants have the bundled (the value meals) and the individual item’s price points both visible on their menu boards. Customers can quickly see that the bundle of sandwich, fries, and drink is several cents cheaper than buying them separately. In this case, the bundling (having given up its inherent transparency) now benefits the customers. The company, however, does benefit from the increased speed and efficiency of the value meals, as their employees can greatly generate the meals. For a company focused on speed, this might be an overall benefit greater than the loss of a few cents per meal. This also benefits their marketing plans – by being able to advertise a lower price point, they could gain customers who are focused solely on price.

It should be noted, however, that customers are also less likely to purchase the whole package when not given a bundled option. If there were no value meals, many customers wouldn’t get the fries or drinks. They might just order a smaller meal. Or in terms of a car sales, the customer would be likely to not buy additional add-ons if they are all presented individually – customers are much more likely to either go all-in (all the add-ons available) or none (the bare minimum they can live with).

In these cases, therefore, buyers and sellers can both benefit from bundling. The lack of transparency in bundling does benefit the seller, especially when the seller wants to put a high price point on items that some customers would balk at paying. But the customer can also benefit when the seller’s objective in bundling isn’t the price, but the act of creating a better advertising market or a swifter, more efficient product.

In the end, bundling can also be seen as pricing based on value. The customers will pay the higher bundled price, if the extra add-ons were somewhat worth it (the fries) and doesn’t add that much to the price. The seller then benefits by the customers paying the higher, bundled prices for products they might not have purchased in the first place. This added value could possibly be seen as beneficial to both.

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Basic Pricing Strategies and when to use them

March 2nd, 2010 by Joern Meissner

There are three basic pricing strategies: skimming, neutral, and penetration. These pricing strategies represent the three ways in which a pricing manager or executive could look at pricing. Knowing these strategies and teaching them to your sales staff, and letting them know which one they should be using, allows for a unity within the company and a defined, company-wide pricing policy.

  1. Skimming Strategy

    Skimming is the process of setting high prices based on value. Instead of basing your prices on your competition, a skimming price comes from within the company and the (financial) value your product represents to your customer. This strategy can be employed in emerging markets, where certain customers will always want the newest, most advanced product available. It also works well in a mature market, where customers have already realized the value of your product and are willing to pay for what they see as a worthwhile investment. Surprisingly, skimming also works in declining markets, as your diehard customers are willing to pay big bucks for what they see as an older but superior product with a dwindling supply.

  2. Neutral Strategy

    In a neutral strategy, the prices are set by the general market, with your prices just at your competitors’ prices. The major benefit of a neutral pricing strategy is that it works in all four periods in the lifecycle. The major drawback is that your company is not maximizing its profits by basing price only on the market. Since the strategy is based on the market and not on your product, your company, or the value of either, you’re also not going to gain market share. Essentially, neutral pricing is the safe way to the play the pricing game.

  3. Penetration Strategy

    A penetration strategy is the price war; this strategy goes for the deepest price cuts, driving at every moment to have your price be the lowest on the market. Penetration strategies only work in one of the four lifecycle periods: growth. During growth, your sales are continuing to expand, as your customers want the newest product but still a product that has already tested by others in the emerging period. This is when your average customer buys a product and when the sales numbers will be the biggest. A penetration strategy works here, and only here, because you’re attracting customers to a new but proven product with cheap productions. You’re developing relationships with new customers willing to try the new product but who will only come for a lower price.

    Penetration strategies fail in the other lifecycle periods by leaving possible profits in the hands of the customers. In an emerging market, your product is brand new and customers who want it first should (and will) pay for that right. In a mature market, a price war will simply start the process of endless and useless competition, destroying your profit margin. In a declining market, only those who still must have your product will purchase it, and just like in an emerging period, they should (and will) pay for that right.

Knowing which pricing strategy works best for your company is an essential tool for any pricing manager and can only be found by recognizing the lifecycle of your products. If your entire sales force is on the same page in recognizing product lifecycles and utilizing pricing strategies, your company will likely see greater returns.

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Why there are no Winners in a Price War (other than the customer)

February 23rd, 2010 by Joern Meissner

In a price war, where competitors with similar products, designs, and incentives compete for customers by having the lowest price, the only person that wins is the customer. Always.

When allowing your sales staff to use price as their main tool to meet quotas for the month, week, or even year, you, as the executive, are actually making it harder for them to achieve the company’s goals. When competing on price alone, your customers will quickly realize that all they have to do is signify that some other company’s pricing is just a little bit better, and your prices will fall.

Don’t think this affects your bottom line? Not only will your profit shrink, there’s a good chance that if your sales team doesn’t have a bottom price range, the customers will manage to convince them that the only way to get the sale (which salesmen see as their one, main priority) is to dip below cost. Customer loyalty and all those other things the customer will promise your salespeople once that below cost sale happens will disappear the moment your competitor decides it is going to keep the war going.

So, playing the price war is a lose-lose situation for you, your brand, and your sales team, because your sales numbers may go up but your revenues will go down. You might even have happy customers – happy customers that will happily jump ship to your competitor with a lower price. Essentially, price wars are a no win situation, especially if you want to be at the top of your field.

Customers, especially in this recession era, have become very savvy at the pricing game. To them, only one thing matters in a market where everything else is equal: price. By choosing not to play their game, by pricing your products on value, your company can still win. While your competitors are eating away at their profits, focus your company on figuring out how to make your products different and worthwhile and showcase that value to the customers.

By pricing on your products’ value, your customers will realize the differences between you and your competitors. If you succeed in showing your customers a reason to pay just a little bit more, you can also create customer loyalty with a superior product. So instead of allowing your salespeople to empty warehouses below price, tell the rest of your company to create products and promotions that customers can actually see tangible value in. And avoid that price war altogether.

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Pricing Strategies for the Upturn

January 4th, 2010 by Joern Meissner

Depending on which politicians and pundits you listen to, they will tell you that at the beginning of this new decade, the economic recovery has not only started; it has happened. Whether or not you believe them doesn’t matter. At the beginning of this new year, you and your company are going to face an upturn as the market slowly pulls itself from the recession.

Now that your company has survived the recession, your pricing will have to reflect the new market. As an executive, you must become your company’s watchdog, keeping an eye on the market, your product, and your company, all to discover exactly where your price point should be. Here are several ideas to keep you and your company in the black in the coming upturn.

  1. Don’t Jump the Gun

    This isn’t the free-for-all market economy anymore. After the recession, customers are still weary of big, corporate business and are just as likely to walk over to your competitor as they were before (and during) the recession. If you lowered your price point in a price war to survive the recession, you’re still stuck with that price point. Price points rarely rise after they’ve been lowered for any amount of time, even if the market (or inflation) shows they should be raised. The one thing customers hate even more than faulty products are rising prices, and if you think you can return to pre-recession pricing, your customers will disappear more quickly then they did during the recession. You will need to be careful and if you feel there is resistance to accept a price increase, you might consider introducing an improved version of your product and phasing out the old one.

  2. The Market Still Fluctuates

    The thing about our current market era is that everything changes and will be likely to continue to change until further notice. Every day is a new battle. The coming months, overall, will be marked by a slow rise of growth. But the stability in that growth hasn’t happened yet. We no longer live in a period of continual growth, and your pricing should reflect that. Just because your profits are up last quarter thanks to a boost in holiday sales, doesn’t mean that your market is back to what it used to be (or even close to what is used to be). Any particular market could still come crashing down. Be wary that data about consumer demand, such as elasticity, might be outdated faster than you would wish, and customer preferences can quickly shift. As such, it is important that you run constant price trials to be ahead in these time of change.

    Resting on your laurels will only lead to frustration and money loss. As the executive, it is your job to watch the market and predict when the rises and the falls will happen. And then price accordingly.

  3. The New Pricing

    Throw away old ideas about price wars and simply having the lowest price. Customers, themselves having survived a recession just like your company, are smarter and far more savvy than they used to be. Instead of creating a price war that is bad for everyone but the customer, take your services and your products and find new ways to market and price them.

    The first step is to keep your existing customers. In a scramble for new customers that may have more extra capital then they did six months ago, don’t forget about the people who got you through the recession. Look for reasons why they stayed with your company and reward them with services and products that reflect those reasons. If you’re an internet and telephone company and your customers chose you over a competitor because you promised them a free phone line for signing up, then give them that free line for another year if they decide to stay. Keeping these core customers should be priority one.

    For new customers, add tangible value to your offerings. Instead of raising the price on your old products and services, add new services, upgraded products, or something else that the customer can actually see as being beneficial to them. Once a customer sees the benefit in your offerings, they will be more than happy to pay a higher price. Just remember to offer these new deals to your old customers, as well.

Essentially, creating a healthy profit from the upturn is as much a challenge as surviving the recession. As the executive, you must take responsibility for your prices and be aware of everything that happens in your market. The market is in flux, and while your prices can’t be constantly changing to reflect that, your pricing strategy must. Be prepared to implement a new strategy the moment the previous one no longer works. By doing so, you’ll create a precedent that will help your company take advantage of the upturn and generate more profits. The market fluctuations might even offer a rare chance for well-prepared pricing managers to get a greater market share without compromising profitability.

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