April 28th, 2010 by Joern Meissner
Like every good rule, there’s always an exception. As previously noted, price wars are truly one-sided affairs. Your and your competitors’ prices falls due to a rush to gain market share, and in turn, the only victor is the customers who learn how to finagle every last penny out of your and your competitors’ remaining profits. But there is one time when using competitive pricing and having the lowest prices all the time actually works. This is called cost leadership.
Cost leaders are simply those companies who can set price based on their placement within the market share. They generally enter new markets by targeting the most price-sensitive customers, literally making their price their greatest attribute. By making their products cheaply and efficiently, cost leaders normally produce only the most basic of options, essentially a lower value option than what the larger (and greater market share holder) companies can make for the same price. By lowering the quality of their products, the cost leader can lower their costs while still maintaining their profits. This is how they can control the price during a price war.
The greatest market shareholders tend to have the advantage with everything but price, as a cost leader can come in and take away profits. Being a cost leader is an enviable position, because they can decide when to wage the price war and effectively win by drawing away customers from the market share leader. If your company already has a large market share, be wary of trying to act like a cost leader. With an already established brand, you can damage your reputation by creating products of questionable quality.
On the other hand, if your company is poised with low production costs, then perhaps you could be the cost leader. To do so, focus on your production costs versus overall return. If there’s a wide enough gap that you could drop your price below your competitors and still maintain a healthy profit – essentially the previously mentioned penetration pricing strategy – then you can become the cost leader. By doing so, your company is likely to not only gain profit but also gain market share and customers from your larger competitive who simply can’t match your price without losing profits.
Remember, price wars are a risky move for any company, but if your company’s profit and loss statements suggest you could become the cost leader, than perhaps it is time to try.