Pricing Decisions Tutorial

Pricing DecisionsWhat do the following words have in common? Fare, dues, tuition, interest, rent, and fee. The answer is that each of these is a term used to describe what one must pay to acquire benefits from another party. More commonly, most people simply use the word price to indicate what it costs to acquire a product.

The pricing decision is a critical one for most marketers, yet the amount of attention given to this key area is often much less than is given to other marketing decisions. One reason for the lack of attention is that many believe price setting is a mechanical process requiring the marketer to utilize financial tools, such as spreadsheets, to build their case for setting price levels. While financial tools are widely used to assist in setting price, marketers must consider many other factors when arriving at the price for which their product will sell.

In this part of our highly detailed Principles of Marketing Tutorials we begin a two-part discussion of the fourth marketing mix variable - price. For some marketers more time is spent agonizing over price than any other marketing decision. In this tutorial we look at why price is important and what factors influence the pricing decision.

In general terms price is a component of an exchange or transaction that takes place between two parties and refers to what must be given up by one party (i.e., buyer) in order to obtain something offered by another party (i.e., seller). Yet this view of price provides a somewhat limited explanation of what price means to participants in the transaction. In fact, price means different things to different participants in an exchange:

  • Buyers’ View – For those making a purchase, such as final customers, price refers to what must be given up to obtain benefits. In most cases what is given up is financial consideration (e.g., money) in exchange for acquiring access to a good or service. But financial consideration is not always what the buyer gives up. Sometimes in a barter situation a buyer may acquire a product by giving up their own product. For instance, two farmers may exchange cattle for crops. Also, as we will discuss below, buyers may also give up other things to acquire the benefits of a product that are not direct financial payments (e.g., time to learn to use the product).
  • Sellers’ View - To sellers in a transaction, price reflects the revenue generated for each product sold and, thus, is an important factor in determining profit. For marketing organizations price also serves as a marketing tool and is a key element in marketing promotions. For example, most retailers highlight product pricing in their advertising campaigns.

Price is commonly confused with the notion of cost as in "I paid a high cost for buying my new plasma television." Technically, though, these are different concepts. Price is what a buyer pays to acquire products from a seller. Cost concerns the seller’s investment (e.g., manufacturing expense) in the product being exchanged with a buyer. For marketing organizations seeking to make a profit the hope is that price will exceed cost so the organization can see financial gain from the transaction.

Finally, while product pricing is a main topic for discussion when a company is examining its overall profitability, pricing decisions are not limited to for-profit companies. Not-for-profit organizations, such as charities, educational institutions and industry trade groups, also set prices, though it is often not as apparent . For instance, charities seeking to raise money may set different “target” levels for donations that reward donors with increases in status (e.g., name in newsletter), gifts or other benefits. While a charitable organization may not call it a price in their promotional material, in reality these donations are equivalent to price setting since donors are required to give a contribution in order to obtain something of value.

When marketers talk about what they do as part of their responsibilities for marketing products, the tasks associated with setting price are often not at the top of the list. Marketers are much more likely to discuss their activities related to promotion, product development, market research and other tasks that are viewed as the more interesting and exciting parts of the job.

Yet pricing decisions can have important consequences for the marketing organization and the attention given by the marketer to pricing is just as important as the attention given to more recognizable marketing activities. Some reasons pricing is important include:

Most Flexible Marketing Mix Variable

For marketers price is the most adjustable of all marketing decisions. Unlike product and distribution decisions, which can take months or years to change, or some forms of promotion which can be time consuming to alter (e.g., television advertisement), price can be changed very rapidly. The flexibility of pricing decisions is particularly important in times when the marketer seeks to quickly stimulate demand or respond to competitor price actions. For instance, a marketer can agree to a field salesperson’s request to lower price for a potential prospect during a phone conversation. Likewise a marketer in charge of online operations can raise prices on hot selling products with the click of a few website buttons.

Setting the Right Price

Pricing decisions made hastily without sufficient research, analysis, and strategic evaluation can lead to the marketing organization losing revenue. Prices set too low may mean the company is missing out on additional profits that could be earned if the target market is willing to spend more to acquire the product. Additionally, attempts to raise an initially low priced product to a higher price may be met by customer resistance as they may feel the marketer is attempting to take advantage of their customers. Prices set too high can also impact revenue as it prevents interested customers from purchasing the product. Setting the right price level often takes considerable market knowledge and, especially with new products, testing of different pricing options.

Trigger of First Impressions

Often times customers’ perception of a product is formed as soon as they learn the price, such as when a product is first seen when walking down the aisle of a store. While the final decision to make a purchase may be based on the value offered by the entire marketing offering (i.e., entire product), it is possible the customer will not evaluate a marketer’s product at all based on price alone. It is important for marketers to know if customers are more likely to dismiss a product when all they know is its price. If so, pricing may become the most important of all marketing decisions if it can be shown that customers are avoiding learning more about the product because of the price.

Important Part of Sales Promotion

Many times price adjustments are part of sales promotions that lower price for a short term to stimulate interest in the product. However, as we noted in our discussion of promotional pricing in the Sales Promotion tutorial, marketers must guard against the temptation to adjust prices too frequently since continually increasing and decreasing price can lead customers to be conditioned to anticipate price reductions and, consequently, withhold purchase until the price reduction occurs again.

For most customers price by itself is not the key factor when a purchase is being considered. This is because most customers compare the entire marketing offering and do not simply make their purchase decision based solely on a product’s price. In essence when a purchase situation arises price is one of several variables customers evaluate when they mentally assess a product’s overall value.

As we discussed back in the What is Marketing? tutorial, value refers to the perception of benefits received for what someone must give up. Since price often reflects an important part of what someone gives up, a customer’s perceived value of a product will be affected by a marketer’s pricing decision. Any easy way to see this is to view value as a calculation:

Value = perceived benefits received
       perceived price paid

For the buyer value of a product will change as perceived price paid and/or perceived benefits received change. But the price paid in a transaction is not only financial it can also involve other things that a buyer may be giving up. For example, in addition to paying money a customer may have to spend time learning to use a product, pay to have an old product removed, close down current operations while a product is installed or incur other expenses. However, for the purpose of this tutorial we will limit our discussion to how the marketer sets the financial price of a transaction.

For the remainder of this tutorial we look at factors that affect how marketers set price. The final price for a product may be influenced by many factors which can be categorized into two main groups:

  • Internal Factors - When setting price, marketers must take into consideration several factors which are the result of company decisions and actions. To a large extent these factors are controllable by the company and, if necessary, can be altered. However, while the organization may have control over these factors making a quick change is not always realistic. For instance, product pricing may depend heavily on the productivity of a manufacturing facility (e.g., how much can be produced within a certain period of time). The marketer knows that increasing productivity can reduce the cost of producing each product and thus allow the marketer to potentially lower the product’s price. But increasing productivity may require major changes at the manufacturing facility that will take time (not to mention be costly) and will not translate into lower price products for a considerable period of time.
  • External Factors - There are a number of influencing factors which are not controlled by the company but will impact pricing decisions. Understanding these factors requires the marketer conduct research to monitor what is happening in each market the company serves since the effect of these factors can vary by market.

Below we provide a detailed discussion of both internal and external factors.