Thursday, January 27, 2011

Evolution of the Smart Phone Market

The smart phone market is growing at a very fast pace. The number of smart phones sold world-wide is expected to grow at a pace of more than 15% a year. This is what we call a Developing market. The smart phone market portrays some interesting developments you might expect to see in other fast-growing markets.

Apple really made the market take flight with its original iPhone. Apple has migrated into the high-end, Performance Leader, part of the market with its iPhone4, selling for $199 with a two year contract. (See the Symptom & Implication, “The industry leaders are losing share” on Wisely, Apple kept its old iPhone3 GS on the market as a lower-cost product, selling for $99 with a two year contract.

Competitors have been stumped trying to outflank Apple with new and better functionality. Apple simply has too many apps for most competitors. Only the Android phones, using the Google operating system, have gained share. Nokia and Research In Motion have both lost substantial share in the smart phone market. So, what are the competitors to do? (See the Symptom & Implication, “Competitors in formerly underdeveloped markets have begun meeting one another” on

In this market, as in other Developing markets, the competitors strip out some of the expensive benefits of the product and introduce a new lower Price Point. In the smart phone market, the new lower Price Point still delivers one of the most important benefits of a smart phone, internet access. Because these new Price Points have fewer benefits, they cost less and allow the companies to sell to the carriers at lower prices than the Apple i4 product. (See the Symptom & Implication, “Low end products are gaining share of the market” on In turn, the wireless service carriers offer lower priced package deals to their users when the packages include the new lower-priced smart phones.

Two developments are of note here. First, the evolution of the market. In this case, as in others, the market develops a new lower Price Point product that satisfies some of the basic needs of the current customer group. More importantly, the new Price Point attracts a new cohort of customers due to its lower prices. Second, prices decline in the market despite the fact that the market is growing very quickly. Prices are declining because costs are going down. Yes. But they are also declining under the press of competition in a market where margins are high enough to sustain lower prices with still-acceptable margins. Virtually all fast growing markets witness falling prices.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Best Buy in a Leader's Trap

Few industry leaders believe their prices are too high. Often, they are right. They are usually less right in a market where prices fall. Consider GM in automobiles and IBM in personal computers in the past. At one time or another, most industry leaders will get caught in a Leader’s Trap, where they assume that customers will stay loyal to their products because the low-end products do not enjoy their quality and reputation. This assumption rarely, if ever, holds. Best Buy has been in a Leader’s Trap and its assumptions won’t hold this time either.

Through the third quarter of 2009, Best Buy was gaining market share in flat panel TVs and personal computers. However, in the most recent quarter of 2010, the company lost over 1% of its market share in televisions and computers to competitors who were discounting. (See the Perspective, “The Two Best Consultants in the World” on Now, if it were just a simple low-end, low value competitor, Best Buy might not worry. But their discounting competition was Wal-Mart and Amazon. By any definition, these companies would count as peers of Best Buy in the television and personal computer retail market.

In the recent quarter, Best Buy emphasized high technology, and high margined, TV and personal computer products. Customers did not follow along. Best Buy noted that it had faced tough competition from off brand televisions at lower price points.

Best Buy could have offered private label products to compete with low-end, off brand, competitors. Its store brands include Dynex and Insignia. The company decided not to emphasize these lower-priced products in their promotions because they have low profit margins. Best Buy “failed” its customer by refusing to offer something that at least half the other competitors could and would offer. (See “Audio Tip #35: How Does a Company “Fail” in a Market?” on Nor did competition “win” the customers who switched. Amazon and Wal-Mart simply took what Best Buy allowed them to take. (See “Audio Tip #34: How Does a Company “Win” in a Market?” on

The result: Best Buy missed its targets and saw its stock price fall by 15%. The company lost market share to peer competitors. And its sales and profits fell in televisions and personal computers. Competitors gained strength.

Best Buy is a fine company with capable management. It won’t stay down for long. You may expect to see them leave the Leader’s Trap very soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Very Rare Form of Pricing

Recently, Continental Airlines introduced a new service called “FareLock.” This new service gives travelers three days, or a week, to decide whether to buy a ticket and avoid a fare increase or the risk that the passenger’s flight will sell out. In return, Continental plans to charge a flat fee of $5 for a three day hold and $9 for a one week hold. Continental is offering its passengers a Call. For a fee, the passenger has the right to buy the ticket at today’s price for a few days into the future. This is a very rare form of pricing outside of the securities market.

Every price has at least three components. Most have four. (See “Audio Tip #113: Tools to Change Pricing” on The first of these components is the benefit package that the price offers. The second is the basis of charge, that is, how the company quantifies in currency what it charges for a unit of the product. The units can be a package, an individual item, a unit of time, and so forth. The third component is the list price of the product. Virtually all products also have what we call optional components, the fourth component. These optional components may, but do not have to, be a part of the product price. Optional price components include various discounts, fees, coupons and other methods of conveying a change in effective price, either an increase or a decrease, to the customer. A Call is one of the optional components of price. It occurs only rarely.

Here are some other examples:

* Some colleges have used the Call in the form of a fixed tuition price for any student returning for the four years of the student’s education. This pricing mechanism increases the college’s retention rates. (See “Audio Tip #142: Defensive Pricing Guidelines” on

* There are also contingent Calls. Waterford Development Corporation was dealing with a difficult real estate market. It offered to have homes re-appraised two years after the date the transaction closed. If, after two years, the price of the home dropped, the company promised to write the buyer a check for up to 15% of the original sales price. With this Call, the customer gained the right to live in the house and yet pay a lower effective price for the house if the market should decline in the next two years. (See “Audio Tip #151: Changing Performance and Price Together” on

* A discount broker, in an effort to attract more high-volume traders, offered a Call. This broker charged the customer only a single commission for multiple trades of the same stock on the same side of the market on the same day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Google at Risk

Google continues to dominate the search market. It commands about two-thirds of all the searches done on the internet. Its next closest rival is Microsoft’s Bing which, at 28% market share, includes its integration with Yahoo’s site. (See “Audio Tip #9: Introduction to Step 3 of the Basic Strategy Guide” on Google’s dominance in this market has brought with it a disproportionate share of the spending on paid advertising. Google may be putting that premium position at risk.

Google has been investing heavily in developing its local search capability. It hopes to gain even more advertising dollars by making this investment. Now the problem. Some companies, who also specialize in local marketing have begun complaining that Google discriminates against their sites in favor of Google’s own local search results. This is a very dangerous development for Google. It risks its Reliability reputation.

Google’s competitors have had a difficult time gaining market share against Google. As competitors develop new Functions, Google simply copies them. Internet searchers have had little reason to shift from Google to other competitors, including Bing. In our terms, Google’s competitors are not able to take market share away from Google by “winning.” (See “Audio Tip #32: Introduction to Step 7 of the Basic Strategy Guide”) They have not been able to do anything unique that causes a substantial portion of customers to shift their searches to Google. Rather, most of the market share that shifts in this market today comes as the result of a “failure.” Google must fail to meet its searcher’s expectations in order for Bing and the other competitors to have a significant opportunity to gain market share.

Google may be creating this opportunity by risking a failure in Reliability. A searcher has to know that Google will provide the most relevant results. If Google offers up its own less relevant results ahead of other web sites’ more relevant results, Google will lose market share. (See “Audio Tip #72: Reliability Failures Among Outstanding Companies” on Google’s actions in promoting its own results over more relevant results are equivalent to a retailer offering a customer a lower quality product over a higher quality product simply because the retailer makes more money with the lower quality product. After a while, customers catch on and defect to other retailers. A failure in Reliability is particularly troublesome because trust is so hard to rebuild.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Strangling the Goose

Some time ago, we wrote a blog (see HERE) on the declining value of airline miles programs. At the time, we noted that most of those miles awarded were worth less than a cent. In fact, the airlines themselves believe that these miles are worth far less than a cent. That means the miles that you gain return less than 1% of your spending to your account.

Here is an example. United Airlines offers a one year membership in its Red Carpet Club for 70,000 miles. If you are a normal flyer, without particular value to United as a Premier or Premier Executive and so forth, you can buy a one year membership for $425. United Airlines is telling us that its miles are worth 6/10th of 1 cent.

But let’s say you are a highly valued flyer with United Airlines. Let’s assume you are a 1K flyer, one of their top categories. If you are in that fortunate (or unfortunate as you will have it) position, you may purchase a one year membership in the Red Carpet Club for $325. As an alternative, you can purchase the membership with 40,000 of your frequent flyer miles. This is a much better deal. Here your miles are worth 8/10th of a cent.

These airline-sponsored deals strike me as dangerous. (See the Symptom & Implication, “Customers are more price sensitive” on They telegraph clearly that airline miles are worth less than 1%. This is dangerous because there are a number of credit cards available to you which will return 1% of your spending every month, in cash. That is a considerably better deal than the United Airline miles offer you. (See the Symptom & Implication, “New competition is entering a settled market” on These airline miles keep losing their allure.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Price Leader Market and Competitor

In StrategyStreet terms, a competitor or product that offers below industry standard performance for a very low price is a Price Leader. Price Leaders contrast with the typical industry leaders who set standards for the industry, called Standard Leaders in our terms. The competitors or products at the higher end of the market are called Performance Leaders.

The Price Leader’s product has fewer benefits than Standard Leader products. Because the Price Leaders are able to save costs, their product prices average 25% to 50% below the Standard Leader’s price. Because their products do offer less than the Standard Leader product, Price Leaders, as a group, have relatively small market shares, usually less than 15% of industry sales. (See the Perspective, “Why Do Leaders Lead?” on

We have analyzed several hundred Price Leaders and found that we could group them into two types, Predators and Strippers. Predators offer the user of the product Functions similar to those of the Standard Leader products but less Reliability because they sell brand names that are unknown. They offer the user equivalent benefits but the purchaser fewer benefits. Strippers offer fewer benefits to both the user and the purchaser of the product. The printer ink industry offers good examples of our Price Leader findings. The total printer ink industry has sales of nearly $22 billion a year. Something just below $3 billion of this is owned by Price Leader competitors, who refill or remanufacture ink cartridges. These Price Leaders, as a group, have 13.5% of the total market.

Most of these Price Leader competitors are Strippers. (See the Perspective, “Attention K-Mart Copiers” on Customers who buy their products are often dissatisfied. In fact, only about half of the customers who try the Price Leader product are satisfied with it.

One of these Price Leader competitors, Cartridge World, is in the Predator category of Price Leader competitors. Cartridge World is a leader in the cartridge refill and remanufacturing industry. As a general rule, the company prices its laser cartridges at 25% off of the cost of a new brand named cartridge. Its ink jet cartridges come with discounts of 30% compared to a new brand named cartridge. Its Function benefits are the same as the Standard Leader products. It offers less Reliability due to its unknown brand name. But, Cartridge World puts a 100% guarantee on its products and offers relatively high levels of customer service. As a result, the company is experiencing growth rates of 20% per annum, while its competitors grow at a much slower pace.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Holiday Season: The Most Creative Pricing Season We Have

Watch the deals that retailers offer during the Christmas season. They find ever more creative ways to get us into their stores and shopping. I want to note a couple of these creative ways.

But first a bit of context. A price has four typical components: the package of benefits the product or service offers the list price, the basis of charge for the product (i.e. the unit in the dollars per unit in the list price) and, usually, some optional components of price. The optional components of price are helpful to companies who want to change the effective pricing for a customer. The retailers in this note are making creative use of some optional components of price.

The first example is the use of price to get people into stores by offering them a particular deal. Sometimes these are simply Loss Leader products, for example, offering very inexpensive bread and milk sold at the back of a grocery store in order to get a shopper in to buy other products at the store. So, one optional component of price is a Loss Leader product. Here is a creative twist. Offer the Loss Leader product in a “flash sale” with a very limited time frame. For example:

* Penney’s ran flash sales called “7 Hour Steals” offering towels for $3.69 that normally sell for $7.99 and 70% off gold and sterling silver jewelry.

* Banana Republic stores offered 40% off full-priced sweaters from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Other optional components of price encourage multiple purchases. One way to do this is to offer discounts on all sales above a given purchase price. For example, a company might offer 20% off for all purchases above $50. A more creative, and aggressive, approach is to offer discounts that increase with the money spent. For example, a company might offer 20% off on a $50 purchase, an additional 20% off all purchases from $50 to $75 and a final 20% off on all purchases over $75. According to consumer research, many consumers would assume that they get a total of 60% off on all purchases over $75 with this offer. In fact, they get about 49% off on their total purchases. Still, a compelling deal.

In our study of several thousand pricing initiatives, we have found many of these optional components of price. They enable a company to improve its market share and margins in any price environment. These are available at StrategyStreet/Improve/Pricing/Innovation Ideas.