Pricing Issues in International Marketing
Price can best be defined in ratio terms, giving the equation
resources given up
price = ———————————————
This implies that there are several ways that the price can be changed:
- "Sticker" price changes—the most obvious way to change the price is the price tag— you get the same thing, but for a different (usually larger) amount of money.
- Change quantity. Often, consumers respond unfavorably to an increased sticker price, and changes in quantity are sometimes noticed less—e.g., in the 1970s, the wholesale cost of chocolate increased dramatically, and candy manufacturers responded by making smaller candy bars. Note that, for cash flow reasons, consumers in less affluent countries may need to buy smaller packages at any one time (e.g., forking out the money for a large tube of toothpaste is no big deal for most American families, but it introduces a greater strain on the budget of a family closer to the subsistence level).
- Change quality. Another way candy manufacturers have effectively increased prices is through a reduction in quality. In a candy bar, the "gooey" stuff is much cheaper than chocolate. It is frequently tempting for foreign licensees of a major brand name to use inferior ingredients.
- Change terms. In the old days, most software manufacturers provided free support for their programs—it used to be possible to call the WordPerfect Corporation on an 800 number to get free help. Nowadays, you either have to call a 900 number or have a credit card handy to get help from many software makers. Another way to change terms is to do away with favorable financing terms.
Reference Prices. Consumers often develop internal reference prices, or expectations about what something should cost, based mostly on their experience. Most drivers with long commutes develop a good feeling of what gasoline should cost, and can tell a bargain or a ripoff.
Reference prices are more likely to be more precise for frequently purchased and highly visible products. Therefore, retailers very often promote soft drinks, since consumers tend to have a good idea of prices and these products are quite visible. The trick, then, is to be more expensive on products where price expectations are muddier.
Marketers often try to influence people's price perceptions through the use of external reference prices—indicators given to the consumer as to how much something should cost. Examples include:
- Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). This is often pure fiction. The suggested retail prices in certain categories are deliberately set so high that even full service retailers can sell at a "discount." Thus, although the consumer may contrast the offering price against the MSRP, this latter figure is quite misleading.
- "SALE! Now $2.99; Regular Price $5.00." For this strategy to be used legally in most countries, the claim must be true (consistency of enforcement in some countries is, of course, another matter). However, certain products are put on sale so frequently that the "regular" price is meaningless. In the early 1990s, Sears was reported to sell some 55% of its merchandise on sale.
- "WAS $10.00, now $6.99."
- "Sold elsewhere for $150.00; our price: $99.99."
Reference prices have significant international implications. While marketers may choose to introduce a product at a low price in order to induce trial, which is useful in a new market where the penetration of a product is low, this may have serious repercussions as consumers may develop a low reference price and may thus resist paying higher prices in the future.
Selected International Pricing Issues. In some cultures, particularly where retail stores are smaller and the buyer has the opportunity to interact with the owner, bargaining may be more common, and it may thus be more difficult for the manufacturer to influence retail level pricing.
Two phenomena may occur when products are sold in disparate markets. When a product is exported, price escalation, whereby the product dramatically increases in price in the export market, is likely to take place. This usually occurs because a longer distribution chain is necessary and because smaller quantities sold through this route will usually not allow for economies of scale. "Gray" markets occur when products are diverted from one market in which they are cheaper to another one where prices are higher—e.g., Luis Vuitton bags were significantly more expensive in Japan than in France, since the profit maximizing price in Japan was higher and thus bags would be bought in France and shipped to Japan for resale. The manufacturer therefore imposed quantity limits on buyers. Since these quantity limits were circumvented by enterprising exchange students who were recruited to buy their quota on a daily basis, prices eventually had to be lowered in Japan to make the practice of diversion unattractive. Where the local government imposes price controls, a firm may find the market profitable to enter nevertheless since revenues from the new market only have to cover marginal costs. However, products may then be attractive to divert to countries without such controls.
Transfer pricing involves what one subsidiary will charge another for products or components supplied for use in another country. Firms will often try to charge high prices to subsidiaries in countries with high taxes so that the income earned there will be minimized.
Antitrust laws are relevant in pricing decisions, and anti-dumping regulations are especially noteworthy. In general, it is illegal to sell a product below your cost of production, which may make a penetration pricing entry strategy infeasible. Japan has actively lobbied the World Trade Organization (WTO) to relax its regulations, which generally require firms to price no lower than their average fully absorbed cost (which incorporates both variable and fixed costs).
Alternatives to "hard" currency deals. Buyers in some countries do not have ready access to convertible currency, and governments will often try limit firms’ ability to spend money abroad. Thus, some firms have been forced into non-cash deals. In barter, the seller takes payment in some product produced in the buying country—e.g., Lockheed (back when it was an independent firm) took Spanish wine in return for aircraft, and sellers to Eastern Europe have taken their payment in ham. An offset contract is somewhat more flexible in that the buyer can get paid but instead has to buy, or cause others to buy, products for a certain value within a specified period of time.
Psychological issues: Most pricing research has been done on North Americans, and this raises serious problems of generalizability. Americans are used to sales, for example, while consumers in countries where goods are more scarce may attribute a sale to low quality rather than a desire to gain market share. There is some evidence that perceived price quality relationships are quite high in Britain and Japan (thus, discount stores have had difficulty there), while in developing countries, there is less trust in the market. Cultural differences may influence the extent of effort put into evaluating deals (potentially impacting the effectiveness of odd-even pricing and promotion signaling). The fact that consumers in some economies are usually paid weekly, as opposed to biweekly or monthly, may influence the effectiveness of framing attempts—"a dollar a day" is a much bigger chunk from a weekly than a monthly paycheck.