Lars Perner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing
Department of Marketing
Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0443, USA
(213) 740-7127

Consumer Psychologist Facebook Forum

Pricing Issues in International Marketing

Price can best be defined in ratio terms, giving the equation

resources given up
price  =     ———————————————               
goods received

This implies that there are several ways that the price can be changed:

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:

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.