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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What Are The Best Pricing Practices For Small Business During An Economic Slowdown?

In an economic slowdown your pricing is determined by factors like input cost of production or distribution channel cost etc. ..... which are primarily working on market factors. Generally one should be working on a reactive strategy of open price .... which allows for revision in product pricing over a shorter time period instead of quarterly or yearly market driven slashes or increases.

The important consideration is to try to maintain sales, even if some of them yield marginal or no profit (i,e, break even). In other words, so long as you are covering your costs, particularly fixed costs, then there is value in doing so.

However, unless you wish to become the low-cost leader going forward, then this low pricing may create a precedent which customers expect to continue, and it also may devalue the brand.

So pricing strategy must be decided carefully, with all things considered, including unintended consequences. And it may be better to have various incentives rather than simple price cuts in order to sustain sales.

In the article "Pricing in an Inflationary_Downturn", McKinsey recommends the following actions:

-Watch for sudden shifts in price structure
-Adjust to changing customer needs
-Monitor customer-level profitability
-Update price sensitivity research

Many companies across the nation are on the verge of closing their doors and some have already started liquidating their inventory. This can be a great time to create opportunity for your business. Here are a few items to look at:

Item 1: Renegotiate Your Vendor Pricing:

Go to your current vendors and request price decreases due to the economy. You may be able to receive your inventory at a fraction of your old rates because of the risk of your vendors losing their business. Most agreements can be negotiated when financial conditions are more abundant ..... so this provides the perfect opportunity to turn the financial crises into an opportunity for your company.

Item 2: Create A Customer Loyalty Program:

Many companies started slashing prices to attempt to drive additional business to their company. However in researching the response of the consumers you may find them upset because if those prices were always available why did they not get them before. So you may consider creating a customer loyalty program ..... send a letter and give fliers to every customer saying that you want to retain them as a customer and are now rewarding them with a % off by signing up. What this does is make it look like you are giving an additional perk instead of cutting all your costs.

In any environment, it's a best practice to price based on your customers' willingness to pay. To the extent possible, strive to understand if and how your customers' willingness to pay has changed and also how able you are to meet those customers' needs relative to your competition. Unless you have a sustainably lower cost business model, you'll want to avoid competing on price as a price cut is very easy for a competitor to copy but leaving you both with lower margins in the process. The airline industry comes to mind.

Are you in a position of relative strength? If so, that might allow you to innovate, differentiate your offering, and improve your value proposition based on shifting customer needs, thereby taking market share without necessarily changing your price.

If you find that your customers' willingness to pay doesn't cover your costs, you'll have to re-examine your business model.

Keep in mind that there would be different answers for a lot of different situations. First of all strategies may be different in B2B than in B2C. Within each type the following factors will play an important role:

1. Company strategic posture – what you want out of the situation: sail through? Take advantage? Weaken competitors? Portray as socially responsible? Etc.
2. Financial strength/leverage available.
3. Brand positioning
4. Relationships with customers
5. Distribution leverage
6. Product category in terms of price elasticity
7. Cost cutting advantages available.

You should consider the above and more factors before determining how to price during a slowdown.

The only thing I would add is to caution that:

1.Understanding price sensitivity in the current climate is critical - price decreases may not have the expected effect and that's an expensive mistake.

2. Be aware of potential changes in your value proposition as the market changes. Your product may now be perceived in a different way and the value you deliver will still be the ultimate driver behind what you can charge.

3. Price is a key positioning statement, not just a piece of simple mathematics. Think long and hard about how a price change will be perceived by your customer and the long, as well as short term effects a price change may have.

In the end cutting the customer's price just for the sake of cutting their costs isn't the answer. Lower your costs first ..... ensure your product/service maintains "value" .... and focus more on customer loyalty/retention.

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