One of the interesting P’s in the four (4) P’s of marketing is Price. It may interest you to know that of the 4P’s of marketing (Price, Product, Promotion and Place), Price is the only element that speaks directly to the top-line or the revenue earning potentials of the business. Will it be safe therefore to assume how you price your product or service has a direct consequence on the profitability and sustainability of your business?

I am of the opinion that the intensity of competitive rivalry in the Nigerian business environment is as fierce as other business capitals in the world. This reality sometimes pushes a lot of businesses especially Start-Up’s, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME’s) to consider competing, on the basis of pricing. The practice whereby competitors lower their prices repeatedly to gain an improved share of the market is referred to as a “Price War”. While a price war has the short term benefit of attracting customers your way, the long term impact is that you will be most likely out of business sooner than you can imagine.

In his book Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance, Michael Porter one of the leading voices in Business Strategy, came up with a framework that suggests how companies can sustain their competitive edge in business. This framework also referred to Porters Generic Strategies identified three strategies organizations can use if they are to build sustainable competitive advantage. These strategies are Cost Leadership, Differentiation and Focus.

Cost Leadership is often misrepresented as lower pricing when in essence it suggests that for an organization to have a sustainable competitive advantage, it has be so efficient and effective in the management of its resources such that it is able to produce a unit of its product or service at the least cost in their chosen industry. Please note that being able to produce a unit of a good or service at the least cost for a given level of quality in the industry is borne out of efficient and effective management of the resources available to the business and not an arbitrary reduction in prices because of the desire to increase market share. Differentiation Strategy, on the other hand, speaks to the uniqueness of the product or service as identified by the customer themselves; and for which they are willing and able to purchase the product or service regardless of the price. Organization’s that adopt focus strategy, identify a narrow segment of the market and within this narrow segment or narrow market focus, attempt to achieve either cost leadership or differentiation.

The above definitions actually give an insight into what organizations regardless of size should consider before fixing their prices. Some other important factors to remember in determining the price of a product or service are stated below:

Customers buy VALUE not price per se.

Not all customers are homogenous – different customers will value a product or service differently and as such will be willing to pay different prices for such a product or service.

Customers always buy the product or service they perceive to represent best value. The customer’s perception of value is therefore always relative to the competition.

The price of your product or service should at least cover all your variable costs with an added provision for profit.

Let me explain further with this illustration.

Abiodun and Gboyega are die-hard Premiership followers. Abiodun supports Arsenal while Gboyega supports Manchester United. Both men have an undeniable passion for football and decided within themselves to start selling football accessories. Abiodun and Gboyega situated their respective football accessory stores near a newly opened football park called Goal Centre. Every day hundreds of football enthusiasts went to Goal Centre to play five-a-side football. Abiodun and Gboyega stocked all kinds of football accessories including Jerseys, Socks, Shin-Pads, balls, and boots.

Gboyega gets all his football accessories from the UK. He travels there every three months to replenish his stock. Whenever he travels, he flies at least premium economy and spends a minimum of five days staying in a three-star hotel. He has a bank overdraft priced a 28% per annum with an annual clean up cycle from one of the leading Banks in the country. He has to pay cash every time he purchases stock from the manufacturers as he has found it difficult to obtain credit from the manufacturer. He has four sales staff and offers a free drink every time a customer comes to his store.

Abiodun also gets all his football accessories from the UK. His cousin Akin who lives in the UK helped him obtain a distributor’s credit from the same manufacturer Gboyega gets his football accessories from. The company ships a sufficient quantity of football accessories to him based on an agreed order level. He also has a credit period of 90 days. Abiodun is a very hands-on manager and has two sales assistants working with him. Abiodun sells a replica Manchester United jersey for Twenty-Five Thousand Naira and has a lot of patronage from the football enthusiasts who play football at Goal Centre. The total cost of getting a Manchester United jersey to Abiodun’s store from the UK was Twenty-Thousand Naira.

As he returned from his last trip, Gboyega was informed by his staff that sales remained low because his Manchester United Jerseys were sold for Thirty Thousand Naira and customers complained that they were too expensive (the total cost of getting a Manchester United jersey to Gboyega’s store was Twenty Five Thousand Naira). Unhappy that he was unable to compete with Abiodun, Gboyega reduced the prices of most of the items in his store when he announced a 30% reduction in prices such that a Manchester United Jersey in his store sold for twenty- one thousand naira. He saw a significant improvement in his monthly sales performance following this decision. A few months later, he went back to the UK to replenish his stock but could only afford to buy 70% of his usual inventory as he had less, cash following the heavy discounts given to customers.

More people heard that the price of a Manchester United jersey at Gboyega’s store was cheaper so he continued enjoying increased patronage. Abiodun, seeing a decline in sales, offered everyone who bought a jersey free name customization and a ball (these added freebies cost him only two thousand naira). This decision once again endeared a lot of customers to Abiodun’s store. By Gboyega’s next trip he was only able to purchase 50% of the stock levels he started off the business with and he was due in a month to pay down his Bank overdraft and rent. He was unable to meet these obligations as and when due and held a clearance sale to shut down the business. Abiodun enjoyed increased patronage as Gboyega’s former customers became his. The Manufacturers gave him an extended credit period because he now significantly surpassed his previous order levels and met his financial obligations to them as and when due.

The illustration above attempts to capture what happens to a lot of MSME’s. Both businesses sold the same products but had different cost structures. Price wars at best only give short term gains. All entrepreneurs should remember that building a sustainable business requires incorporating sustainable practices borne out of a clear thought process. Fighting a price war can be likened to running another person’s race. Most of the time, we don’t know the basis or circumstances that influence the pricing decisions or cost structures of our competitors, yet many entrepreneurs reduce the prices of their products because a competitor just did so. Price determination should be strategic, borne out of a deep understanding of the market, cost structures, industry, environment, and circumstances unique to the business. Entrepreneurs’ should always run their race and not another’s, keeping their eyes on the price by seeking ways of improving their product offerings, service delivery,  getting favorable terms of trade, etc. not fighting price wars that may be counterproductive. Let price determination be borne out of the fundamentals unique to every business not by mimicking what your rivals do every time. Their price doesn’t have to be your price.