SUMMARY: When retailers compete on price and rollbacks are market-wide, retail traffic trends rarely change. More importantly, Nielsen research shows that price rollbacks can actually reduce category dollars, making an effective pricing strategy a necessity.
Rob Schram, Vice President Analytic Consulting, The Nielsen Company
When commodity costs for foods rose dramatically in 2008, most manufacturers were forced to raise prices to protect margins—some more than once. Once commodity prices dropped, retailers put pressure on manufacturers to lower prices. But as the Great Recession took hold and consumers cut back on spending, manufacturers wanted higher prices to stick to compensate for the flat unit growth experienced in most categories.
And so the price wars began. And true to life, in war there are no winners. When retailers compete on price and rollbacks are market-wide, there are no inherent traffic gains. In fact, Nielsen research shows that price rollbacks can actually reduce category dollars.
Retailers intending to fight on price better know which categories to target or they will be fighting a losing battle. Price elasticity is a measure of consumers’ likelihood to purchase in relation to a change in price. If you raise prices on categories with a price elasticity of less than one, or take a price rollback, you can actually decrease category sales. It’s a delicate balancing act. A price rollback may slightly increase category volume, but not as much as price goes down—so dollar sales actually go down. And vice versa on price increases—sales go up, but not as much as volume goes down.
Pinpointing best-bet categories requires knowing how elastic they are to price changes. High-elasticity categories are more sensitive to price changes because they are considered less of a necessity. When the opportunity cost of buying these products become too high, consumers opt out. These categories are typically commoditized products with low differentiation. Examples include:
Conversely, low-elasticity categories are more insensitive to price changes because they are typically the “must have” items that consumers will continue to buy no matter the price. These categories are typically perishable, convenient and are less commoditized. Examples include:
Six Keys to Successful Price Planning
Price wars are a long-term proposition, where over-reacting often leads to failure. Long-term winners innovate and differentiate and know that while price is important, value is more important. Careful planning, research and ongoing management are the steps it takes to win the war on price.