Have you ever asked “what is penetration pricing?” If so, you’re not alone. In this article (part of our continued pricing strategies series), we’ll break down penetration pricing and help you decide if it’s the right strategy for you.
Penetration pricing definition
So what is penetration pricing?
To answer that question, you first have to understand market penetration. Market penetration occurs when a company launches a new product in a market where similar products already exist. Since there is already an alternative to the product, marketing and pricing teams need to be creative to figure out how to make their product stand out.
One way to do this is through a penetration pricing strategy, or a price penetration strategy. A penetration pricing strategy lets businesses attract customers to a new product by offering a discounted price upon its initial offering. After generating enough interest and gaining market share, a company will then begin to raise the price again back to market levels.
The goal of a penetration pricing strategy is to introduce consumers to a product at a low risk, gather interest in a product, and build brand loyalty — not necessarily to turn a profit. Instead, the major objectives associated with a market penetration pricing strategy are to:
- Hook in new users
- Introduce consumers to a product
- Undermine established market leaders
- Create market share
These goals are achieved through low, low prices which are raised again after a certain period. Companies that employ this strategy will use a price monitoring software to track average market prices over a given period of time, then use that data to calculate their introductory price.
Price skimming vs penetration pricing
Penetration pricing is often confused with price skimming, but these two strategies are very different.
A marketing penetration strategy is when companies forego margins for the sake of drawing users to their products. It’s mostly used when a company or a new product enters a market and when the main goal is to get as many users as possible. Because margins are so slim, penetration pricing is less flexible than price skimming.
Price skimming, on the other hand, is a strategy used by luxury products or other high-ticket items in inelastic categories to maximize margin. Instead of offering a low price for a product, companies using a price skimming strategy will put a high price on their products and optimize for high margins.
Price skimming is frequently used by companies with high brand recognition and loyalty or products that offer significant amounts of differentiation from competitors. That’s why companies like Apple can get away with charging a relatively high price for new and innovative products.
Penetration pricing advantages and disadvantages
When deciding whether to use a penetration pricing strategy, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. While penetration pricing is considered to be a great approach to pricing for maximum visibility in the market, it also may harm your brand perception if you don’t execute the strategy well.
Pros of penetration pricing
There are a few key points that make penetration pricing so powerful.
1. Introduces new customers to your product offering at a low risk
One major objective associated with a market-penetration pricing strategy is to connect consumers with a new product or service. It’s a great way to enter a new market, draw attention to your product, and get some sales traction right from the beginning. It’s also an opportunity to pull customers into your store and increase potential for cross and up sells.
2. Influences price perception
Penetration is also a great way to influence your product’s price perception right from the start, regardless of whether you want to be seen as a high-end retailer or a value-for-money option. With careful marketing campaigns (and using tactics like odd even pricing, charm pricing, and others), you can build an image around your product value and tell a story that influences how the consumer sees your brand.
3. Shakes up the market
Penetration pricing is also a way of overhauling a market if there is an established leader. In many cases, “underdog” companies may enter a new market and sell a new product at a low price to attract customers away from an established product or service.
Cons of penetration pricing
While penetration pricing is an awesome strategy, it can be risky. If you don’t proactively account for the hazards of the strategy, it could be devastating.
1. Lack of value
Penetration pricing’s greatest strength — its ability to draw attention to your product amongst a sea of similar alternatives through aggressive pricing — is also its weakness. Dropping a price too low will leave consumers disgruntled when you begin to raise the price — they’ve anchored their value of the product on the low price, and may not return to purchase when you adjust your price to normal levels.
2. Potential race to the bottom
Another disadvantage of market penetration pricing is the potential reaction from other sellers when you introduce a low price on the market. If competitors or other market players also lower their prices in response to your introductory offer, it could spark a race to the bottom. One way to protect against this race to the bottom is to use a dynamic pricing software and set a price floor that still leaves you with some margin.
Penetration pricing example
An excellent example of a marketing penetration pricing strategy occurred in the Netherlands just a few months ago when Amazon.nl officially launched.
Amazon’s pricing strategy is notoriously aggressive and dynamic. The company is well-known for extremely frequent price changes and an ethos of providing the best customer experience in the world — which often coincides with rock-bottom prices. As a marketplace it carries almost any product you could want, but it delivers it at a price significantly lower than other retailers.
Upon launch, Amazon didn’t differ too much on its prices compared to other major online retailers in the Netherlands. But over the last few months, Amazon has competed heavily on price to drive traffic to its shop. Since most of the products on Amazon are highly elastic and offer lots of alternatives, it’s a smart strategy; it drives the average price down for most products on the store and solidifies Amazon’s price perception as the cheapest place to shop on the internet.
Amazon NL has also deployed the company’s most deadly weapon: Amazon Prime. Prime is one of the key drivers of Amazon’s webshop because of the brand loyalty it inspires. It’s so effective that 82% of US households have a Prime membership, according to a recent survey, and Prime members spend almost double the amount of non-Prime members every year. When consumers have a Prime account, their first thought when they need something is to go see if Amazon sells it. Amazon knows that once consumers become Prime members, they are unlikely to leave because of the convenience Amazon provides.
Prime is so critical to Amazon’s success that it was a clear part of Amazon’s Day One strategy in the Netherlands. At the time of launch (and at the time of this writing still), Dutch shoppers could try Prime free for 30 days. After the 30 day trial period, they’d only be billed €2,99 per month. This is a stark contrast to most markets, where Amazon Prime costs around €8 per month.
Amazon’s goal in the Netherlands is clear: they are coupling an aggressive market penetration pricing strategy with their exceptional loyalty program, all at a low risk for consumers.
When to use a penetration pricing strategy
A penetration pricing policy is most likely to be effective when the product is highly elastic and in markets where there is little difference between Product A and Product B. If consumers are both sensitive to price changes and if comparable products are virtually the same as yours, it’s the perfect breeding ground to make price the only differentiator.
Why? Because, according to basic economic theory, demand will increase if you drop your price. And if your product offers a better value-for-money promise, consumers will quickly buy your offering over an alternative.
Say you sell blenders, for example. The basic feature of all blenders is the same: they blend liquids. Some may have shaper blades. Some may have a nicer build quality. But for many consumers, these features don’t make much of a difference. What they want is something that will last a long time and do a great job blending up smoothies every morning — nothing more, nothing less.
If you wanted to introduce a new blender to the market, a market penetration pricing strategy may be a great way to get your brand noticed. If you can craft a thoughtful marketing campaign around your pricing strategy, you may be able to keep that attention and build brand recognition and perception. If you’re successful, future consumers won’t bat an eye at increased prices: they’ll know the value of the product.
Penetration pricing is a great way to take on a new market and get your product noticed. But make sure you’re careful in the execution. If done poorly, penetration pricing can harm your brand image rather than help it — and nobody wants that.