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We recently conducted an online survey on behalf of a national food brand in which we displayed various images of a grocery store’s shelf space and asked consumers to select the product they would purchase from among those shown on the shelves. This project was successful at differentiating consumer choice based on how the products were packaged, and gave our client important information on package design direct from their target consumers.

That project got me thinking about how shelf space is a limited resource, and in some cases purchase decisions are influenced as much by what’s not on the shelf as by what’s on it.

For example, my Yoplait Fruplait yogurt has gone missing. And I blame you, Greek yogurt.

Fruplait is a delicious (to me) yogurt-fruit concoction that’s heavy on the fruit. There are four single servings to a pack and there are four fruit flavors from which to choose.

I had a wonderful relationship with Fruplait up until the time Greek yogurt started hitting the shelves. With Greek yogurt muscling in and shelf space at a premium, suddenly, the number of flavors in a given store was reduced. Then some stores stopped carrying Fruplait. Now, none of the four stores at which I typically shop carries it at all (it’s still available at some retailers).

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Pricing Research in Context

Posted by on in New Product Research

My last blog about pricing research was still fresh in my mind when I read an excerpt of Craig LaBan’s recent online chat. LaBan is the Philadelphia Inquirer’s restaurant critic and offers insightful reviews and information for foodies in the region. I was intrigued by the discussion of how Federal Donuts charges different prices at the ballpark than in their stand-alone restaurant locations.

Our clients typically look for answers to how to price their products either alone or bundled. But I personally have yet to have a client ask me how to price a product differently based on the situation or context. There is good information to be had on this topic: in “Contextual Pricing: The Death of List Price and the New Market Reality” the authors point out that the pricing scheme for Coca Cola includes air temperature at the point of sale. But what tools are available to the market researcher for exploring situation-based pricing?

At its simplest level, we can ask consumers what they’d be willing to pay given a certain situation (such as in an airport or on an airplane). By using a monadic design in which similar groups of respondents are asked about a single price point, we can compare across the groups to see what the various “take-rates” would be.

Discrete choice could be employed to vary both the context and the pricing – in that way multiple situations could be tested along with multiple price points. (My colleague, Rajan Sambandam will be speaking about Behavioral Conjoint at the Insight Innovation Exchange NA event in Philadelphia in June.)

I’m not sure how Federal Donuts arrived at their pricing decision – it could very well be that the ballpark charges more rent and that factor alone determined their pricing. But when all other factors are equal, determining how much to charge can have important financial consequences.

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higgs bosonI read an article about the discovery of the Higgs Boson at CERN. This is the so called "god particle" which explains why matter has mass. While the science generally is beyond me, I was intrigued by something one of the physicists said:

"Scientists always want to be wrong in their theories. They always want to be surprised."

He went on to explain that surprise is what leads to new discoveries whereas simply confirming a theory does not. I can certainly understand the sentiment, but it is not unusual for Market Research to confirm what a client already guessed at. Should the client be disappointed in such results?

I think not for several reasons.

First, certainty allows for bolder action. Sure there are examples of confident business people going all out with their gut and succeeding spectacularly, but I suspect there are far more examples of people failing to take bold action due to lingering uncertainty. I also suspect that far too often overconfident entrepreneurs make rash decisions that lead to failure.

Second, while we might confirm the big question (for example in product development pricing research we might confirm the price that will drive success) we always gather other data that help us understand the issue in a more nuanced way. For example, we might find that the expected price point is driven by a different feature than we thought (in research speak, that one feature in the discrete choice conjoint had a much higher utility score than the one we thought was most critical).

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