Rent the Runway is a company that lets customers borrow expensive designer dresses for a short time at a low price—to wear on a special occasion, e.g.— and then send them back. A customer can rent a Theia gown that retails for $995 for four days for the price of $150. Or, she can rent a gown from Laundry by Shelli Segal that retails for $325 for the price of $100. The company offers a 20 percent discount to first-time buyers and offers a “free second size” option to ensure that customers get the right fit.
Do the customers get a bargain when they are able to wear a designer dress for a special occasion at 15 percent of the retail price? Does the retail price matter to customers in determining value, or are they only considering the style and price they will pay for the rental?
What does value really mean in the pricing equation?
The Customer’s View of Price
Whether a customer is the ultimate user of the finished product or a business that purchases components of the finished product, the customer seeks to satisfy a need through the purchase of a particular product. The customer uses several criteria to decide how much she is willing to spend in order to satisfy that need. Her preference is to pay as little as possible.
In order to increase value, the business can either increase the perceived benefits or reduce the perceived costs. Both are important aspects of price. If you buy a Louis Vuitton bag for $600, in return for this high price you perceive that you are getting a beautifully designed, well-made bag that will last for decades—in other words, the value is high enough for you that it can offset the cost. On the other hand, when you buy a parking pass to park in a campus lot, you are buying the convenience of a parking place close to your classes. Both of these purchases provide value at some cost. The perceived benefits are directly related to the price-value equation; some of the possible benefits are status, convenience, the deal, brand, quality, choice, and so forth. Some of these benefits tend to go hand in hand. For instance, a Mercedes Benz E750 is a very high-status brand name, and buyers expect superb quality to be part of the value equation (which makes it worth the $100,000 price tag). In other cases, there are tradeoffs between benefits. Someone living in an isolated mountain community might prefer to pay a lot more for groceries at a local store than drive sixty miles to the nearest Safeway. That person is willing to sacrifice the benefit of choice for the benefit of greater convenience.
When we talk about increasing perceived benefits, we refer to this as increasing the “value added.” Identifying and increasing the value-added elements of a product are an important marketing strategy. In our initial example, Rent the Runway is providing dresses for special occasions. The price for the dress is reduced because the customer must give it back, but there are many value-added elements that keep the price relatively high, such as the broad selection of current styles and the option of trying a second size at no additional cost. In a very competitive marketplace, the value-added elements become increasingly important, as marketers use them to differentiate the product from other similar offerings.
Perceived costs include the actual dollar amount printed on the product, plus a host of additional factors. If you learn that a gas station is selling gas for 25 cents less per gallon than your local station, will you automatically buy from the lower-priced gas station? That depends. You will consider a range of other issues. How far do you have to drive to get there? Is it an easy drive or a drive through traffic? Are there long lines that will increase the time it takes to fill your tank? Is the low-cost fuel the grade or brand that you prefer? Inconvenience, poor service, and limited choice are all possible perceived costs. Other common perceived costs are the risk of making a mistake, related costs, lost opportunity, and unexpected consequences, to name but a few.
Viewing price from the customer’s point of view pays off in many ways. Most notably, it helps define value–the most important basis for creating a competitive advantage.