We can approach the challenge of modeling consumer behavior in a more practical manner that is informed by the theory of the consumer. To estimate demand and study the nature of consumer demand, we start by identifying a set of key factors that have a strong influence on consumer demand.
Probably the most important influencing factor is one we considered for the ice cream business in Chapter 2—the price of the item itself. Price is also the key determinant of demand in the theory of the consumer. In the simplest cases, there is a single price that applies to any item or unit of service being sold. However, as we will discuss later in the section on price discrimination, prices may vary depending on who is buying it and how much they are buying.
Businesses incur promotional costs to boost the consumption of their products. Promotion can be in the form of advertising, free samples, appearance in business directories, and so on. The theory of the consumer provides a supporting rationale for expenditure on promotion: If a consumer is regarded as deciding how to allocate his wealth across available goods and services, in order for your product to be included as a candidate in that choice, the consumer has to be aware that your product or service exists. However, as we will discuss in Chapter 7, large firms often engage in promotion at expenditure levels well beyond what is needed to make your firm and product known to the consumer, as a tactic of competition.
Consumer demand may vary depending on where and when the consumption is occurring. Being able to quantitatively assess how consumption changes by location or time is a powerful tool in deciding where and when to sell your product. Some businesses decide to serve broad geographical regions; others target specific locations. Some businesses sell most or all times of the day and days of the year; others limit their operations to a restricted number of hours or periods within a year. What strategy will work best will depend on the product and the company’s overall marketing strategy.
Businesses have a choice of channels for selling. They can operate their own commercial establishments or sell wholesale to other retailers. Goods can be sold directly at a retail site or via the Internet, telephone, or mail order. Understanding how the channels used will affect demand is important.
The selection of price, promotional activities, location, and channel are generally in the control of the business concern. In texts on marketing strategy,Kotler and Armstrong (2010) is a popular text on marketing principles. the composition of these decisions is called a marketing mix. For a marketing mix to be effective, the different elements need to be consistent.
However, there are other important determinants of consumption for a good or service that are largely out of the control of the providing firm. We will next consider some of these determinants.
As suggested by the substitution effect in the theory of the consumer, the consumer is able to alter his pattern of consumption to meet his needs as prices and wealth levels change. The most significant swaps are likely to be between goods and services that come close to meeting the same consumer need. For example, a banana can serve as a substitute for a peach in meeting the need for a piece of fruit. Usually the items that act as substitutes to the product of one firm will be sold by a different firm. Consequently, how that other firm elects to price, promote, locate, and channel its goods or services will have an impact on the consumption of substitutable goods or services sold by the first firm.
Different goods and services can be strongly related in another way called a complementary relationship. Consumption of some goods and services can necessitate greater consumption of other goods and services. For example, if more automobiles are sold, there will be increased demand for tires, oil, repair services, automobile financing, automobile insurance, and so on. Correctly monitoring and forecasting the demand of key complements can improve the ability of a firm to forecast its own consumer demand.
Most firms sell multiple products and services that are related. Within this collection, there are probably important substitute and complementary relationships. A car dealer that sells several models of vehicles has substitutable products that compete with each other. The car dealer may be offering services like repair service and financing that are complementary to vehicle sales. In situations with strong substitute and complementary product relationships, the firm needs to consider these in its demand forecasting and market strategy.
Earlier, we discussed the income effect caused by price changes and indicated that this is caused by the consumer realizing an increase or decrease in overall purchasing wealth. Probably a more significant cause of changes in wealth occurs from fluctuations in the economic activity, which will affect the demand for most goods and services. The relationship between demand quantities and economic indicators of economic activity or disposable income can improve business forecasting considerably.
Demand is also affected by the demographics of the population of eligible customers. How many people live in a region, their ethnic and socioeconomic composition, and age distribution can explain variations in demand across regions and the ability to forecast in the future as these demographics change.