Always low prices. Always?

walmartIt is a beginning of teaching semester and this blog inevitably gets more active. One article caught my attention recently. It is related to my research, and as one can probably guess from the title, it’s about retail pricing. Particularly, Walmart and its everyday-low-prices (EDLP) policy. It turns out that Walmart’s (at least online) everyday-low-price policy becomes “everyday-adjusted-price” policy.

The article suggests that the reason for the Walmart’s pricing policy change is competition from Amazon.com. Citing the e-commerce data analytics firm 360pi, it reports that on 15% of the products, Walmart changed prices daily (very close to that percentage at Amazon.com). Furthermore, Walmart prices closely track those at Amazon.com generally staying within 5%.

Competition with Amazon.com may be one of the reason, but to me it seems it is not the only nor the main one. Retailers are in the business of converting goods into revenue, and dynamic pricing simply generates more revenue. The revenue lift is of course conditional on the fact that consumers keep buying at regular (high prices) and not just patiently waiting for bargains. This is where understanding how consumers decide whether to wait or buy becomes important.

Two recent research papers speak directly to this point. One, by my colleagues, shows that human behavior provides rationale for markdown or dynamic pricing over EDLP pricing.  The other, by me and co-authors, shows that markdowns can be set even larger than the current methods prescribe, leading to substantial revenue gains. From that perspective, Walmart is doing exactly the right thing by adopting the dynamic price policy.

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Innovation in Retail: Virtual “Brick and Mortar” Stores

Happy New Year! My most popular post so far has been about Tesco bringing grocery shopping to Korean subway. Here is another example of retail innovation (hat tip – Benn Konsynski). Yihaodian a Chinese company using augmented reality to build a 3D virtual store. Their stores exist only on a smartphone screen, but otherwise it’s a fully immersive experience.

Interestingly, customers still need to go to a store, augmented reality works only at specific locations. At first, it seemed odd – why limit consumer experience? Perhaps the company is betting on association with the trendiest locations. Another reason why Yihaodian is doing this might be studying how consumers move about the store and applying it for improving store layout. Given Yihaodian’s effective merger with Walmart, I would not be surprised if the virtual store browsing data is applied for traditional brick and mortar store design.