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Archive for the ‘Pricing’ Category

What should determine how much it costs to ship a box? Clearly the weight of the package matters as does the distance it travels. But what about its physical dimensions? Does it matter whether a one-pound object takes up a cubic foot of space or two cubic feet?

Apparently, FedEx thinks it matters and has announced that it will be tweaking its pricing policies accordingly (Web Shoppers Beware: FedEx to Charge by Package Size, Wall Street Journal, May 7).

Instead of charging by weight alone, all ground packages will now be priced according to size. In effect, that will mean a price increase on more than a third of its U.S. ground shipments. …

[The change] would likely greatly affect bulky but lighter weight items like toilet paper and diapers, which many people have delivered on a regular basis, as well as Zappos.com shoes, which ship for free, including free returns. Indeed, shoe shoppers are encouraged to buy multiple pairs, keep what fits and return the rest. Avid Web shoppers do the same with sweaters, dresses, and jackets at retailers like J. Crew, Banana Republic, and Macy’s.

This graphic gives an idea of the kind of price increases that are in play. Clearly items that are not very dense are going to be seeing a stiff price hike.

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I have a long-standing interest in Black Friday — less because I want to go shopping but more because it poses some interesting questions on how firms compete and how they manage customers. The news this year is that Black Friday is creeping evermore into Thanksgiving proper as retailers keep moving up their opening times. So why are they doing that? Two posts on Businessweek.com put forward theories. The first posits that this is being driven by customer segmentation (The Game Theory Behind Macy’s Thanksgiving Opening, Oct 15).

Traditions are being trampled on by the Corporate Retail Complex! Of course, consumers don’t have to go. Some won’t, and that’s precisely what the strategy folks at Macy’s are betting on.

The purists scandalized by the thought of shopping on the holiday itself aren’t likely to avoid Macy’s altogether. And with the die-hard bargain-hunters swarming the stores on Thursday, Friday shopping will likely be much more pleasant for those who are a little less committed.

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In the basement of the Kellogg School, there is a cafe. It’s a busy cafe, which says more about the available alternatives than about its absolute quality. Because it gets busy and because a good number of its customers are polite enough to walk out of class five minutes early to beat the crowd, I and my colleagues have learned that it is a much better to plan to go down for a sandwich a little before noon than a little after noon. According to CNBC, Goldman Sachs faces similar issues with queuing in its cafeteria and it actively tries to manage the system (The creepy capital efficiency of Goldman’s cafeteria, Oct 17).

The most crowded time of the day to eat lunch is, naturally, during lunch time. For most people, this falls around noon. This creates the phenomenon of the lunchtime rush hour. You know this all too well if you’ve ever tried to stop in your local chopped salad place at, say, 12:30 in the afternoon.

Goldman didn’t like the idea of its people waiting on long lines to get their lunch. People are capital to Goldman. It wants to use its capital efficiently. Standing on line waiting for dumplings or salad or a burger is not an efficient use of Goldman’s capital. …

The cafeteria has a set of timed discounts. If you show up in the cafeteria before 11:30 or after 1:30, you get a 25 percent discount on your food. Goldman incentivizes employees to avoid the rush hour.

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Congestion is a common problem in services. A large number of customers put demands on the system all at the same time and delays ensue. A few weeks ago we posted about GymFlow, an app that tries to address congestion at health clubs by providing better information. GymFlow doesn’t tell you can’t go to the gym at 5:30. It just points out that the gym is going to be a whole lot less crowded if you got 3:30.

Now the Wall Street Journal has an article on a different way to ease congestion by relying on games and lotteries (Gaming the System to Beat Rush-Hour Traffic, Aug 1). It reports on the work of Balaji Prabhakar, a Stanford Computer Science professor, who has tested out various systems to get commuters to tweak their travel habits. The article’s author discusses his approach here:

Here is a summary of one of Prabhakar’s at his place of employ.

His team recently brought the technique home with a federally funded experiment to help Stanford keep its promise to Santa Clara County to alleviate rush-hour traffic. The 3,900 participants—a significant share of the relevant pool of 8,000 parking-permit holders—installed devices on their cars (soon to be replaced with a smartphone app) and got points for arriving and leaving an hour before or after the rush hour.

The popularity of the Chutes & Ladders-like game stunned Stanford’s director of parking and transportation, Brodie Hamilton. He doubted people would take the time to spin the electronic dice to play it, and insisted that Mr. Prabhakar include an auto-play feature. But, Mr. Hamilton says, “I have people on my staff who play it regularly. People are really into it. Balaji was right!”

About 15% of the trips taken by participants have shifted away from rush hour. Students tend to come and leave later; staff tend to come and leave earlier. Smartphones make all this easier to implement: A new mobile app tracks bikers and walkers and gives them points, too.

Those who commuted off-peak got points to play in the on-line game with a chance to win cash. We are not exactly talking a year’s tuition here. The program’s website touts “random cash rewards from $2 to $50.”

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Check out these two images from the Wall Street Journal (Airline Seats Available for Elite Fliers Only, July 12). Both show available seats on an American Airline flight from LA to New York. The first shows what’s available if you lack any status in American’s frequent flyer program. The second shows what seats are offered to a flyer with sufficient status in the frequent flyer program.

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Untitled copyTo be clear, these seating charts are for the same flight at the same time — all that differs in one’s frequent flyer status. Further, while this example comes from American, other airlines play similar games.

Unlike American, Delta Air Lines shows the Preferred seats it has held back for elite customers, but doesn’t allow regular customers to book them until 24 hours before departure. At that time, Preferred seats are offered for a fee to nonelite-level customers.

US Airways also blocks seats for elite-level customers and labels them Preferred. The airline sells what it calls Choice seats in rows near the front of the cabin for $5 to $99 one-way that don’t have extra legroom but do have early boarding privileges. On the whole, US Airways says 9.5% of its coach seats are labeled Choice. Preferred, Choice and exit-row seating, which is sometimes sold for a fee, account for an average of 30% of coach seats on the airline’s planes.

Those seats open up to customers without seat assignments who don’t want to pay starting 24 hours before departure, US Airways said.

Not to surprisingly, a lot of customers find these games rather annoying. In the American example, there is one seat to be had for free for a non-elite flyer in what can only be described as a crappy location. The article has this wonderful quote “American says it doesn’t think blocking open seats from view pressures customers into paying for extra-legroom or Preferred seats.” which makes you wonder whether the folks at American are naive or dishonest.

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t2_2TKTS has long been a Time Square fixture. For those unfamiliar with it, TKTS is a non-profit that sells discounted tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows. It recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary and Marketplace had a story summarizing its business (Broadway discount booth TKTS turns 40, Jun 26).

“Shows look at their inventory the day before and they say: I’ve got tickets to sell, I don’t have tickets to sell,” says Victoria Bailey, executive director of the Theatre Development Fund, a non-profit that owns TKTS.

Bailey says TKTS sells nearly 2 million tickets a year. Theaters get the ticket money, and TKTS takes a $4 service charge. Bailey says a good year on Broadway isn’t necessarily a good year for TKTS.

“A good year for TKTS: You need a lot of shows running, doing well enough that they keep running, but not so well that they don’t have empty seats and need us to sell seats for them,” she explains.

That’s all good. The quote in the story that got me thinking, however, was the following.

Larson notes critics have said TKTS pushes ticket prices up because theaters know that they can get rid of seats if they overcharge. TKTS’ Victoria Bailey says Broadway ticket prices have risen sharply over the years. Tickets now generally run $100-150, but can easily be more than twice that. Still, she says, you don’t have to shell out that kind of money to see a show. You just have to wait.

Does having a secondary outlet boost prices?

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When I was in grad school in the early 90s, it was a big deal when the business school installed a mess of new pay phones — directly addressing a bottleneck that frustrated MBA students trying to contact would-be employers. Now, of course, that seems awfully quaint. But there is an interesting point of comparison to be made between pay phones and wireless internet access. Back in the day, no one expected a cafe or bar to have more than one pay phone. Only locations like airports and hotel lobbies had large banks of pay phones. And they were pay phones, i.e., they by definition weren’t free.

So why is there an expectation that a large range of service establishments offer Wi-Fi service gratis? A recent New York Times article doesn’t grapple with that question directly but it does document the difficulty that airlines, airports, and hotels are having in keeping up with the demand for internet access (Craving Wi-Fi, Preferably Free and Really Fast, Apr 30). One of the points the article makes is that it’s hard to get people to pay up for access on planes — only about 5 to 10% of passengers use the service. Now one can imagine several reasons for this. First, it can be relatively pricey to log on in the air (sometimes close to $20). Second, depending on the airline, availability can be spotty. If you are not sure whether you are going to be able to get on-line, you do the important stuff you have to get done before getting onboard. If Wi-Fi turns out to be available, you then have the prospect of having less important things to take care of but facing a stiff fee. Finally, the service on airplanes ain’t exactly blazing fast. It’s OK for sending an email but not so great for watching a movie.

Airlines aren’t the only one’s having a hard time getting customers to pony up for Wi-Fi access.

Airports and hotels are confronting a similar situation. Of the 10 busiest airports in the United States, those in Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C., offer at least some free Wi-Fi service.

But the trade-off can be overloaded networks that frustrate passengers, which is why Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — the busiest in the United States — is upgrading its infrastructure before switching to free Wi-Fi this year.

“Our system wasn’t built to accommodate the number of customers we expect to have with the free Wi-Fi,” said Myrna White, a spokeswoman for the airport, which dropped its Wi-Fi fee to $4.95 a day last fall.

It is the trade-off between price and congestion that I find most interesting. (more…)

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It’s an absolutely gorgeous in Chicago today. It’s so nice that when our son said he wished he had a Little League game today, my wife and I said that we would see about getting Cubs tickets for tonight’s game against the Rockies. So where should I go look for tickets? Should I buy them from the Cubs themselves or look on the secondary market? The secondary market, of course, means StubHub, the partner for most Major League Baseball teams for reselling tickets. Here’s how the Chicago Tribune puts it (Baseball teams get dynamic with ticket pricing, May 12).

Teams deal with StubHub because the online reseller provides a trusted outlet for season ticket holders to dispose of tickets to games they don’t attend. Buyers also have confidence that tickets on StubHub are not counterfeit.

But the first signs of backlash against StubHub appeared in the past offseason, when MLB renewed its five-year agreement with the website.

Two teams, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, opted out of the partnership to form their own ticket exchanges with Ticketmaster because they wanted more control over pricing on the secondary market, said Bob Bowman, CEO of MLB Advanced Media.

StubHub spokesman Glenn Lehrman was more blunt: “There’s one clear reason why those teams are not using StubHub. They did not like to see tickets resold below face value. We let the market dictate prices.”

The Cubs also considered opting out. Team officials were unhappy after some of their tickets were listed on StubHub for less than a $1, not including fees, for the team’s final three home games last season. In 2012, the Cubs lost more than 100 games for the first time since 1966.

To address some of the league’s concerns, StubHub now includes fees in ticket listings. The cheapest baseball ticket on StubHub is $6, which includes commissions and a delivery fee.

The Cubs also are one of two teams that cut off StubHub sales six hours before game time, up from two hours in 2012. By ending sales on StubHub earlier, the Cubs presumably hope to sell more last-minute tickets.

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A (really) brief follow up on yesterday’s post on pricing Warrior basketball tickets. Checkout what our colleagues Sandeep Baliga and Jeff Ely are doing with the price of Northwestern basketball tickets! Here is how the describe on their Cheap Talk blog:

We are using a system which could roughly be described as a uniform price multi-unit Dutch Auction. In simpler terms we are setting an initial price and allowing prices to gradually fall until either the game sells out or we hit our target price. Thus we are implementing a form of dynamic pricing but unlike most systems used by other venues our prices are determined by demand not by some mysterious algorithm.

But here is the key feature of our pricing system: as prices fall, you are guaranteed to pay the lowest price you could have got by delaying your purchase. That is, regardless of what price is listed at the time you reserve your seat, the price you will actually pay is the final price.

What that means is that fans have no reason to wait around and watch the price changes and try to time their purchases to get the best possible deal. We take care of that for you.

This program is available for games against Ohio State (Feb 28) and Penn State (Mar 7).

 

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Back in the early 90s, I was in graduate school in the Bay Area and playing in a regular faculty-PhD student basketball game. At the time, the Golden State Warriors held a high draft pick and while waiting for everyone to show up for our game, there was an animated discussion about what the Warriors would. Our conclusion was that they would screw it up. After all, they had recently traded away Mitch Richmond and had previously had traded away Robert Parish so they could get their hands on Joe Barry Carroll. Twenty years on, the Warriors basketball  performance hasn’t gotten a lot better. Sure, they are currently sixth in the West and would make the playoffs if the season ended today. But that would only be their second playoff appearance since I left the Bay Area many years ago.

That long history of mediocrity makes the team’s business performance all the more remarkable. In each of the last eight seasons, they their average home attendance has been over 18,000 — giving them one of the highest average attendance in the NBA. How have they managed to do this? They used lots of data in order to make sure that seats don’t go unsold while also making sure that they don’t give out unnecessary discounts (Warriors Go On Offense to Fill Seats, Wall Street Journal, Feb 6).

The team looks at data generated by Ticketmaster as well as resale-market sites like StubHub, and pores over weather forecasts and ticket sales from competing entertainment in the Bay Area.

The Warriors examine, for example, how much ticket buyers historically paid for a Tuesday night contest against the Houston Rockets versus a Friday night game against the Rockets. This helps the team predict how much it can charge for tickets without curbing demand. In some scenarios, price-points can change hourly, part of a growing sports-business practice adapted from airline bookings known as “dynamic pricing.”

The Warriors also use data when planning to move the last unsold seats for a game with an online offer. The team will take its 200,000-person email list and break it into chunks, testing different times, different subject lines and different links in the body of the message to gauge what brings the quickest response.

“We’ll send 100,000 messages 10 minutes after a victory, and 100,000 the next day,” says Mr. Schneider, 33 years old, now in his 11th season with the Warriors. Data on response time, tickets sold and the price point for each ticket tier will determine how the team tailors future pitches.

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