As discussed in an earlier chapter, a customer can be either the ultimate user of the finished product or a business that purchases components of the finished product. It is the customer that seeks to satisfy a need or set of needs through the purchase of a particular product or set of products. Consequently, the customer uses several criteria to determine how much they are willing to expend in order to satisfy these needs. Ideally, the customer would like to pay as little as possible to satisfy these needs. This perspective is summarized in Figure 9.1.
Therefore, for the business to increase value (i.e. create the competitive advantage), it can either increase the perceived benefits or reduce the perceived costs. Both of these elements should be considered elements of price. To a certain extent, perceived benefits are the mirror image of perceived costs. For example, paying a premium price (e.g. USD 650 for a piece of Lalique crystal) is compensated for by having this exquisite work of art displayed in one's home. Other possible perceived benefits directly related to the price-value equation are status, convenience, the deal, brand, quality, choice, and so forth. Many of these benefits tend to overlap. For instance, a Mercedes Benz E750 is a very high-status brand name and possesses superb quality. This makes it worth the USD 100,000 price tag. Further, if one can negotiate a deal reducing the price by USD 15,000, that would be his incentive to purchase. Likewise, someone living in an isolated mountain community is willing to pay substantially more for groceries at a local store rather than drive 78 miles (25.53 kilometers) to the nearest Safeway. That person is also willing to sacrifice choice for greater convenience. Increasing these perceived benefits is represented by a recently coined term, value-added. Thus, providing value-added elements to the product has become a popular strategic alternative. Computer manufacturers now compete on value-added components such as free delivery setup, training, a 24-hour help line, trade-in, and upgrades.
Perceived costs include the actual dollar amount printed on the product, plus a host of additional factors. As noted, these perceived costs are the mirror-opposite of the benefits. When finding a gas station that is selling its highest grade for USD 0.06 less per gallon, the customer must consider the 16 mile (25.75 kilometer) drive to get there, the long line, the fact that the middle grade is not available, and heavy traffic. Therefore, inconvenience, limited choice, and poor service are possible perceived costs. Other common perceived costs include risk of making a mistake, related costs, lost opportunity, and unexpected consequences, to name but a few. A new cruise traveler discovers he or she really does not enjoy that venue for several reasons—e.g. he or she is given a bill for incidentals when she leaves the ship, has used up her vacation time and money, and receives unwanted materials from this company for years to come.
In the end, viewing price from the customer's perspective pays off in many ways. Most notably, it helps define value—the most important basis for creating a competitive advantage.