Sharleen D’Souza, Business Standard
Mumbai, March 23, 2023
After sparking a price war in the carbonated beverages market through Campa Cola, Reliance Consumer Products has taken the pricing battle to the other segments in the fast-moving consumer goods market.
For instance, in soaps, it has priced its product lower than the market leader in the segment at Rs. 25 for 100 gms across its three brands – Glimmer, Get Real and Puric.
With Glimmer, Reliance Consumer competes with Lux, which sells a 100-gm soap bar at Rs. 36, while Get Real is similar to Hindustan Unilever’s Pears soap bar, which is priced at Rs. 54 for 100 gms. In the hygiene space, Reliance has taken on Reckitt Benckiser’s Dettol, priced at Rs. 40 for 75 gms. Godrej Consumer Products, one of the leaders in soaps sells its Godrej No 1 45 gms (each) pack of 4 for Rs. 40.
In the dish wash category, it captured the main price points of Rs. 5 for 75 gms, Rs. 10 for 145 gms, and Rs. 15 for 200 gms in bars, and Rs. 10 for 65 ml pouch, Rs. 20 for around 140 ml pouch, and Rs. 30 for 200 ml pouch in liquids. HUL’s Vim bar is priced at Rs. 5 for a 60-gm pack and Rs. 10 for a 125-gm pack, while a 300-gm pack retails at Rs. 30.
But Reliance has also moved a step further into the sachet space and is retailing a 5 ml sachet of dish wash liquid at Rs. 1. Other brands do not sell sachets.
On JioMart, the price of RCPL’s Enzo two-litre front-load liquid detergent is Rs. 250, a 43 per cent discount to the maximum retail price (MRP) of Rs. 440; the topload two-litre liquid detergent is available at a 35 per cent discount and now priced at Rs. 250. Its compact detergent powder one kg pack is priced at Rs. 149, after a 12 per cent discount on its MRP of Rs. 170. HUL’s Surf Excel Easy Wash detergent powder is priced at Rs. 150 and Quick Wash at Rs. 240 for a kilogram. But Rin detergent powder is priced for Rs. 103 and Wheel detergent powder at Rs. 73 for 1 kg. Surf Excel’s front load two-litre pack is priced at Rs. 390 and top load at Rs. 370. Tide’s 1.5 kg detergent powder sells for Rs. 225.
In detergents, Reliance has not disclosed which segment it intends to cater to and what price points it will offer in general trade.
Reliance is following the challenger strategy like in the telecom space, said Devangshu Dutta, founder at Third Eyesight. He said this is the fastest way to acquire market share, and since Reliance has deep pockets, it can easily fund market share acquisition by launching its products at a significant price difference compared to rivals.
“Customers will move at least to try the product and if they end up liking the product they will stick to it. This strategy is best suited for market share acquisition,” Dutta explained.
An executive from a top FMCG firm said on the condition of anonymity that there will eventually be a price war in whichever segment Reliance enters. He explained that while Reliance was still setting up its distribution network, over time due to its B2B supply chain, it will be able to push its products into retail
Some distributors who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it would not be easy to move the leaders in the segment as these companies have a fixed customer base and it might be difficult to topple brands that have been in the market for a while.
Reliance followed the same strategy with its carbonated beverage, Campa Cola. It relaunched Campa at a price point of Rs. 10 for 200 ml, Rs. 20 for 500 ml, Rs. 30 for 600 ml, Rs. 40 for one litre, and Rs. 80 for two
(Published in Business Standard)
(The Hindu Businessline – cat.a.lyst got marketing experts from diverse industries to analyse consumer behaviour during the last one month and pick out valuable nuggets on how this could impact marketing and brands in the years to come. This piece was a contribution to this Deepavali special supplement.)
Two trends that stand out in my mind, having examined over two-and-a-half decades in the Indian consumer market, are the stretching or flattening out of the demand curve, or the emergence of multiple demand peaks during the year, and discount-led buying.
Once, sales of some products in 3-6 weeks of the year could exceed the demand for the rest of the year. However, as the number of higher income consumers has grown since the 1990s, consumers have started buying more round the year. While wardrobes may have been refreshed once a year around a significant festival earlier, now the consumer buys new clothing any time he or she feels the specific need for an upcoming social or professional occasion. Eating out or ordering in has a far greater share of meals than ever before. Gadgets are being launched and lapped up throughout the year. Alongside, expanding retail businesses are creating demand at off-peak times, whether it is by inventing new shopping occasions such as Republic Day and Independence Day sales, or by creating promotions linked to entertainment events such as movie launches.
While demand is being created more “secularly” through the year, over the last few years intensified competition has also led to discounting emerging as a primary competitive strategy. The Indian consumer is understood by marketers to be a “value seeker”, and the lazy ones translate this into a strategy to deliver the “lowest price”. This has been stretched to the extent that, for some brands, merchandise sold under discount one way or the other can account for as much as 70-80 per cent of their annual sales.
This Diwali has brought the fusion of these two trends. Traditional retailers on one side, venture-steroid funded e-tailers on the other, brands looking at maximising the sales opportunity in an otherwise slow market, and in the centre stands created the new consumer who is driven by hyper-opportunism rather than by need or by festive spirit. A consumer who is learning that there is always a better deal available, whether you need to negotiate or simply wait awhile.
This Diwali, this hyper-opportunistic customer did not just walk into the neighbourhood durables store to haggle and buy the flat-screen TV, but compared costs with the online marketplaces that were splashing zillions worth of advertising everywhere. And then bought the TV from the “lowest bidder”. Or didn’t – and is still waiting for a better offer. The hyper-opportunistic customer was not shy in negotiating discounts with the retailer when buying fashion – so what if the store had “fixed” prices displayed!
This Diwali’s hyper-opportunism may well have scarred the Indian consumer market now for the near future. A discount-driven race to the bottom in which there is no winner, eventually not even the consumer. It is driven only by one factor – who has the most money to sacrifice on discounts. It is destroys choice – true choice – that should be based on product and service attributes that offer a variety of customers an even larger variety of benefits. It remains to be seen whether there will be marketers who can take the less trodden, less opportunistic path. I hope there will be marketers who will dare to look beyond discounts, and help to create a truly vibrant marketplace that is not defined by opportunistic deals alone.
In his latest book, Professor Richard A. D’Aveni focusses on a topic that most businesses should be acutely concerned with: the problem of commoditization. In interviews he has accurately described commoditization as “the black plague on modern corporations” and “a deadly disease that’s spreading like crazy”.
Certainly, if one had to pick the ultimate nightmares to keep CEOs awake at night, commoditization would definitely be among the top of the list. Specifically, given the economic uncertainties around the world in the last couple of years, business leaders who are not concerned about their products or services being turned into commodities are either supremely equipped to maintain their differentiation, or immensely deluded as to their capabilities to fight market forces. Prof. D’Aveni suggests that maintaining differentiation alone is not enough to sustain business.
A product or service becomes a commodity when it is not distinguishable from competing offerings and therefore not valued above the competition. Prof. D’Aveni views commoditization along two key attributes: the benefits or features that are being offered and the price (margin) that is available to the business. Based on his model, he has identified three types of competitive stress that a business could face:
The book suggests competitive strategies that a business could take to avoid getting caught in the commodity trap. These strategies can be boiled down to the biological choice: fight or flight (escape). Professor D’Aveni echoes the basic warfare strategy laid out by many military and business strategists through the ages. He suggests that businesses need to gauge the opponents, choose their battles, and pick opponents against whom they can win. He also calls for pre-emptive action: where companies can, they should either change the business environment to avoid commodity battles entirely, or initiate the battle of commoditization and control its direction and momentum.
In fact, anticipation and pre-emption is the key to avoiding the commodity trap. To help with this, Prof. D’Aveni offers a relatively simple framework to analyse a current market situation in terms of a price-benefit matrix, and to identify the advance corrective actions to be taken.
The book is short and straight-forward enough to pick through a domestic flight, or to read in the back-seat during a long commute between office and home. The easy to understand framework gets the messages across quickly. In analysing the variations of commoditization, both in consumer and business oriented industries, the Professor also offers up something for everyone.
However, the book’s strengths also turn out to be among its biggest weaknesses. The book would have benefited from more depth to each of the concepts. Skipping quickly from one area to the other, in some places the book risks losing coherence of thought.
Some short books are like downhill hairpin bends on a mountain road; Prof. D’Aveni’s book is one of those. Much as you might be tempted to go fast, it’s advisable to go slow. If you speed through it, you might miss a nugget that actually makes sense to your business.
One of the other grouses I had was with the examples quoted. The predominantly US market examples reduce the book’s relevance for a global audience – the Professor presumes the reader will know the company and its context well enough to understand the lessons being discussed. In some cases the examples are incomplete and possibly even incorrect: one such is the example of Zara. The broad-brush attributes Zara’s business success to turning fashion into commodity, and ignores the fact that fashionability and desirability are a cornerstone of Zara’s offer, not the cheapest price. Others would possibly be far more accurate examples of commoditization in the context of price.
However, if you are sufficiently concerned about the possibility of being commoditized out of profitability, or being marginalised out of market share, I would suggest that you could easily overlook these flaws. The fundamental premise of the book is far too important to ignore. [Beating the Commodity Trap on Amazon]
(This review was written for Businessworld.)
‘Refrigerated and Frozen Food Retailer’ magazine wrote about price wars in food and grocery retail, between retailers, or between retailers’ private labels and national brands.
The comments about the difference between retailers’ own brands and national supplier brands are particularly interesting. The question, whether retailers’ own brands necessarily need to be cheaper and whether they can catch up later, is also very acute.
To me, the price difference here is really reflected by the difference between whether you are creating a brand (albeit one that is available only in one chain of stores) or a lower-priced private label.
A brand needs distinctiveness, a private label is mostly a me-too. A brand needs to build its own relationships and desirability beyond the store it is available in, while private label sells because there is an existing customer for something else that it is knocking-off. (Of course there are private labels that are not me-too and that are distinctive, but they are the exceptions proving the rule, so I would much rather go with the simplified view of the world for now.)
Finally, migrating up the price curve is difficult in the best of times. Believing that it can be done quickly after an introductory low price, in the current economic scenario, would be highly optimistic.
Price-optimization solution providers believe that retailers can increase private label prices:
DemandTec’s Derek Smith is seeing smaller price gaps between national brands and private label, with private label also adding more tiers. This allows one tier to fulfill the opening price point in a category, with the other tier playing roughly on par with the national brand or even priced above it…
“You also have to understand what price gap is necessary to get the consumer to trade up or down,” depending on your strategy, he adds. For example, you might want to incent shoppers to trade down to your private label, so you get more margin. So… do you raise the price on the national brand, lower the price on the private label, or do a bit of both? Once again, it will depend on your customer set and their purchasing history…
Lyle Walker, VP of marketing, KSS Retail, has seen some of the retailers he has worked with raise prices on their private label without losing sales – thus significantly increasing category profits. “We build demand models with two years’ worth of POS history, and then dynamically adjust elasticity values based on weekly updates of POS data,” said Mr. Walker.
Of course, Mr. Walker also qualifies the argument by saying that the increment may be “pennies here and pennies there,” implying that the discount for private label may still remain large enough for the customer not to notice the “pennies” being added on gradually.
Which sort of negates the whole question about whether retailers’ private label can really compete by pricing on par with national supplier brands, doesn’t it?
(The original RFF article is available here.)
I recently had the opportunity of window shopping with some friends visiting India and it was interesting to note how visitors to India from different continents react to the retail prices of the products of the international brands available in the Indian market.
Friends from Europe (specifically from the UK, which is a relatively expensive country to live in) were pleasantly surprised to find the prices of some of the products of international brands such as L’Oreal, Tommy Hilfiger, Marks & Spencer and Levi Strauss cheaper and they extended their list of things to buy from India at the cost of paying for the extra baggage on their way home. (Well, it also happened to be the discount season during their visit.)
On the other hand, friends from Canada who had arrived a few weeks earlier (before the discount sales started) found the products of international brands too expensive by “Indian standards” and decided that they should do their shopping back in their home country during the markdown sales for Halloween or Christmas!! After all, shouldn’t India be cheaper?!
Yet again, a case in point, when I visited a “just opened” retail outlet of an international brand at a well known mall in the NCR region, I noticed the Rupee price mentioned on the tag was higher than the converted value of the unit price printed in Euros on the same tag. As a consumer I rationalized that probably the brand was launched in a hurry and one forgot to remove the Euro price stickers, though it may also have been a possibility that since the products were imported, the high import duty structure may have resulted in a higher Indian price!
Is it possible for the international brands to follow a common pricing globally? Could the international brands integrate the global tariff barriers/ duties, and currency conversions in their cost structure and have their products priced the same across all international borders?
Well, maybe not just yet…although some brands have tried. For now, consumers can only hope for more parity.
Come to think of it…..if you went shopping in the UK after the US you may just find that for some products the prices (read digits) appear to be the same ……only the “$” would have been replaced by “£”.