Do you need to maintain pricing parity across all channels?

Let us look at this case study:

Airport terminals are not gourmet ghettos. We mostly get a food court with the usual chain restaurants. Wouldn’t it be great to give the travelers – locals, those in transit, and visitors – a taste of the local flair? Phoenix airport is trying to do exactly that. They are giving the local coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants an opportunity to open their shop at the airport terminal.

It does provide the local businesses a new revenue opportunity by adding a new sales channel. Forty million people pass through Phoenix airport every year. That is a large Target Addressable Market (TAM), even a 5% conversion with average tab of $8 means adding another $16 million in new revenue from one location. There is also the positive side effect of marketing exposure.

But it does come with many drawbacks.

First the rent at airport can be up to 10 times what these local restaurants pay in city locations. Second the hassle and costs associated with security and regulations. Third the additional infrastructure cost in equipment and other things to make the place resemble the city location. Lastly, customers want to pay same price they pay at city locations.

There are many questions here. Primarily should a business consider adding airport location given the huge exposure and opportunity. That is a topic for another day or you can hire me to help you with the analysis. Here I want to address just the last drawback

Customers want to pay same price they pay at city locations. One restaurant decided to do just that,

what you pay for a salad at Chelsea’s original Phoenix location is what you’ll pay at the airport.

Is that the right thing to do? Doesn’t it matter that the restaurants incur significant incremental costs when they open a sales channel in airports? Shouldn’t that costs be offset with a price markup on products? How should the pricing be for a new sales channel?

If you know the answers you can skip the rest of the article.

Here is what you need to consider.

Where do you start for pricing? You start with customer segments based on their needs. In airports you have

  1. Those who hire your restaurant as a better (healthier, tastier, fresher …) alternative to greasier and generic options available. This segment includes some members from all travelers.
  2. Your loyal locals who are happy to have their favorite option available before they board the plane (without having to make a side trip).
  3. Those who hire products simply based on price.
  4. Those who hire products based on brand – a local restaurant likely has no brand recognition outside of locals going through the airport
  5. Lastly, most ignore this segment, those who work at the airport and need better options for their meals.

Customer Jobs To Be Done Growth MatrixThis is a case of adding top-right and bottom-left quadrants from Customer Jobs Growth Matrix.

The question of price parity does not come into play with (3) and (4) and anyone that is not local in (1). Stated another way you only need to worry about pricing parity if they already have a reference price – what they pay at your city locations.

Your options?

You could maintain pricing parity as long as the profits far outweigh profits from opening other city locations for the same investment. That is consider your opportunity costs. But don’t charge same price because it is the “right” thing to do or your locals demand that. This is as bad as simply adding your airport cost overheads to your local prices.

You have access to a segment (likely large and constantly refreshed) who value the better options at airports and have higher willingness to pay. You should find a way to capture this value with better pricing.

If only you could do third degree price discrimination – say asking for driver’s license – and give a price discount to locals you are good. But that is a hassle and mostly not something you want to do because of overall customer experience.

That leaves you the following options to capture additional value from customers choosing your restaurant in the airport location (that flows from the recommendations in the Growth Matrix)

  1. Price Higher and Use Cost Argument – Recognize it is okay to not serve all customers. Don’t focus on 40 million customers, ficus on who perceive higher value from our offerings. Do a marketing research if need be. You may want to give up on some of your locals buying at airport and choose to target only those with higher willingness to pay.
    Most times you can convince locals of hardships in running your restaurant in airports and charge a premium over your city location prices. You are not doing cost based pricing – you will set prices based on what customers are willing to pay at airports – you are only using cost to justify higher prices.
  2. Product Mix – Play with your product mix. Add newer options that are available only in airport locations and charge a premium for them. These could be simple variations of your menu choices. You should do this even if you don’t have pricing pressure.
  3. Creative Packaging – Consider different sizes – think smaller for same prices as city locations. A 10-20% decrease in marginal cost can stand in for not raising prices. Apply creative messaging like -ToGo, OnAir etc. You should do this even if you don’t have pricing pressure.

The cardinal rule however is start with customer segments before you decide on pricing. Be it opening an airport location, adding food cart version of your restaurant or serving down markets with your enterprise products – start with customer segments, their needs and their current alternatives.

How do you set pricing for your different sales channels?