Thursday, January 26, 2012

Orange will not Match Competitor Prices: Why That Is Smart

France Telecom says it will not match the low-cost mobile offers recently launched by Iliad because such aggressive pricing would be bad for network quality and innovation in the long-run, says France Telecom CEO Stephane Richard. That Orange won't compete on price might strike you as unwise.

Goldman Sachs, for example, forecasts that Iliad's market entry will cause France Telecom to lose a third of its operating profits in its domestic market by 2015. That will obviously encourage thinking about the retail positioning of Orange's (France Telecom) pricing strategies.

Some will argue that Orange has to meet competitor prices. But others will argue that losing share is the wiser strategy.

There are ample precedents for France Telecom to do so, even though the strategy carries risks.

Beyond higher marketing costs as competition escalates, sometimes all an incumbent can do is harvest a business. That, in fact, was AT&T’s strategy when it was a dominant long distance provider facing growing competition from a growing number of competitors, and as prices for its product continually declined.

A similar strategy has been taken by incumbent telephone companies in the face of growing competition from VoIP providers. You might argue that telcos should have jumped into VoIP aggressively, matching competitor lower prices.

The suggestion is that sometimes a particular firm cannot compete in a particular line of business, on price. When that is the case, and when a contestant has very large market share, sometimes it will make better financial sense to harvest the business, and spend more organizational effort "finding something else to do."

It is a variation on the old theme that there always are some customers a particular contestant is better off not having. Incumbent mobile service providers frequently find themselves facing lower-cost competition, and it is not always possible to compete on that basis.

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