Saturday, November 21, 2009

Is it really cheating or an application of a marketing concept?

Recently, I went to a dtdc shop (don’t know if it was franchise or not. This shop gets the couriers from main Ahmedabad dtdc office and delivers them in its area). The shop is located in Vastrapur, Ahmedabad. I wanted to courier one package to Delhi. The guy there weighed the courier. It came somewhere around 275 gms. After weighing he started doing some paperwork. I understood he was basically preparing receipt for sending the courier. Wanting to know the amount, I interrupted him and asked what the charges are. He replied Rs150. I stood there silent for a few seconds giving an impression (and it was actually the case) that the amount he quoted was much higher than I expected. He asked whether he should continue. I paused for a moment and then was probably going to refuse him. At that time, he said that I can send it for Rs120 also. I was a bit surprised and asked him what the difference is. He said that there is a separate department dtdc+, which charges extra. He pointed me to a banner which had dtdc+ written on it and showing that it gives some delivery guarantee.

Even though Rs120 was also higher than I expected (I did not have some amount in mind but probably around 50-60 was in my mind), still I said yes. I was sending such heavy courier for the first time. So, I thought may be it costs that much.

On returning back, as I was still feeling that the amount was a bit high, I went to dtdc site. According to the site, it should have cost me Rs75. I instantly called that guy. He started giving lame excuses that no matter what is the weight we get, we have to pay this much…blah blah blah… I said ok now I can’t do anything, so good bye.

Then as I was thinking about the incident, I started thinking whether he has really done something immoral. I knew he has sort of cheated me. But was he really morally wrong to do that. One thought came to my mind that no, he has done nothing wrong. He has just extracted more customer surplus (for definition of customer surplus, see end of post) out of me. This is what the job of a marketer is: to provide maximum value and then extract maximum surplus out of the customer. The prices of all lifestyle products and even things like coke, pepsi, chocolates are not calculated on cost plus margin basis. The price is calculated on the basis how much can the customer pay. So this is the same he did. As I could pay Rs120, he charged me that. Rather than calling him immoral, I should call him a good marketer. Shouldn’t I? Is there something wrong with my argument?

As I was thinking about this one more thought came to my mind: Are money lenders exploiting or helping poor people? Most people hold the view that these money lenders charge unjustifiable interest rates and conditions to the poor people. But my point is that it is their choice how to price their product. Do we ever ask pepsi why does it charge Rs10 for a bottle that costs just 80 paise? So, money lender has money. They fix a price for lending. Now it is up to the farmer to get a loan or not. Money lenders are not forcing loans to the farmers. The value derived by the farmer must still be higher than the cost (even though it is very high), that’s why farmer is coming to the money lender. That’s the only reason he is coming to the money lender. So, money lender is actually increasing the value to the farmers by providing loans, even though at exorbitant rates. What’s wrong with this? Why people are severly against these money lenders? At least, marketers should never be critical of them. They are just doing what a good marketer is expected to do.

If you say that one should look at the social value also when trying to capture the customer value, then my first argument is you are walking on thin air. What is social value anyway? Isn’t pepsi wrong when it charges Rs10 for a 80 paisa bottle? Can you measure the psychological sadness that a person might be feeling when he wants to drink a pepsi but he can’t spend Rs10? I’m not joking. I am serious. How do you feel when you want to buy something but you can’t afford it. Similarly, a poor person sees a bottle of pepsi and wants to drink it but he can’t. If it had been for Rs3 or 4, he would have had it. Now who is the cause of this depressed feeling? Pepsi or someone else? Now if that’s not enough, Pepsi spends so much on advertisement and keep bombarding that person with advertisements continuously reminding him of his poverty.

One thought that’s just coming to my mind is suppose that a person worth Rs1000 crore gets a heart attack and is taken to a hospital nearby. There is no other hospital in 50km range. What should this hospital charge the person? How much would he be willing to pay?

Definition of customer surplus: Suppose if you are buying pop corn for Rs5, then the satisfaction or value you are deriving from consuming pop corn must be greater than the value you derived by keeping Rs5 to yourself. So, customer surplus is

Value (in monetary terms) derived from the product – Price of the product

So, suppose the maximum you are willing to pay for same pop-corn is Rs10, then that means this the point where you are probably indifferent to having pop-corn or money with you. Above price of Rs10, you’ll prefer to keep money and below Rs10, you would like to have pop-corn.

In this case, if you are getting pop-corn for Rs5, then customer surplus if 10-5=Rs5. A marketer job is to capture the maximum of this. So, a good marketer will price the product around Rs10.

Disclaimer: This is very simplistic explanation but it captures the essence


  1. i understood it well....n really never thought of this customer surplus thing..thanks..:):)well written...:)

  2. Well written..

    simple yet impactful..u r abs ryt in takng the example of Coke, pepsi etc..

    In addition I would like to say that dz is nt limitd to coke or pepsi..dese r still extra thngs but consumer surplus is dre in basic necessity such as water. All d package drinking water cmpnies advertise demself stating that dz water is a must 4 us bcz so many people die evry yr due to unsafe drinking water. they r ryt in sayng dz but do they thnk that y only people BPL die? it is bcz they dnt hv enough resources to purchase hygienic water 4 demself. This way companies play the emotions of human beings . the bottle f 1 litre cost dem only 2- 3 Rs including packagn bt dey sell at Rs 10-12..

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  4. too many thoughts, too much messed up and finally, you are on wrong track.
    From defining consumer surplus to coke-pepsi pricing and from morality of the courier-guy to behavior of the money-lenders, you are completely missing the picture.
    We need to talk at length - point by point. DOn't know when but we need to talk.

  5. Sid, I know there can be strong counter arguments to points I wrote. Some of them can be justified while other could be just exaggerations. My point was not to justify or unjustify any of the persons or activities. My point was just to raise an ethical question which should make one reflect on the moral dilemmas one can face. If a person after reading this thinks about the issue, I have served the purpose.

    Though I agree with you that I may not have been able to bring this out.

  6. @harleen: I also never thought about this before coming here..:)

    @swati: ur point is right but problem is that such poor people wont even spend 3-4 rs for a litre of water...
    In any case, this was just an example, my point was larger...

  7. Sorry.... but I donot accept any of your comments here. But its just how I think and believe.... not that what you are saying is wrong!!

  8. Bhaji even I don't subscribe to any of the views...I have just expressed questions over them...
    Waise what exactly do you mean by your comment?