What If Marketers Put Customers Ahead of Profits?

Scott Shriver

Columbia Business School - Marketing

V. Seenu Srinivasan

Stanford University - Graduate School of Business

September 7, 2011

Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 11-9

We examine a duopoly where one of the firms does not maximize profit, but instead maximizes customer surplus subject to a profit constraint. (Customer surplus for a firm is the sum of its customers’ individual consumer surpluses, i.e., the dollar value the customer attaches to the product minus its price.) For the surplus-maximizing firm, profit is constrained to be at least X percent (where X% might be, say 80-90%) of the profit it would have obtained under a profit maximization objective. The model assumes customer willingness to pay for quality is uniformly distributed and that customers follow a simple decision rule: when presented with two products of known quality and price, purchase one unit of the product which maximizes surplus, or if surplus is negative for both products, elect not to purchase any product. We further assume that firms’ marginal cost of production is convex (quadratic) in quality. Competition between firms is modeled as a two-stage game, which is solvable by backward induction. In the first stage, one of the firms, whose identity is exogenously specified, moves first and decides its quality level, fully anticipating the quality response of the second firm and the subsequent price competition. The second firm observes the first firm’s quality level and then decides its own quality level, anticipating the subsequent price competition. In the second stage, firms take qualities as given and choose prices simultaneously in accordance with a Nash equilibrium. Two possibilities are considered: (a) the first mover is the profit-maximizing firm, and (b) the first mover is the customer surplus-maximizing firm. We compare the results to the corresponding base case of Moorthy (1988) where both firms are profit-maximizing. We find that firms can deliver significant additional value to their customers by forgoing small amounts of profit. The effectiveness of this strategy depends upon which firm is the first mover. When the surplus-maximizing firm moves first, a 1% increase in its customers’ surplus “costs” the firm approximately 2% of its potential profits. By contrast, when the profit-maximizing firm chooses quality first, we find that sacrificing 20% of profits is sufficient for the surplus-maximizing firm to more than quadruple the customer surplus it would have provided under a profit-maximizing objective. This outcome results from the surplus-maximizing firm leap-frogging its competitor to become the high quality producer.

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Date posted: September 7, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Shriver, Scott and Srinivasan, V. Seenu, What If Marketers Put Customers Ahead of Profits? (September 7, 2011). Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 11-9. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1923749 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1923749

Contact Information

Scott Shriver (Contact Author)
Columbia Business School - Marketing ( email )
New York, NY 10027
United States

V. Seenu Srinivasan
Stanford University - Graduate School of Business ( email )
518 Memorial Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States
650-723-8505 (Phone)
650-725-6152 (Fax)

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