A monopolist may be able to engage in a policy of price discrimination. This occurs when a firm charges a different price to different groups of consumers for an identical good or service, for reasons not associated with the costs of production. It is important to stress that charging different prices for similar goods is not price discrimination. For example, price discrimination does not does not occur when a rail company charges a higher price for a first class seat. This is because the price premium over a second-class seat can be explained by differences in the cost of providing the service.
CONDITIONS REQUIRED FOR PRICE DISCRIMINATION TO WORK
There are basically three main conditions required for price discrimination to take place.
Firms must have some price setting power - so we don't see price discrimination in perfectly competitive markets.
Elasticity of demand
There must be a different price elasticity of demand for the product from each group of consumers. This allows the firm to extract consumer surplus by varying the price leading to additional revenue and profit.
Separation of the market
The firm must be able to split the market into different sub-groups of consumers and then prevent the good or service being resold between consumers. (For example a rail operator must make it impossible for someone paying a "cheap fare" to resell to someone expected to pay a higher fare. This is easier in the provision of services rather than goods.
The costs of separating the market and selling to different sub-groups (or market segments) must not be prohibitive.
Examples of price discrimination
There are numerous good examples of discriminatory pricing policies. We must be careful to distinguish between discrimination (based on consumer's willingness to pay) and product differentiation - where price differences might also reflect a different quality or standard of service.
Some examples worth considering include:
Cinemas and theatres cutting prices to attract younger and older audiences
Student discounts for rail travel, restaurant meals and holidays
Car rental firms cutting prices at weekends
Hotels offering cheap weekend breaks and winter discounts
The aims of price discrimination
It must be remembered that the main aim of price discrimination is to increase the total revenue and/or profits of the supplier! It helps them to off-load excess capacity and can also be used as a technique to take market share away from rival firms.
Some consumers do benefit from this type of pricing - they are "priced into the market" when with one price they might not have been able to afford a product. For most consumers however the price they pay reflects pretty closely what they are willing to pay. In this respect, price discrimination seeks to extract consumer surplus and turn it into producer surplus (or monopoly profit).
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