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Articles for the ‘Economics for Business 6e: Ch 08’ Category

Bridging The Gap

The Gap has been a fixture of UK High Streets for many years and has had both ups and downs. In a highly competitive market, it faces fierce rivals from other high street retailers and also from an increasingly important online presence. Same-shop sales for Gap fell in July by 7% and the brand is now finding itself in a tricky position.

Although the Gap does sell products at a variety of prices, even sales growth in its most affordable line was not sufficient to offset declines elsewhere. It’s not just the UK where this decline is observed, with 175 Gap specialty shops in America being shut down over the next year. This will inevitably mean job losses. So why is Gap struggling so much, after being such a popular brand?

Its competitors are arguably offering a very similar product, but at a lower price. Consumers, being increasingly aware of prices and having many more options to make price comparisons, are perhaps using this information to make better choices. If they don’t believe that they are getting something extra from paying a slightly higher price at Gap, then they’d prefer to get the same thing elsewhere, from somewhere like Forever 21 or H&M. Some also suggest that the product itself is out of date and with the world of high fashion being such an important part of life for many people, an out-of-date product is bad news. That, together with consumers finding more and more things that they can spend their money on, beyond clothes has led to a tricky position for the Gap.

A key part of maintaining a presence on high streets has been sales and special offers – this has been a key element in keeping customers coming, but it is certainly not a long term strategy. Research analysts have been investigating some of the key aspects of the Gap and various comments have been made, including:

“Uniformity is no longer cool… The trick now is convincing your customer that they’re getting something unique.” (Simeon Siegel), Nomura Securities.

“Of top priority is delivering more consistent and compelling product collections.” Kari Shellhorn, Gap spokeswomen.

“Whether it’s colour or print or it’s pattern, the Gap brand hasn’t been kept up to date … Until they have their product right, I think we’ll continue to see them have promotions.” Dana Telsey, Telsey Advisory Group.

The future of Gap is certainly in the balance and with an increasingly competitive market when it comes to retail, an effective strategy to maintain and increase its market share will be essential.

Why Gap is in a tight squeeze BBC News, Gianna Palmer (20/8/15)
Gap Inc sees some potential for next year but Q2 2015 remains weak Forbes, Investing, Trefis Team (24/8/15)

Questions

  1. What sort of figure would you expect Gap’s clothes to have and why?
  2. Into which market structure would you place the retail industry? What does this tell us about how a company such as Gap can hope to make profits?
  3. If you were advising Gap, what strategies would you propose as a means of boosting revenue and cutting costs?
  4. The BBC News article states that the fortunes of Gap have been hurt by a strong US dollar. Why may this be the case?
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What’s really on offer?

For years, the UK consumer organisation, Which?, has exposed misleading supermarket pricing practices. These include bogus price reductions, ‘cheaper’ multi-buys, smaller pack sizes and confusing special offers. Claiming that these practices are still continuing, Which? has made a super-complaint (available to designated consumer bodies) to the competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Commenting on this action, Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd said:

“Despite Which? repeatedly exposing misleading and confusing pricing tactics, and calling for voluntary change by the retailers, these dodgy offers remain on numerous supermarket shelves. Shoppers think they’re getting a bargain but in reality it’s impossible for any consumer to know if they’re genuinely getting a fair deal.

We’re saying enough is enough and using one of the most powerful legal weapons in our armoury to act on behalf of consumers by launching a super-complaint to the regulator. We want an end to misleading pricing tactics and for all retailers to use fair pricing that people can trust.”

The CMA will consider the issues raised under the super-complaint to establish whether any of them are significantly harming the interests of consumers. It will publish a response within 90 days from the receipt of the complaint on 21 April 2015. The possible outcomes include:

recommending the quality and accessibility of information for consumers is improved
encouraging businesses in the market to self-regulate
making recommendations to government to change the legislation or public policy
taking competition or consumer enforcement action
instigating a market investigation or market study
a clean bill of health

Some 40% of groceries are sold on promotion. Supermarkets are well aware that consumers love to get a bargain and use promotions to persuade consumers to buy things they might not otherwise have done.

What is more, consumer rationality is bounded by the information and time available. People are often in a hurry when shopping; prices change frequently; people are often buying numerous low-value items; and they don’t know what competitors are charging. People may thus accept an offer as genuine and not spend time investigating whether it is so. Supermarkets know this and use all sorts of tactics to try to persuade people that they are indeed getting a bargain.

Videos
Supermarkets Face Super-Complaint On Pricing Sky News (21/4/15)
UK supermarkets face possible probe over pricing practices Reuters, Neil Maidment (21/4/15)
Which? launches ‘super-complaint’ against supermarkets BBC News, Stephanie McGovern (21/4/15)

Articles
UK supermarkets dupe shoppers out of hundreds of millions, says Which? The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (21/4/15)
Supermarkets face inquiry into ‘rip-offs’ The Telegraph, Dan Hyde (21/4/15)
15 supermarket rip-offs that led to an inquiry The Telegraph, Dan Hyde (21/4/15)
What does Which?’s supermarket pricing complaint mean for you? The Guardian (21/4/15)
Supermarkets hit back over Which? report on pricing Financial Times (21/4/15)

Press release
Which? ‘super-complains’ about misleading supermarket pricing practices Which? (21/4/15)

CMA case page
Groceries pricing super-complaint Competition and Markets Authority (21/4/15)

Questions

  1. Give examples of supermarket offers that are misleading.
  2. Why are supermarkets able to ‘get away with’ misleading offers?
  3. How can behavioural economics help to explain consumer behaviour in supermarkets?
  4. Identify some other super-complaints have been made to the CMA or its predecessor, the Office of Fair Trading. What were the outcomes from the resulting investigations.
  5. What is meant by ‘heuristics’? How might supermarkets exploit consumers’ use of heuristics in their promotions?
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Ups and downs in the High Street

The typical UK high street is changing. Some analysts have been arguing for some time that high streets are dying, with shops unable to face the competition from large supermarkets and out-of-town malls. But it’s not all bad news for the high street: while some types of shop are disappearing, others are growing in number.

Part of the reason for this is the rise in online shopping; part is the longer-term effects of the recession. One consequence of this has been a shift in demand from large supermarkets (see the blog, Supermarket wars: a pricing race to the bottom). Many people are using local shops more, especially the deep discounters, but also the convenience stores of the big supermarket chains, such as Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local. Increasingly such stores are opening in shops and pubs that have closed down. As The Guardian article states:

The major supermarket chains are racing to open high street outlets as shoppers move away from the big weekly trek to out-of-town supermarkets to buying little, local and often.

Some types of shop are disappearing, such as video rental stores, photographic stores and travel agents. But other types of businesses are on the increase. In addition to convenience stores, these include cafés, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and takeaways; betting shops, gyms, hairdressers, phone shops and tattoo parlours. It seems that people are increasingly seeing their high streets as social places.

Then, reflecting the widening gap between rich and poor and the general desire of people to make their money go further, there has been a phenomenal rise in charity shops and discount stores, such as Poundland and Poundworld.

So what is the explanation? Part of it is a change in tastes and fashions, often reflecting changes in technology, such as the rise in the Internet, digital media, digital photography and smart phones. Part of it is a reflection of changes in incomes and income distribution. Part of it is a rise in highly competitive businesses, which challenge the previous incumbents.

But despite the health of some high streets, many others continue to struggle and the total number of high street stores across the UK is still declining.

What is clear is that the high street is likely to see many more changes. Some may die altogether, but others are likely to thrive if new businesses are sufficiently attracted to them or existing ones adapt to the changing market.

How the rise of tattoo parlours shows changing face of Britain’s high streets The Guardian, Zoe Wood and Sarah Butler (7/10/14)
The changing face of the British High Street: Tattoo parlours and convenience stores up, but video rental shops and travel agents down Mail Online, Dan Bloom (8/10/14)
High Street footfall struggles in August Fresh Business Thinking, Jonathan Davies (15/9/14)
Ghost town Britain: Internet shopping boom sees 16 high street stores close every day Mail Online, Sean Poulter (8/10/14)

Questions

  1. Which of the types of high street store are likely to have a high income elasticity of demand? How will this affect their future?
  2. What factors other than the types of shops and other businesses affect the viability of high streets?
  3. What advice would you give your local council if it was keen for high streets in its area to thrive?
  4. Why are many large superstores suffering a decline in sales? Are these causes likely to be temporary or long term?
  5. How are technological developments affecting high street sales?
  6. What significant changes in tastes/fashions are affecting the high street?
  7. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of high streets? Explain.
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‘Better Together’ Indeed

The Scottish debate revolved around a variety of issues and one of the key factors that added weight to the ‘No’ campaign was the idea of being British. But the concept of ‘Britishness’ is not just important to those who live here. It still appears to be a key signal of quality in foreign markets and it is something which foreign consumers are willing to pay a price for.

Barclays Corporate Banking has undertaken research into eight key export markets to determine the value of ‘Britain’. One of the key factors that boost demand for a product is quality and another is the idea of a brand. As quality improves and brands become more recognized, a product’s demand curve will begin to shift to the right, thus pushing up the market price. In other words, with higher quality and brand recognition, an individual’s willingness to pay rises. One brand that foreign consumers seem willing to pay a premium to purchase are those labelled ‘Made in Britain’.

The research indicates that 31% of customers in emerging markets have been prepared to and have purchased products that are from Britain, despite the higher price. Seeing the label ‘Made in Britain’ seems to send the signal of quality and this in turn creates a higher willingness to pay. Furthermore, this willingness to pay, while still good for Scottish, English and Welsh products, is higher for ‘British’ products, perhaps another indication of the truth behind the ‘Better together’ campaign.

The increase in willingness to pay between products with seemingly no country of origin and a British country of origin is 7% and this knowledge should give a confidence boost to the British export market. It should also indicate to exporters in Wales, Scotland and England that they are better to advertise as ‘Made in Britain’ than ‘Made in Wales, Scotland or England’. The expected boost from the 8 key emerging markets is around £2bn. The following articles consider the concept of ‘Brand Britain’.

Good news for exports as Brand Britain is revealed to be valuable concept Small Business, John Bromley (3/11/14)
Britain ‘best brand’ for Welsh exports, survey suggests BBC News (26/11/11)
Overseas consumers 64% more willing to pay premium for ‘Brand Britain’ Marketing Week, Sebastian Joseph (3/11/14)
Report flags up ‘British’ benefit The Courier, James Williamson (3/10/14)

Questions

  1. Using a diagram, illustrate the effect of a product’s being a well-known brand on its equilibrium price and quantity.
  2. Why is it that the relative willingness to pay a premium for British products is higher in developing countries than in developed countries?
  3. Using the concept of marginal utility theory, explain the impact of the ‘Made in Britain’ label.
  4. The BBC News article suggests, however, that some Welsh companies have not found the brand effect to be the case. What factors might explain this?
  5. To what extent are the concepts of consumer and producer surplus relevant here?
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Dropbox: success from failure

Every year thousands of entrepreneurs will have another great idea that is sure to take off and bring in millions of customers. However, most of these great ideas will turn into another business failure. But, in the case of Dropbox, it is multiple business failures that eventually created a huge success, giving hope to millions of budding entrepreneurs.

With 300 million users, the file sharing ‘Dropbox’ is certainly a success, estimated at a value of $10bn. But it didn’t happen immediately and was preceded by a few failures. So, what is the secret to success in this case? The co-founder of Dropbox, Drew Houston, said that it is all about providing something that customers want. In the case of Dropbox, customers are crucial: the more people use it, the easier it becomes for others to use it too, as it allows file sharing on a much larger scale. Perhaps here we have a case of network externalities.

With Dropbox people would tell their friends about it and collaborate. So when you go into work and work on a project with colleagues you recruit them in essence to become Dropbox users because you’re all working on a project together.

No doubt there are many other examples of businesses that have proved a success after several failed attempts. Providing customers with what they want, at the time when they need it is clearly a key ingredient, but so, it appears, is business failure. The following article from BBC News considers the rise of Dropbox.

Dropbox and the failures behind it BBC News, Richard Taylor (1/7/14)

Questions

  1. Customers are clearly crucial for any business to succeed. How can a new entrepreneur find out if there is a demand?
  2. Why was timing so important in the case of Dropbox?
  3. Given that customers can actually use Dropbox for free, how does this company make so much money?
  4. What are network externalities? Explain them in the context of Dropbox.
  5. Drew Houston says that ‘distribution’ is another key ingredient to success. What do you think is meant by this and how will it help create success?
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Tough Mudder: A true success

What does it take to create a successful business? From the looks of it: mud, electric barbed wire, icy water, enormous walls to climb, big jumps to make, team work and complete exhaustion – the recipe for every successful business.

Tough Mudder was founded in 2010 and runs gruelling extreme obstacle courses for anyone mad enough to think it might be fun. In the BBC News article below, you’ll see that there is a discussion as to intellectual property rights, but whatever the outcome, this company has become the main provider of such extreme sports in a remarkably short period of time. Within 2 years of being established, it had gained 500,000 participants and now records annual revenues of more than £60m. Add to this, that there has no external funding and this organic growth is beyond impressive.

A key question, then, is what creates such a successful business? Without a doubt, this depends on the product you are selling and the market a firm is in, but there are some aspects that apply across the board. Understanding what your customers want is crucial, as they represent your demand. Differentiating your product to create inelastic demand may be a good strategy to enable price rises, without losing a large number of sales, but the differentiated product is essential in establishing demand, loyalty and reputation. Marketing something in the right way and to the right audience is crucial – word-of-mouth is often the most effective form of advertising.

If you have all of these aspects, then you have the makings of a successful business. The next step is putting it into practice and climbing those high walls, taking the big jumps and hopefully avoiding the mud and ice. The following article considers Will Dean and his fast growing business.

Will Dean: ‘The Mark Zuckerberg of extreme sports’ BBC News, Will Smale (9/6/14)

Questions

  1. If you were starting up a business, how might you go about finding out if there is a demand for your product?
  2. Why is product differentiation a key aspect of a successful business? Using a diagram, explain how this might help a firm increase revenue and profits.
  3. What forms of marketing might be used in persuading customers to buy your product?
  4. In the case of Tough Mudder, which aspects have proved the most important in creating such a successful business?
  5. Are there any barriers to the entry of new firms in this sector? If so, what are they are how important are they in allowing Tough Mudder to retain a monopoly position?
  6. Which factors should be considered by a company when it is thinking of global expansion?
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A new direction for an old retailer

When you think about John Lewis, you think of a large department store. It is a department store celebrating its 150th anniversary. Many large retailers, such as John Lewis, have expanded their product range throughout their history and have grown organically, moving into larger and more prominent locations. What’s the latest location? St Pancras station.

The idea of a click-and-collect store has grown in popularity over the past decade. With more and more people working and leading very busy lives, together with the growth of online shopping, it is the convenience of this type of purchase which has led to many retailers developing click-and-collect. Indeed, for John Lewis, 33% of its internet sales do come through click-and-collect. However, John Lewis is going a step further and its new strategy is reminiscent of companies like Tesco. If you just need to pop into Tesco to get some milk, you’re likely to go to the local Tesco express. The first mover advantage of Tesco in this market was vital.

John Lewis is unusual in that it is owned by its employees and this ownership structure has proved successful. Despite a long history, John Lewis has moved with the times and this latest strategy is further evidence of that. In today’s world, convenience is everything and that is one of the key reasons behind its new St Pancras convenience store. It will allow customers to purchase items and then collect them on their way to and from work – click-and-commute, but it will also provide customers with an easily accessible place to buy electronic equipment and a range of household goods. The retail director, Andrew Murphy said:

In the battleground of convenience, we are announcing a new way for commuters to shop with us … Customers spend a huge amount of time commuting, and our research shows that making life easier and shopping more convenient is their top priority.

This appears to be the first of many smaller convenience stores, enabling John Lewis to gain a presence in seemingly impossible places, given the normal size of such Department stores. For many people, commuting to and from work often involves waiting at transport hubs – one of the big downsides to not driving. So it seems sensible for such an established retailer to take advantage of commuters waiting for their train or plane to arrive, who have time to kill. The following articles consider this new direction for an old retailer.

John Lewis to open St Pancras convenience store BBC News (2/5/14)
John Lewis thinks small with convenience store The Guardian, Zoe Wood (2/5/14)
John Lewis to trial convenience store click-and-collect format at St Pancras Retail Week, Ben Cooper (2/5/14)
Why is click and collect proving so popular? BBC News, Phil Dorrell (2/5/14)
The rise of click and collect for online shoppers BBC News, Phil Dorrell (2/5/14)

Questions

  1. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the organisational and ownership structure of John Lewis?
  2. How would you classify this new strategy?
  3. How do you think this new strategy will benefit John Lewis in terms of its market share, revenue and profit?
  4. Is it likely that John Lewis will be able to target new customers with this new convenience store strategy?
  5. How important is a first-mover advantage when it comes to retail? Using game theory, can you create a game whereby there is clear first mover advantage to John Lewis?
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The business of tennis

I am an avid tennis fan and have spent many nights and in the last 10 days had many early mornings (3am), where I have been glued to the television, watching in particular Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open. Tennis is one of the biggest sports worldwide and generates huge amounts of revenue through ticket sales, clothing and other accessories, sponsorship, television rights and many other avenues. When I came across the BBC article linked below, I thought it would make an excellent blog!

There are many aspects of tennis (and of every other sport) that can be analysed from a Business and Economics stance. With the cost of living having increased faster than wages, real disposable income for many households is at an all-time low. Furthermore, we have so many choices today in terms of what we do – the entertainment industry has never been so diverse. This means that every form of entertainment, be it sport, music, cinema, books or computer games, is in competition. And then within each of these categories, there’s further competition: do you go to the football or the tennis? Do you save up for one big event and go to nothing else, or watch the big event on TV and instead go to several other smaller events? Tennis is therefore competing in a highly competitive sporting market and a wider entertainment market. The ATP Executive Chairman and President said:

We’ve all got to understand the demands on people’s discretionary income are huge, they are being pulled in loads of different avenues – entertainment options of film, music, sport – so we just need to make sure that our market share remains and hopefully grows as well.

As we know from economic analysis, product differentiation and advertising are key and tennis is currently in a particularly great era when it comes to drawing in the fans, with four global superstars.

However, tennis and all sports are about more than just bringing in the fans to the live events. Sponsorship deals are highly lucrative for players and, in this case, for the ATP and WTA tennis tours. It is lucrative sponsorship deals which create prize money worth fighting for, which help to draw in the best players and this, in turn, helps to draw in the fans and the TV companies.

With technological development, all sports are accessible by wider audiences and tennis is making the most of the fast growth in digital media. Looking at the packaging of tour events and how best to generate revenues through TV rights is a key part of strategic development for the ATP. It goes a long way to showing how even one of the world’s most successful sporting tours is always looking at ways to innovate and adapt to changing economic and social times. Tennis is certainly a sport that has exploited all the opportunities it has had and, through successful advertising, well-organised events and fantastic players, it has created a formidable product, which can compete with any other entertainment product out there. As evidence, the following fact was observed in the Telegraph article:

A 1400 megawatt spike – equivalent to 550,000 kettles being boiled – was recorded at around 9.20pm on that day [6/7/08] as Nadal lifted the trophy. The surge is seen as an indicator of millions viewing the final and then rushing to the kitchen after it is over. The national grid felt a bigger surge after the Nadal victory even than at half time during the same year’s Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Tennis top guns driving ATP revenues BBC News, Bill Wilson (20/1/14)
The top 20 sporting moments of the noughties: The 2008 Wimbledon Final The Telegraph, Mark Hodgkinson (14/12/09)
The global tennis industry in numbers BBC News (22/1/14)

Questions

  1. How does tennis generate its revenue?
  2. In which market structure would you place the sport of tennis?
  3. What are the key features of the ATP tour which have allowed it to become so successful? Can other sports benefit from exploiting similar things?
  4. How has technological development created more opportunities for tennis to generate increased revenues?
  5. Can game theory be applied to tennis and, if so, in what ways?
  6. Why does sponsorship of the ATP tour play such an important role in the business of tennis?
  7. How important is (a) product differentiation and (b) advertising in sport?
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Lobster for all?

Over the past few years lobster prices in Maine have tumbled. Eight years ago the price paid to fishermen was around $4.60 per pound. Today it’s around $2.20. The problem is one of booming lobster populations and the dominance of lobster in catches. Last year’s haul was double that of a decade ago and, in some waters, six times higher.

You would think that larger catches would be good news for fishermen. But prices now are so low that they barely cover variable costs. Individual fishermen fish harder and longer to bring in even bigger catches to make up for the lower price. This, of course, compounds the problem and pushes the price even lower.

So what are the answers for the fishermen of Maine? One solution is to diversify their catch, but with lobster so plentiful and other fish stocks depleted, this is not easy.

Another solution is to cooperate. The Reuters article below quotes John Jordan, a lobsterman and president of Calendar Islands Maine Lobster Co.:

‘If you had an industry that actually cooperated, you wouldn’t be bringing in more product if you couldn’t sell what you already had, right?’

Restricting the catch would require lobster distributors to cooperate and set quotas for what the fishermen would be permitted to sell. But with over 5000 fishermen, this is not easy.

Another solution is to expand the market. One way is for the distributors or other agencies to market lobster and lobster products more aggressively. For example, this year the State of Maine has established a $2 million marketing collaborative. Another solution is to find new markets.

Jordan’s company and others are frantically seeking new ways to sneak lobster into unexpected corners of the food market, from gazpacho to puff pastries and quiche.

In the meantime, for consumers the question is whether the low prices paid to the fishermen of Maine will feed through into low prices in the fishmonger, supermarket and restaurant. So far that does not seem to be happening, as the final two articles below explain.

Webcasts
US lobster fishermen’s ‘problem of plenty’ BBC News, Jonny Dymond (5/10/13)
Maine lobstermen in a pinch over low prices, record catch: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Aljazeera America, Adam May (11/10/13)

Articles
Something fishy is going on in the nation’s lobster capital CNBC, Heesun Wee (1/9/13)
Booming lobster population pinches profits for Maine’s fishery Reuters, Dave Sherwood (25/8/13)
Lobster’s worth shelling out for The Observer,
Rachel Cooke (21/9/13)
Clawback The New Yorker, James Surowiecki (26/8/13)
Why The Glut Of Cheap Lobster Won’t Lower Price Of Lobster Rolls Gothamist, John Del Signore (20/7/12)

Questions

  1. Why have lobster prices paid to fishermen fallen? Illustrate your argument with a demand and supply diagram
  2. What has determined the size of the fall in prices? What is the relevance of price elasticity of demand and price elasticity of supply to your answer?
  3. How is the fallacy of composition relevant to the effects on profits of an increase in the catch by (a) just one fisherman and (b) all fishermen? What incentive does this create for individual fishermen in a competitive market?
  4. What can lobster fishermen do to restore profit margins through collaborative action?
  5. In what ways is there a conflict between economics and ecology in the lobster fishing industry?
  6. How does stored lobster affect (a) the price elasticity of supply and (b) the price volatility of lobster?
  7. How could cooperation between lobster fishermen and lobster processors and distributors benefit all those involved in the cooperation?
  8. Why may restaurants choose to maintain high prices for lobster dishes for ‘psychological reasons’? Are there any other reasons?
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What’s more important: the volume or the value of the Scotch you drink?

In the blog No accounting for trade, the rise in the UK’s balance of trade deficit was discussed. Many factors have contributed to this weakening position and no one market is to blame. But, by analysing one product and thinking about the factors that have caused its export volumes to decline, we can begin to create a picture not just of the UK economy (or more particularly Scotland!), but of the wider global economy.

Scotch whisky may not have been the drink of choice for many British adults, but look outside Great Britain and the volume consumed is quite staggering. For example, French consumers drink more Scotch whisky in one month than they drink cognac in one year. The volume of Scotch whisky exported from our shores was £4.23 billion for 2011, accounting for 90% of all sales and making its way into 200 markets. However, one problem with this product is that it is highly susceptible to the business cycle. Add to this the time required to produce the perfect Scotch (in particular the fact that it must be left to mature) and we have a market where forecasting is a nightmare.

Producers typically look to forecast demand some 10 years ahead and so getting it right is not always easy, especially when the global economy declines following a financial crisis! So what has been the impact on exports of this luxurious drink? In the past few years, it has been as key growth market for UK exports rising by 190% in value over the past decade. But in 2012 the volume of Scotch whisky exports fell by 5% to 1.19 billion bottles. What explains the decline in sales?

The biggest importer of Scotch whisky is France and its volumes were down by 25%. Part of this decline is undoubtedly the economic situation. When incomes decline, demand for normal goods also falls. Many would suggest Scotch whisky is a luxury and thus we would expect to see a relatively large decline following any given fall in income. However, another factor adding to this decline in 2012 is the increased whisky tax imposed by the French government. Rising by 15% in 2012, commentators suggest that this caused imports of Scotch whisky to rise in 2011 to avoid this tax, thus imports in 2012 took a dive. Spain is another key export market and its economic troubles are clearly a crucial factor in explaining their 20% drop in volume of Scotch whisky imported.

But, it’s not all bad news: sales to Western Europe may be down, but Eastern Europe and other growth countries/continents, such as the BRICs and Africa have developed a taste for this iconic product. Latvia and Estonia’s value of Scotch whisky imports were up by 48% and 28% respectively, as Russian demand rises and China, still growing, is another key market. Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association said:

A combination of successful trade negotations, excellent marketing by producers, growing demand from mature markets, particularly the USA, and the growing middle class in emerging economies helped exports hit a record £4.3bn last year.

Furthermore, while the volume of exports worldwide did fall, the value of these exports rose to £4.27 billion, a growth of 1%. This suggests that although we are exporting fewer bottles, the bottles that we are exporting are more expensive ones. Clearly some people have not felt the impact of the recession. For Scotland and the wider UK, these declining figures are concerning, but given the cyclical nature of the demand, as the world economy slowly begins to recover, sales are likely to follow suit. Gavin Hewitt continued his comments above, saying:

We are contributing massively to the Government’s wish for an export-led recovery. There is confidence in the future of the industry, illustrated by the £2bn capital investment that Scotch whisky producers have committed over the next three to four years.

The following articles consider the rise and fall of this drink and its role as a key export market across the world.

Scottish whisky industry puts export hope in new market BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky sales on the slide The Guardian, Simon Neville (2/4/13)
Growth stalls for Scotch whisky exports BBC News (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky accounts for 25pc of UK’s food and drink exports The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Whisky sales fall but value of exports hits new high Herald Scotland (3/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports rise to record value The Telegraph, Auslan Cramb (2/4/13)
Scotch whisky exports hit by falling demand in France The Grocer, Vince Bamford (2/4/13)
New markets save Scotch from impact of austerity Independent, Tom Bawden (2/4/13)
Scotch exports hit by falling demand Financial Times, Hannah Kichler (2/4/13)

Questions

  1. Which is the better measure of an industry’s performance: the value or the volume of goods sold?
  2. Why would you expect volumes of Scotch sold to decline during an economic downturn?
  3. When a higher tax was imposed on Scotch whisky in France, why did volumes fall? Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate the impact of the tax.
  4. What type of figure would you expect Scotch whisky to have for income elasticity of demand? Does it vary for different people?
  5. Why is forecasting demand for Scotch so difficult? What techniques might be used?
  6. Why does demand for Scotch whisky remain high and even rising in many emerging markets?
  7. Is the market for Scotch whisky exports a good indication of the interdependence of countries across the world?
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