Category: Economics for Business: Ch 16

The articles below examine the rise of the sharing economy and how technology might allow it to develop. A sharing economy is where owners of property, equipment, vehicles, tools, etc. rent them out for periods of time, perhaps very short periods. The point about such a system is that the renter deals directly with the property owner – although sometimes initially through an agency. Airbnb and Uber are two examples.

So far the sharing economy has not developed very far. But the development of smart technology will soon make a whole range of short-term renting contracts possible. It will allow the contracts to be enforced without the need for administrators, lawyers, accountants, bankers or the police. Payments will be made electronically and automatically, and penalties, too, could be applied automatically for not abiding by the contract.

One development that will aid this process is a secure electronic way of keeping records and processing payments without the need for a central authority, such as a government, a bank or a company. It involves the use of ‘blockchains‘ (see also). The technology, used in Bitcoin, involves storing data widely across networks, which allows the data to be shared. The data are secure and access is via individuals having a ‘private key’ to parts of the database relevant to them. The database builds in blocks, where each block records a set of transactions. The blocks build over time and are linked to each other in a logical order (i.e. in ‘chains’) to allow tracking back to previous blocks.

Blockchain technology could help the sharing economy to grow substantially. It could significantly cut down the cost of sharing information about possible rental opportunities and demands, and allow minimal-cost secure transactions between owner and renter. As the IBM developerWorks article states:

Rather than use Uber, Airbnb or eBay to connect with other people, blockchain services allow individuals to connect, share, and transact directly, ushering in the real sharing economy. Blockchain is the platform that enables real peer-to-peer transactions and a true ‘sharing economy’.

Article

New technology may soon resurrect the sharing economy in a very radical form The Guardian, Ben Tarnoff (17/10/16)
Blockchain and the sharing economy 2.0 IBM developerWorks, Lawrence Lundy (12/5/16)
2016 is set to become the most interesting year yet in the life story of the sharing economy Nesta, Helen Goulden (Dec 2015)
Blockchain Explained Business Insider, Tina Wadhwa and Dan Bobkoff (16/10/16)
A parliament without a parliamentarian Interfluidity, Steve Randy Waldman (19/6/16)
Blockchain and open innovation: What does the future hold Tech City News, Jamie QIU (17/10/16)
Banks will not adopt blockchain fast Financial Times, Oliver Bussmann (14/10/16)
Blockchain-based IoT project does drone deliveries using Ethereum International Business Times, Ian Allison (14/10/16)

Questions

  1. What do you understand by the ‘sharing economy’?
  2. Give some current examples of the sharing economy? What other goods or services might be suitable for sharing if the technology allowed?
  3. How could blockchain technology be used to cut out the co-ordinating role carried out by companies such as Uber, eBay and Airbnb and make their respective services a pure sharing economy?
  4. Where could blockchain technology be used other than in the sharing economy?
  5. How can blockchain technology not only record property rights but also enforce them?
  6. What are the implications of blockchain technology for employment and unemployment? Explain.
  7. How might attitudes towards using the sharing economy develop over time and why?
  8. Referring to the first article above, what do you think of Toyota’s use of blockchain to punish people who fall behind on their car payments? Explain your thinking.
  9. Would the use of blockchain technology in the sharing economy make markets more competitive? Could it make them perfectly competitive? Explain.

Virtually all manual toothbrushes sold in the UK are made by Oral B (Procter & Gamble), Colgate (Colgate-Palmolive) or Listerene Reach (Johnson & Johnson). This is a powerful oligopoly.

The manufacturers distribute toothbrushes primarily through large powerful retailers, such as supermarkets and Boots. It is difficult for new entrants to persuade these retailers to stock their product. What is more, with large advertising and marketing budgets, existing toothbrush manufacturers make it difficult for new brands to attract customers.

But one company has successfully entered the children’s section of the market when Boots agreed to stock its product. The Rockabilly Kids toothbrush has a feature likely to appeal to both children and their parents. It wobbles! With a weight in the bottom, the brush rights itself, with a wobble, when dropped or simply placed on the basin or shelf.

This clearly appeals to small kids. It also appeals to their parents who can do away with unhygienic toothbrush holders. What is more, the self-righting wobbly toothbrush, by making the whole process of teeth cleaning fun for young kids, can help them gain good habits of oral hygiene.

So just how did the manufacturer overcome the barriers to entry into this well-established oligopoly? The following article examines how.

Can ‘wobbly’ kids toothbrushes shake the Oral B/Colgate oligopoly? The Telegraph, Rebecca Burn-Callander (10/1/15)

Questions

  1. What barriers to entry exist in the manual toothbrush market?
  2. How did Hamish Khayat overcome these barriers?
  3. Why did he decide against a toothbrush subscription service?
  4. How would you decide whether £6.99 is the right price?
  5. Is it a good idea for him to diversify into electric kids toothbrushes?
  6. How are the big toothbrush manufacturers likely to respond to the expansion of Rockabilly Kids?

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.

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?

When Kraft took over Cadbury, it was seen as a large take-over, but its size pales in comparison to the potential takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer. However, having made two offers for the UK drugs firm, the US company has been rejected twice, saying the terms of the offer were ‘inadequate, substantially undervalue AstraZeneca and are not a basis on which to engage with Pfizer.’

Pfizer initially made an offer of £46.61 per share, valuing the company at £58.5bn, but this latest offer increased the share price to around £50 and raised the company value to £63bn. The rejection was relatively swift and the price still too low, though analysts are suggesting that a price closer to £53 may tempt shareholders. At the moment the negotiations between these two giants remain ‘friendly’, but with this second offer being rejected by the Board, there are now concerns that the takeover could become ‘hostile’ with Pfizer going directly to shareholders. Indeed one investor has said:

We were very keen that the two boards actually get around the table and disucss the bid … I’m never very keen when companies just dismiss things and don’t allow shareholders to take a decision on it … The key thing is that these businesses get talking to each other so they can hammer out a deal.

Following the second offer, shares in AstraZeneca rose by 10p, as the debate continued as to whether such a take-over would be good or bad for British jobs.

Cadbury was seen as a jewel in the crown of British industry and the same can be said of AstraZeneca, especially with the growing importance placed on the Science sector in the UK. While Pfizer has now given the British government further assurances about protection for Britain’s science base, there are still concerns about what this take-over would mean for British jobs. Pfizer has said that 20% of the company’s workforce in research and development would work in the UK and the planned R&D base in Cambridge would still go ahead. However, asset-stripping is a phrase that has been thrown around, based on Pfizer’s previous take-overs and, based on this history, many are suggesting that any assurances made by Pfizer will be pointless. In particular, Allan Black from the GMB union said:

Similar undertakings were given by US multinationals before which have proved to be worthless.

This was echoed by Lord Sainsbury who commented that any assurances made by Pfizer would be ‘frankly meaningless’. However, Vince Cable seems more confident about the consequences for British industry and said:

We’ve now received some assurances from the company that they will strengthen the British science base, they will protect British manufacturing … We need to look at that in detail, we need to look at the small print, we need to establish that it is binding, but as far as it goes, on the basis of what we’ve seen so far, it is welcome and encouraging.

We therefore seem to have a tale of two stories. On the one hand, the assurances of a US company that British jobs and its science base will be protected, but on the other hand, suggestions that we should take Pfizer’s assurances with a pinch of salt and that any take-over could be ‘devastating’. The truth of the matter will only be known if and when the take-over goes ahead and perhaps more importantly, whether it remains friendly and co-operative or does indeed go ‘hostile’. The following articles consider this medical take-over between giants.

AstraZeneca rejects Pfizer bid as US Pharma giant courts UK government The Guardian, Julia Kollewe and Sean Farrell (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca rejects new Pfizer offer BBC News (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca Pfizer: major shareholder urges talks The Telegraph, Denise Roland (2/5/14)
AstraZeneca rejects Pfizer’s raised bid of 63 billion pounds Reuters (2/5/14)
Pfizer-AstraZeneca offer: IoD warns intervention ‘disastrous’ for Britain. The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (2/5/14)
Pfizer enters takeover discussions with AstraZeneca, sources say Wall Street Journal (2/5/14)
Exclusive: Pfizer insider warns that takeover of AstraZeneca could be ‘devastating’ Independent, Jim Armitage and Chris Green (2/5/14)
The Cadbury deal: how it changed takeovers BBC News, Ben Morris (2/5/14)
Pfizer set to make higher bid for AstraZeneca The Guardian, Julia Kollewe (1/5/14)
The UK’s response to Pfizer’s takeover bid is incoherent and misguided The Guardian, Larry Elliott (4/5/14)

Questions

  1. What type of take-over would this be classified as? Explain your answer.
  2. What would occur if the take-over became ‘hostile’?
  3. Using a demand and supply diagram, explain why share prices in AstraZeneca went up by 10p on the day the second offer was made.
  4. How would such a take-over affect British jobs?
  5. Explain how this proposed take-over could (a) boost British R&D in science and (b) harm British R&D in science.
  6. To what extent might there be concerns from the competition authorities were this take-over to go ahead? How might such a takeover affect Pfizer’s market share and hence its ability to charge a high price?