Three Essays on Strategic Considerations for Product Development
This dissertation is composed of three essays focused on strategic considerations for product development.
Chapter I explores whether consumers behave as if they are optimally trading off capital and operating costs when purchasing a durable good. I study this question using data on gas prices and automobile sales over the 20 year period, 1971-1990. This question is important for three reasons. First, it is interesting from a theoretical basis if consumers make this trade off optimally. Many theoretical models in marketing and economics make the fundamental assumption that consumers equally weigh current and future events when making decisions today. Yet there is some evidence, mostly from laboratory experiments, that consumers underweight future events. I attempt to explore this question in a market setting where the stakes are considerably higher. This research adds evidence to the debate about how much weight consumers place on future events when making choices today. Second, it is interesting to firms making product design decisions. If consumers underweight future events, then when making purchase decisions, consumers will view operating costs as less important than the upfront capital cost of the product. Finally, the answer to this question informs public policy. Many have argued that there is a need for the US to reduce gasoline demand per capita. Lower gasoline consumption would reduce environmental pressures, potentially dampen inflation, and allow more foreign policy flexibility in dealing with antagonistic regimes in oil-exporting states. While these rationale for reducing gasoline consumption have a normative flavor, and reasonable people may disagree as to the validity and motivations of this goal, it will nonetheless be useful to know the relative effectiveness of different policy levers in curbing gasoline consumption. For example, if consumers underweight fuel costs during the vehicle purchase decision, then a gas tax will be relatively less effective than a tax on gas guzzling vehicles.
Chapter II addresses the question of whether consumers are willing to pay for corporate social responsibility(CSR). This question is important in an environment where CSR is ubiquitous, yet it is unclear that these programs actually pay off for the firms that sponsor them. For example, consider Target's program to donate 1% of all retail sales to United Way local charities. Do consumers really want their money spent this way? Are consumers happily paying 1% higher prices or are they switching to a competitor which does not donate a portion of revenues to charity? Who is making the donation in the end, Target's shareholders or customers? From a social planner's perspective, the point is largely moot, yet to the shareholders of Target and many other firms practicing CSR, the question is crucially important.
Chapter III addresses the problem of how durable or long lasting manufacturers should they make their products. On the one hand a more durable product will be more desirable to consumers, since it will provide benefits over a longer period. Thus, a longer-lived product will command a higher price. However, it seems likely that unit production costs will increase as a product is made more durable due to the increased cost of more reliable materials and more exacting quality standards. In addition, a product which is more durable will be replaced less frequently. Ceteris paribus, less frequent replacement is less desirable to manufacturers, as the periodicity of the revenue stream increases. Manufacturers can trade off the benefits of durability with the costs to determine the optimal reliability or life for the goods they produce.
In some sense, this problem is a classic trade-off between quality and cost. What distinguishes the durable goods reliability problem is that increasing quality depresses replacement demand. A common anecdote is that light bulbs could easily be manufactured to last longer, but are not in order to increase replacement sales.
This question is important for manufacturers to understand from several perspectives. First, a manufacturer of a product with technology that is fairly static (e.g., light bulbs), needs to consider replacement demand in developing product designs. When technology is not static (e.g., computers), it is important to understand how the rate of technology advance will stimulate replacement demand. Should the products be designed to be more or less durable in the face of technological advance? An additional complication arises when the rate of technological advance may only be partially observable to the consumer (e.g. golf clubs). Finally, manufacturers need to consider “buying back” used durable goods from their customers in order to stimulate replacement demand. Even if the manufacturer does not take physical possession of the old product, it may be optimal to offer price concessions on newer products in order to induce the consumer to replace her existing technology. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)