Originally published on December 10, 2019.
What is Loss Leader Pricing?
Loss leaders in retail are items or merchandise that are offered either at a significant discount, at minimum profit margin, or sometimes even below cost to entice shoppers to make a purchase.
This pricing strategy has been used by many big box retailers and discount stores to encourage impulse buys and has been met with great success.
Simply put, the intention behind this marketing tactic is to bring shoppers in-store and once they’re there, encourage purchases of higher margin items to make up for the profit lost on loss leaders.
Examples of Loss Leader Pricing
You have probably encountered loss leader pricing more often than you would think while shopping. Can you think of a sale that seemed too good to be true? Your local grocery store may have been selling eggs at a steep discount or your favorite clothing brand may have sent you an email advertising their sweaters at a ridiculously low price point.
These deals may have you thinking “there’s no way that the retailer is making any money on these items”. And in most cases, you’re right! Let’s take a look at some common examples of loss leader pricing in retail.
1) Grocery Store Staples
Grocery store staples such as milk, meat, and eggs work really well as loss leaders. Because they are regularly bought commodities, discounts and low prices are sure to attract shoppers. These items are strategically placed at the back of the grocery store to promote impulse purchases. Because shoppers have to walk to the very back of the store to purchase these staple goods, it is likely that they will be enticed to purchase other items as well.
Printers are also commonly used as loss leaders to encourage shoppers to purchase complementary items like ink and printer paper. While printers are often sold at or below cost, the price of ink is extremely high. Loss leader pricing is used to get shoppers to purchase the printer, and create the demand for ink which again, is relatively expensive.
3) Gaming Consoles
While the price of gaming consoles may seem high, they are actually sold at or below cost. For example, Microsoft Xbox gaming consoles are strategically sold below cost to encourage consumers to buy higher margin video games.
The Pros and Cons of Loss Leaders
1) Sell Slow Moving Inventory
If you have a slow moving or overstocked inventory item, choosing to price it as a loss leader can help you move it faster. This will result in more shelf space, less inventory, and an increase in cash flow.
2) Promote Complementary Items
Strategically choosing your loss leaders can help you increase sales of other items in your store. For example, let’s say you’re looking to increase the sale of a certain brand of women’s razor blades. In this case, you would price the associated razor as a loss leader. Once consumers buy the razor that complements those razor blades, they’ll have to come back to purchase the blades as well (which you can choose to sell at a higher margin).
1) May Hurt Your Brand Perception
Drastically discounting items can affect how consumers view your brand. Many shoppers associate lower prices with poor product quality. And overusing loss leader pricing can give consumers the wrong perception of your retail store. Remember people want high quality merchandise at good price points, not garbage.
2) You can Lose Money
There is risk associated with loss leader pricing – which is why you must closely monitor sales of complementary products and of the loss leaders themselves. There is a chance that customers will only purchase the loss leader itself in high quantities. Meaning lower or no sales of complementary, high margin items which results in less profit for your store overall.
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