Trade promotion expenditures in the packaged goods industry have steadily increased from less than 35 percent in 1983 to almost 49 percent in 1994. In fact, when they peaked at 52 percent in 1993, the trade-promotion budget was more than twice the size of the media advertising budget.1 It is often claimed that this is symptomatic of a shift in power towards retailers and away from manufacturers. In 1996, the percentage of total retail sales made “on deal” across forty packaged goods categories included in the Market Fact Book averaged about 37 percent —up almost 5 percentage points from 1991.2
As firms sell more goods on deal, there are more complaints that promotions are eroding the power of brands. Complaints come from managers who prefer “everyday low prices” (EDLP) rather than strategies that involve price discounts and other allowances. Even those who accept the need for occasional consumer discounts often tout the advantages of EDLP to the trade. Some call this the “everyday low purchase price” (EDLPP); others refer to it as “back-door EDLP.”3 A single price to the trade sounds attractive for several reasons. First, trade promotion often involves reducing list prices to a retailer in return for a larger quantity bought and presumably sold by the retailer, and managers dislike reducing the list price.4 Second, controlling purchase quantities for temporary off-invoice allowances and other special discounts is problematic. Retailers buy more of the product at the temporary low price than they intend or are able to sell during the promotional period. Instead, they stockpile it for future sale at higher prices, causing booms and busts in retail demand and inventories that require higher manufacturing capacity. These large swings in demand, inventory, and production are referred to as the “bullwhip effect.”5 Manufacturers suffer doubly from this forward-buying. Large variations in demand increase their production and distribution costs, and they also lose margin on the product that the retailer stockpiles but does not sell at reduced prices.
Does this mean that all trade promotions hurt manufacturers? Many industry observers contend that retailers are becoming increasingly powerful because of their higher concentration, their access to point-of-sale information, and increases in trade promotion.