The late Sir Colin Marshall, when he was CEO and chairman at British Airways (BA), knew that success in his business came down to superior value capture. In a 1995 interview with HBR, he summed up the opportunity brilliantly: “You’re always going to be faced with the fact that the great majority of people will buy on price. But even for a seeming commodity such as air travel, an element of the traveling public is willing to pay a slight premium for superior service …. In our case, we’re talking about an average of 5%. On our revenues of £5 billion, however, that 5% translates into an extra £250 million, or $400 million, a year.”
If you’re out to capture more value, one surefire tactic is to figure out a way to charge different prices to customers with different willingness-to-pay (WTP). Economists sometimes call this “price discrimination,” which sounds bad since discriminating against people is generally illegal, not to mention immoral. However, most of us encounter forms of price discrimination frequently that don’t bother us. For example, who begrudges the discounts afforded to senior citizens and students? (Well, all right, I have occasionally felt a tinge as I see my retired neighbors driving much more expensive cars than mine.)
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