Early analysis of this phenomenon was undertaken by English economist Arthur Cecil Pigou (1877-1959).
Price discrimination describes the sale of identical goods or services in different markets at different prices.
Pricing is usually linked to ability-to-pay; thus, students or pensioners may pay less than others for social services. On a larger scale, modern pharmaceuticals companies frequently sell the same compounds at radically different prices in different (especially European) countries because the local market demand will allow it.
Also see: ability-to-pay principle, equal sacrifice theory
A C Pigou, Economics of Welfare (London, 1920)
Price discrimination is a microeconomic pricing strategy where identical or largely similar goods or services are sold at different prices by the same provider in different markets. Price discrimination is distinguished from product differentiation by the more substantial difference in production cost for the differently priced products involved in the latter strategy. Price differentiation essentially relies on the variation in the customers’ willingness to pay and in the elasticity of their demand. For price discrimination to succeed, a firm must have market power, such as a dominant market share, product uniqueness, sole pricing power, etc. All prices under price discrimination are higher than the equilibrium price in a perfectly-competitive market. However, some prices under price discrimination may be lower than the price charged by a single-price monopolist.
The term differential pricing is also used to describe the practice of charging different prices to different buyers for the same quality and quantity of a product, but it can also refer to a combination of price differentiation and product differentiation. Other terms used to refer to price discrimination include equity pricing, preferential pricing, dual pricing and tiered pricing. Within the broader domain of price differentiation, a commonly accepted classification dating to the 1920s is:
- Personalized pricing (or first-degree price differentiation) — selling to each customer at a different price; this is also called one-to-one marketing. The optimal incarnation of this is called perfect price discrimination and maximizes the price that each customer is willing to pay.
- Product versioning or simply versioning (or second-degree price differentiation) — offering a product line by creating slightly different products for the purpose of price differentiation, i.e. a vertical product line. Another name given to versioning is menu pricing.
- Group pricing (or third-degree price differentiation) — dividing the market into segments and charging a different price to each segment (but the same price to each member of that segment). This is essentially a heuristic approximation that simplifies the problem in face of the difficulties with personalized pricing. Typical examples include student discounts and seniors’ discounts.