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Predatory Pricing: Definition, Example, and Why It's Used

Krzysztof (Kris) Szyszkiewicz
Head of Delivery, Partner
October 24, 2023

Predatory pricing – is it a cunning plan or simply a myth? 

As business becomes increasingly competitive, the tactic of predatory pricing emerges as a gripping and controversial ploy. It's a high-stakes game where giants and newcomers clash and fight for supremacy. 

But why? What is predatory pricing? What are its effects and potential pitfalls? Is it even legal?

With examples and insights, we will shed light on this below-cost pricing strategy and its consequences. Discover with us why some businesses engage in this type of practice, aim to remove rivals, and secure a dominant position in the competitive market. 

What Is Predatory Pricing?

Just imagine this: the deliberate offering of incredibly low prices. It sounds like a brilliant deal or a tempting lure for consumers, right? At the very beginning, yes. However, beneath this facade lies a strategic game of power and market domination known as predatory pricing

In a predatory pricing strategy, a company sets prices unreasonably low as it aims to undercut competitors and eliminate them from the sector. The ultimate goal is to create a monopoly. 

While this method may seem like a boon to consumers in the short term, it often results in long-term losses for them. 

That's because when a company becomes a leader in the market and has already gotten rid of opponents, there's nothing preventing it from setting high prices. After all, a company is a king in the area, and that means it can determine prices at whatever level it wants. 

So, after all, what do these pricing tactics often lead to? 

Let's see how things turn out.

The Effects of Predatory Pricing

Now we'll talk about the effects of using this tactic. What does it promise that companies engage in predatory pricing?

Here we have both good and bad sides.

Monopoly Creation

The primary aim of predatory pricing is to establish a monopoly. By setting prices substantially cheaper than their competitors and new entrants, companies can pave the way for them to become the sole provider of a product or service.

Why it's good: A brand can lead to more streamlined and efficient operations as there's no opposition.

❌ Why it's bad: For other firms, they may not survive, and also, it will be impossible to enter the market for new brands.

Short-term Losses

This pricing often results in short-term losses for the company, as they lower prices to a level where they may not cover their costs. But on the other hand, who among us doesn't prefer to buy cheaper? Some will even switch from brand loyalty and go where the prices are more attractive.

Why it's good: The company can win the market with prices below costs. Losses are only temporary, and when a business starts making money, it can catch up.

❌ Why it's bad: The losses can hurt the fighting company because the damage can be too large.

Higher Prices in the Long Run

If companies succeed in eliminating competitors and achieving dominance, they gain the power to raise prices without fear of rival pressure. This leads to consumers paying higher costs for products in the long term.

Why it's good: From a predatory company's perspective, this case means increased profits.

❌ Why it's bad: On the other hand, using predatory pricing results in paying more for basic and essential goods or services for consumers.

Reduced Market Choice

As this type of pricing practice eliminates competitors out of the market, it leads to a decrease in buying choices for consumers. With fewer options, consumers have less influence over pricing.

Why it's good: For a company, reduced choices can mean increased market share.

❌ Why it's bad: Consumers suffer from limited options that are already expensive, so their dissatisfaction is growing.

Market Distortions

Predatory pricing also distorts the natural balance of power within a sector. As firms cut off their rivals with too low prices, it creates an environment of instability. Competitors are forced to either exit the field or engage in a price war. As no one likes to be forced into anything, things can take an unexpected turn.

Why it's good: In the short term, the company might achieve a dominant position.

❌ Why it's bad: A monopolistic market can be unpredictable, which can ultimately touch the overall efficiency and health of the industry.

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The Pitfalls of Predatory Pricing

Predatory pricing may face some pitfalls and potential long-term repercussions. It is risky to deal with it, both for businesses themselves and the broader arena. 

Therefore, here, we show you some important considerations to watch out for:

➡️ Engaging in unfair pricing can draw the attention of antitrust authorities. It can also raise ethical concerns due to its anti-competitive nature and potential to harm other businesses and consumers. As a result, allegations of predatory pricing can lead to investigations, which can be time-consuming and costly for an organization.

➡️ In a bid to lower prices, businesses might cut corners in quality, which can negatively impact the customer experience. The results are seen in reputation damage and can affect client trust.

➡️ Predatory pricing practices are unsustainable. If your opponents are financially resilient or have similar pricing tactics, it may lead to a price war that ultimately hurts all companies involved.

➡️ Moreover, this tactic can discourage innovation within a sector, as companies may focus on reducing prices rather than developing new and improved products.

➡️ If predatory pricing gets rid of other brands and leads to more expensive prices, consumers may become disillusioned and switch to alternatives, and this will lead to a loss of market share.

➡️ And also, there is no guarantee that this method will achieve success and create a monopoly. The strategy may not work, and a business may end up with severe financial losses without achieving its goals.

Predatory Pricing Examples

Predatory pricing is popular in various industries, as it is a technique used by lots of businesses when they want to eliminate the competition out of the market. 

Let's see some predatory pricing examples in real life.

  • Amazon

Amazon chose predatory pricing to gain a dominant position in the book sector. The company sold books and e-books below cost to drive competitors out and establish itself as the primary retailer. This practice was identified as predatory, as it effectively bolstered Amazon's share, gradually edging out other firms one by one.

  • Walmart

Walmart has been accused of predatory pricing when entering new markets. The retail giant offers attractive prices to remove local rivals and drive them out of business. This practice has faced criticism and unfair trade.

  • Microsoft

Microsoft was found guilty of practicing predatory pricing with its web browser, Internet Explorer. The company bundled it with its Windows operating system, providing it for free. This was seen as an anti-competitive move, and Microsoft faced antitrust claims.

  • Uber

Uber has frequently used predatory pricing tactics to keep up with traditional taxi services. They reduced prices to gain an advantage and drive taxi companies out of business, creating a monopolistic sector share.

These common examples illustrate that predatory methods have been widely used in a variety of fields over the years. They often result in both good and bad consequences that affect not only rivals but also consumers.

But the question is, are such practices even legal?

Predatory Pricing is Illegal: True Or False?

Using the predatory pricing strategy by a predatory company that sets its prices significantly lower than its counterparts often raises questions about its legality. And we will address them.

In many jurisdictions, predatory pricing is an illegal practice. 

However, determining its legality can be complex and varies from one region to another. The legality of this pricing is largely governed by laws and their interpretation by regulatory authorities.

In the United States, for instance, such pricing is primarily evaluated based on the Sherman Act. It focuses on anti-competitive behavior, and it considers predatory pricing to be illegal when it can be proven that a company is deliberately undercutting prices to remove rivals and establish a monopoly.

Similarly, the European Union's competition law and the Federal Trade Commission prohibit monopolistic behavior, which includes predatory pricing. 

So what is the best advice if a brand is thinking about using this strategy?

Don't be reckless, and use caution.

Engaging in predatory pricing can lead to many challenges, substantial fines, and damage to a company's reputation. Thus, it may be in a business's best interest to choose alternative strategies to gain an advantage. 

And you can choose from a variety of pricing strategies, like:

  • cost-plus pricing,
  • value-based pricing,
  • price skimming,
  • dynamic pricing,
  • bundle pricing,
  • and more.

In order to ensure that you are complying with the local laws in your area, you may also want to seek legal advice.

Get Help from Valueships

And if you struggle with navigating on pricing tactics and strategies, you can contact Valueships.

Valueships understands the complex nature of pricing in a competitive market. If you're a business looking to optimize your strategies or seeking guidance on ensuring that your pricing practices are compliant with regulations, we're here to help. 

Here's how Valueships can assist you:

⭐ Expert Knowledge

With our strategies, we can guide you through the legal intricacies of pricing. We'll make sure your pricing practices adhere to antitrust laws and keep you clear of potential legal issues.

📝 Strategic Pricing Consulting

We provide pricing consulting that can help your business thrive and achieve success. From understanding pricing models to effectively positioning your products, our team can assist in setting reasonable prices while maintaining or recouping your reputation.

📈 Market Analysis

Valueships conducts thorough market and data analysis to help you understand your peers, industry trends, and consumer behavior. This knowledge is invaluable for setting the right prices and positioning your business in a crowded environment.

🥇 Broad Experience

We can work with you to implement value-driven pricing that ensures you deliver quality goods and services that justify your pricing. This approach can attract and retain customers.

These are just some of the reasons why you should work with us.

With our guidance and support, you can optimize your strategies, drive healthy competition in the market, and stay in the game. 

Make Predatory Pricing Works for You

Predatory pricing is an idea that demands careful consideration. While it may offer short-term gains, it often comes with significant long-term risks and potential legal repercussions.

As a result of engaging in below-cost pricing, businesses may momentarily drive rivals out of the sector. Still, they risk facing antitrust claims, harming the market's viability, and negatively impacting consumers.

So what to do? Talk to Valueships about it.

Our expertise in various aspects of pricing can help your business thrive in an environment that is more intense than ever, without resorting to predatory pricing. 

Contact us today to get started on a journey toward ethical, cost-effective, and profitable pricing practices.

FAQ Section

1. What are the implications of raising prices on competition, and how might it conflict with antitrust laws in many countries?

Raising prices, especially when done strategically to eliminate competitors or maintain a dominant market position, can have significant implications for competition and may conflict with antitrust laws in many countries. Antitrust laws are designed to prevent anti-competitive practices, promote fair competition, and protect consumers from monopolistic behaviors. If a company raises prices with the intent to drive out smaller competitors or to establish a monopoly, it could face legal challenges and sanctions. These laws ensure that the market remains competitive and that no single company can set prices unfairly or to the detriment of market health and consumer choice.

2. How does below-cost pricing work as a strategy to eliminate competitors, and what legal risks does it pose?

Below-cost pricing, also known as predatory pricing, involves setting prices lower than the seller's cost with the strategy to eliminate competitors from the market. The idea is that by offering lower prices, a company can undercut competitors, potentially forcing them out of the market due to their inability to compete at such low price points. However, this practice poses substantial legal risks as it can be considered a violation of antitrust laws, which protect against unfair competition practices. If a court established that a company engaged in below-cost pricing with the intent to monopolize the market, it could face significant penalties, including fines and orders to alter its pricing strategies.

3. What role do competition bureaus or similar regulatory bodies play in monitoring and enforcing laws against unfair pricing practices?

Competition bureaus or similar regulatory bodies in many countries play a crucial role in monitoring and enforcing laws against unfair pricing practices. These agencies are tasked with ensuring that markets operate competitively and fairly, protecting consumers from anti-competitive behaviors such as price fixing, predatory pricing, and other practices that could harm market competition. They investigate claims of unfair pricing, assess the impact of such practices on competition and consumers, and can take legal action against companies found to be in violation of antitrust laws. Their oversight helps maintain a level playing field for all market participants and ensures consumers have access to a variety of choices at fair prices.

4. How do antitrust laws in different countries address the issue of setting higher prices to eliminate competitors?

Antitrust laws in different countries address the issue of setting higher prices to eliminate competitors by establishing legal frameworks that define and prohibit anti-competitive practices. While specific provisions and enforcement mechanisms may vary from one country to another, the underlying principle is to prevent businesses from engaging in practices that unfairly restrict competition, including abusing dominant market positions to set excessively high prices. In cases where a substantial probability exists that such pricing strategies could harm competition, regulatory authorities can investigate and, if necessary, take action to restore competitive market conditions. This may include imposing fines, requiring changes to business practices, or, in extreme cases, breaking up companies deemed to have monopolistic control over the market.

5. What considerations must companies take into account when deciding to raise prices to ensure compliance with antitrust laws and maintain fair competition?

When deciding to raise prices, companies must take into account several considerations to ensure compliance with antitrust laws and maintain fair competition, including:

  • The rationale behind the price increase: Companies should ensure that price adjustments are based on legitimate business reasons such as increased production costs, inflation, or improvements in product quality, rather than an intent to manipulate market competition.
  • Market position: Companies with a dominant market position need to be particularly cautious, as their pricing strategies are more likely to be scrutinized for potential anti-competitive effects.
  • Impact on competitors and market: Companies should assess the potential impact of their pricing decisions on competitors and the overall market to avoid actions that could lead to reduced competition or harm to consumers.
  • Consultation with legal experts: Given the complexity of antitrust laws and the variations between jurisdictions, consulting with legal experts who specialize in competition law can help companies navigate these challenges and make informed pricing decisions.

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Krzysztof (Kris) Szyszkiewicz
Head of Delivery, Partner

Certified expert in price, revenue and margin management in B2B companies and e-commerce. Member of the prestigious Professional Pricing Society. At Valueships, he is responsible for the implementation of consulting projects and taking care of the profitability of clients. Prior to joining Valueships, he worked at McKinsey & Company in the area of ​​pricing and strategy.

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Krzysztof (Kris) Szyszkiewicz
Head of Delivery, Partner

Certified expert in price, revenue and margin management in B2B companies and e-commerce. Member of the prestigious Professional Pricing Society. At Valueships, he is responsible for the implementation of consulting projects and taking care of the profitability of clients. Prior to joining Valueships, he worked at McKinsey & Company in the area of ​​pricing and strategy.