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Threat of substitutes

A substitute product uses a different technology to try to solve the same economic need. Examples of substitutes are meat, poultry, and fish; landlines and cellular telephones; airlines, automobiles, trains, and ships; beer and wine; and so on. For example, tap water is a substitute for Coke, but Pepsi is a product that uses the same technology (albeit different ingredients) to compete head-to-head with Coke, so it is not a substitute. Increased marketing for drinking tap water might “shrink the pie” for both Coke and Pepsi, whereas increased Pepsi advertising would likely “grow the pie” (increase consumption of all soft drinks), while giving Pepsi a larger market share at Coke’s expense.

Potential factors:

  • Buyer propensity to substitute. This aspect incorporated both tangible and intangible factors. Brand loyalty can be very important as in the Coke and Pepsi example above; however contractual and legal barriers are also effective.
  • Relative price performance of substitute
  • Buyer’s switching costs. This factor is well illustrated by the mobility industry. Uber and its many competitors took advantage of the incumbent taxi industry’s dependence on legal barriers to entry and when those fell away, it was trivial for customers to switch. There were no costs as every transaction was atomic, with no incentive for customers not to try another product.
  • Perceived level of product differentiation which is classic Michael Porter in the sense that there are only two basic mechanisms for competition – lowest price or differentiation. Developing multiple products for niche markets is one way to mitigate this factor.
  • Number of substitute products available in the market
  • Ease of substitution
  • Availability of close substitute