The effect of lockdown restrictions on consumer spending, coupled with widespread disruption to supply chains, has caused a number of shocks to the UK's supply and demand levels in recent months. While it remains difficult to assess the long-term impact on businesses and consumers, it has been predicted that pent-up demand for goods and services will see inflation hit at least 4% this year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the many forces at work in the free market that continually influence buying and selling patterns. From natural disasters to government policy, external factors can dramatically affect a business’ ability to supply its product, meet demand, and turn a profit.
As understanding the basics of supply and demand is key to making good business decisions during these challenging times, we’ve compiled a quick guide for small business owners:
What is supply and demand?
Supply and demand are two of the most important economic concepts, and together they form the basis of a market economy. Supply and demand laws explain the interaction between buyers and sellers, and how pricing and availability affect the transaction of goods and services. Depending on the economic climate, consumers may need to adjust their spending, and businesses will need to adapt their production, distribution, and merchandising efforts.
Demand refers to the quantity of a product wanted by consumers at a particular price. Supply is how much of a product the market can provide at that price. Generally, as the price of an item decreases, the level of demand increases. This is because it’s more widely affordable, and buyers can get more for their money. However, the quantity supplied will fall as production is less commercially attractive. Conversely, as prices rise, people are willing to supply more and buy less.
If the amount of supply exceeds that of demand, the price will decline, and vice versa. Over time, supply and demand levels fluctuate until market equilibrium is reached. This is the point at which the quantity demanded in a market equals the number of goods supplied. At equilibrium price, also known as the market-clearing price, consumers can buy as much as they need, and sellers can trade their stock without facing leftover inventory.
The four laws of supply and demand
There are four basic laws of supply and demand that business owners should be aware of when producing or selling goods:
- Increased demand when supply remains unchanged leads to higher prices and higher quantities. A growing appetite for a certain product means that consumers are accepting of higher prices, creating a profitable opportunity for sellers to increase their supply.
- Decreased demand when supply remains unchanged leads to lower prices and lower quantities. If consumers are not interested in buying a product or service, market prices will be lowered to encourage buying. With less opportunity for profit, suppliers will reduce their production.
- Increased supply when demand remains unchanged leads to lower prices and higher quantities. When supply outstrips demand, goods and services become readily available from a wider array of vendors. Sellers will have to drop their prices in order to attract consumers away from competitors.
- Decreased supply when demand remains unchanged leads to higher prices and lower quantities. As there's a shortage of goods compared to demand, consumers are willing to pay more to secure what’s available.
Key takeaways for small businesses
Among other factors, supply and demand can have a significant impact on a business' pricing strategy. In theory, your prices can only increase if demand outstrips supply, creating a queue of customers who are willing to pay more to secure the available goods. Similarly, economic models dictate that you should lower your prices when there is excess supply. However, there are steps that business owners can take to manipulate market conditions.
Lower your prices
Artificially lowering prices can attract new customers, but most small businesses want to avoid this approach as it reduces their profit margins. However, you may consider deploying time-sensitive discounts to fuel consumer demand. Retailers and wholesalers that deliver seasonal promotions, flash sales, and cheaper prices on bulk orders can increase sales even after the incentive has ended, providing they offered a good customer experience.
Restrict your supply
Rather than slashing prices, many high-end brands will manufacture products in smaller batches to restrict the supply available on the market. As goods and services become more valuable to consumers if they're seen as rare, this scarcity justifies a higher price tag. Raising your prices may deter some customers, but you can still increase your revenue by improving your profit margin per item. For this approach to succeed, it's crucial to leverage marketing techniques that reinforce your exclusive and desirable brand image.
When selecting your product range, you must consider the shopping habits of your target audience. One approach is to offer goods and services that satisfy existing consumer demands. Alternatively, you can create demand. Promoting content such as explainer videos, educational infographics, and customer testimonials can help to persuade consumers that your product solves an unknown problem, generate a buzz around your brand, and stimulate a new consumer trend.
Whatever the nature of your business, it’s essential to price your products correctly. Using supply and demand curves can help you to calculate the price point that should maximize your profits without discouraging buyers. However, while the market dictates the value of goods and services to an extent, it's worth considering the many ways that small business owners can influence consumer habits to boost sales and company profits.