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Using Finance to Reduce a Price

by Donald Potter

Dell is struggling to keep up with HP in the personal computer market. There is one part of the market, though, where Dell remains the clear leader, the small business market. Part of the reason for the company’s success in this market is its financing package. It is more generous with financial support than its competition. It may offer interest-free financing when companies purchase $25,000 or more of new computers. The company offers other creative financing deals. In one of these deals, a customer bought $30,000 of computers on a three-year lease plan that allows the customer to keep the equipment when the lease expires. Overall, Dell says that 22% of its small and medium-size business customers use Dell to finance their purchases. This 22% is up from 17% just two years ago. The company is gaining share by using its financing muscle, despite the chancy economic environment.

Offering financing, whether subsidized or not, is a way of extending the time a customer has to make its cash payment to the supplier. This is a form of discount. In our analysis of several thousand price reductions over the last twenty-five years, we have identified fifteen distinct forms of discount. The offering of financing is one of those forms. Many industries have relied on financing to build their businesses, even in difficult times. The automobile industry has used financing to offer attractive lease rates and payment plans to its customers using captive finance vehicles, like GMAC. GE has used its captive finance arm to finance customers in many of its product categories. In fact, GE has seen its captive finance arm grow into a lender in many markets where GE does not even compete as a supplier.

The home building industry has also used financing creatively. For example, last year Lennar offered special financing with no money down and a 3.625% mortgage rate for the life of its loans on purchases of Lennar’s newly built homes. Subsidized financing helped Lennar win new customers in an abysmal market.

Even small businesses use the extension of financing to build their businesses. Faryl Robin is a New York company that sells high-end women’s shoes. In the expectation that it would build its business with long-time customers in a tough economy, the company offered additional financing. In 2009, it offered retail customers with whom it had a long-term relationship an additional sixty days over its normal thirty day payment period for the customer to make its full payment for shoes she had purchased.