Multipoint competition adds complexity to decisions about whether to respond to a rival’s moves.

Multipoint competition adds complexity to decisions about whether to respond to a rival’s moves. With multipoint competition, a firm faces the same rival in more than one market. Cigarette makers R. J. Reynolds (RJR) and Philip Morris, for example, square off not only in the United States but also in many countries around the world. When a firm has one or more multipoint competitors, executives must realize that a competitive move in a market can have effects not only within that market but also within others. In the early 1990s, RJR started using lower-priced cigarette brands in the United States to gain customers. Philip Morris responded in two ways. The first response was cutting prices in the United States to protect its market share. This started a price war that ultimately hurt both companies. Second, Philip Morris started building market share in Eastern Europe where RJR had been establishing a strong position. This combination of moves forced RJR to protect its market share in the United States and neglect Eastern Europe.

If rivals are able to establish mutual forbearance, then multipoint competition can help them be successful. Mutual forbearance occurs when rivals do not act aggressively because each recognizes that the other can retaliate in multiple markets. In the late 1990s, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines competed in some but not all markets. United announced plans to form a new division that would move into some of Southwest’s other routes. Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher publicly threatened to retaliate in several shared markets. United then backed down, and Southwest had no reason to attack. The result was better performance for both firms. Similarly, in hindsight, both RJR and Philip Morris probably would have been more profitable had RJR not tried to steal market share in the first place. Thus recognizing and acting on potential forbearance can lead to better performance through firms not competing away their profits, while failure to do so can be costly.

 

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