PRODUCT MIX, PRODUCT LINES
AND PRODUCT STRETCHING
Businesses are continuously making critical decisions about their product range. Product decisions will include whether to develop new products and how to manage existing products. This article is about the different ways firms manage the type and number of products they sell and related terms.
Product Mix (Product Portfolio or Product Assortment)
The Product mix is the total variety of products a firm sells. Some firms will sell just one product, whilst others will sell a large number of different products. For example Samsung's product mix includes mobile phones, netbooks, tablets, televisions, fridges, microwaves, printers and memory cards. Firms should select their product mix carefully as they will need to generate a profit from each of the products in the product mix.
Firms may decide to split their product mix into groups known as product lines. A product line is a number of products grouped together based on similar characteristics. The characteristic used to split products, will depend on the firm and its product strategy. They include product price, product quality, who the product is aimed at (target group), and product specification/features. For example Samsung's mobile phones are divided into product lines based on the following features; touch screens, slider/folders, QWERTY keyboards and bar phones. Product lines help firms manage their products as product strategy can be designed around product lines. This is useful if the firm has a large product mix as there is less need to concentrate on individual product type strategy.
Product Line Length
The product line length shows the number of different products in a product line. A long product line has lots of different products in it and a short product line has a small number of different products. The product manager's job is to work out how many products to include in the product line. If there are too many product types in a product line, they will begin to compete with each other, increase costs unnecessarily and even confuse customers. If the product line is too short it will limit customer choice and send customers to competitors with a greater selection of products.
Product Line Depth
Some of the product types in a product line may be split again into groups, the product line depth shows how many subgroups the product line contains. For example Samsung have split their mobile phones into the following product lines touch screens, slider/folders, QWERTY keyboards and bar phones. Each of these product lines can be further split into subgroups at the time of writing this article Samsung had 7 slider mobile phones and 32 touch screen mobile phones, 32 is a deep product line.
Product Line Stretching
Product line stretching occurs when a business adds new product to the product line and the new product types are of a higher or lower quality than existing products in the product line. If the new product types are cheaper or of a lower quality it is known as a downward stretch. If the new product types are more expensive or of a higher quality it is known as an upward stretch. Supermarkets often stretch product lines by offering value, standard and premium versions of their own brand products. Product stretching enables firms to fill any Gaps they have identified in the market.
Product Mix Width
The product mix width is the number of product lines in the product mix. A wide product mix increases the type of customers a firm can target. However it may involve a lot of work as each product line will require a strategy and management. It could also reduce specialisation as it is difficult to offer every variant of a product type if you are selling lots of different types of product. A narrow product mix may be easier to manage and allow the firm to specialise in particular product lines and product types. However a small product mix reduces the type of customers a firm can target as they can't cater for everyone's product "needs and wants".
Product selection is an important decision as the product is the item you are selling. Firms need to strike a balance between giving customers choice and trying to cater for everybody by stocking too many products. Dividing products into product lines and the product line into further groups, helps firms to develop product strategies. It will also help them identify which product ranges sell well and which do not as each product line will be monitored.
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