Why am I paying $5 for a coffee?!?

Coffee consumption and Wellingtonian’s willingness to pay for it is a puzzling topic to me.

Due to cultural habits coffee is a highly preferred morning beverage in New Zealand. There are lots of coffee shops in Wellington offering pretty much similar variety of coffee products and yet even with the flood of providers there is no lack of customers and as a result it doesn’t appear to be particularly competitive. In countries like USA, due to tough competition in catering business, a cent increase in a product would normally reduce profits of the company. The competition pushes business owners to offer constant variation in products where consumers do have more options and are more open to sample beverages that are not traditionally consumed. Most Wellingtonian cafes don’t experience this pressure and hence the options of offered beverages are on average the same. And this yet has no decline effect on profits for the NZ coffee shops.

Let’s look at why the Wellington case is particularly strange. My daily observations indicates that, seemingly irrespective of the relative prices charged, two coffee shops in Wellington will still have a sufficient number of customers. It is a puzzle to me to understand why I would be willing to pay 5$ per a cup while the next door offering is 4$? Is it an asymmetric information case where the shop owner knows about his high prices but the customer doesn’t have the information on the comparative prices? If this is the case, is the marginal difference of 1$ an information search cost for the consumer?

Last year the coffee shop “Coffix” ran an advertisement on setting flat prices ($2.5) on their coffees. Once, while waiting for my order from “Coffix”, I was observing a scenario where the customers from the next door café didn’t mind paying minimum $4 for their coffees. The question is again-why?

Why is the elasticity of willingness to pay for coffee from YOUR CAFE so low in Wellington?  I am not asking why coffee prices are so high (they are) in Wellington, but why are Wellingtonians  so unwilling to change where they buy coffee in the face of a lower price available elsewhere?

Possible explanations in my opinion might be:

  • Income relativity. If my income is above the median, the marginal difference in coffee prices (varying from 0.5$ to 1.5$) seems quite low.
  • Convenience of the place and the aura. Consumers might prefer to catch-up with friends in a cosy interior.
  • Distance of the place – even a meter vicinity might be more appealing for some customers.
  • Established relationship with the café staff. Such feelings like you are always welcomed at your usual place might prevail your low willingness to pay.

I very welcome your thoughts and arguments regarding this topic. I am very curious to read your point of view on what drives the motivation of consumers’ behaviours in New Zealand.