How Does Increased Competition Among Firms Affect Markets?

Have you noticed prices dropping sharply for flights, smartphones, or subscription services you use? Do you feel like you have more choices today when shopping for products online or in-store? Well, this is likely the effect of rising competition among companies in several industries.

Intensifying competitive pressure compels firms to aggressively cut prices, pursue innovations, and cater more closely to diverse customer needs. At the same time, heightened rivalry also squeezes profit margins and fosters instability. Let‘s explore in detail how competition is transforming markets globally, and the implications for businesses and consumers.

Surging Competition Across Industries

Statistics clearly highlight that competition has risen over the past two decades in a majority of industries globally. What has catalyzed this trend?

Primarily, technological progress has enabled new innovations, solutions, and platforms that allow smaller firms to efficiently compete with large established players. Emerging companies are thus disrupting many sectors.

Secondly, globalization, trade pacts, and digitization are letting companies easily enter new overseas markets and contest incumbents. Geographic barriers have declined.

Lastly, in developed nations, deregulation and pro-competition policies have unlocked many previously concentrated sectors like banking, telecom, and airlines.

For instance, an OECD study covering 32 industries in 45 countries found competition has increased substantially in around 75% of industries since the late 1990s. Competition also rose sharply in emerging markets.

The graph below from the White House Council of Economic Advisors shows how sales concentration ratios have dropped in over 75% of U.S. industries between 1997 and 2012 indicating higher competition.

Let‘s look at how companies navigate and respond to such rising competitive intensity through their strategies and investments.

Firm Strategies in Competitive Markets

Facing nimble rivals and falling barriers to entry, how do companies adapt? Here are some common strategic responses:

  • Cutting prices: Firms aggressively compete on price and regularly discount to attract customers. Airlines and smartphone makers exemplify such price wars.
  • Enhancing efficiency: Companies zealously cut costs and streamline operations through automation and lean processes to protect margins. Fixed cost reduction becomes imperative.
  • Innovating offerings: Firms rapidly launch advanced new products and add product variations and segments to cater to diverse tastes. R&D and marketing spends increase.
  • Building brands: Strong branding emerges as a differentiator as commoditization increases. Firms try to build customer loyalty through branding. Ad spends rise.
  • Consolidating scale: Companies pursue mergers and acquisitions to gain pricing power, cut duplicative costs, and invest more in innovation to stay competitive.

For instance, P&G acquired Gillette, Unilever acquired Dollar Shave Club, and LVMH acquired Tiffany & Co. to strengthen their competitive positioning through synergistic scale.

Across sectors, larger players are buying out innovative startups that pose disruption threats. Facebook acquired Instagram and WhatsApp, Salesforce acquired Slack, and Amazon acquired Whole Foods.

Impact on Consumers

For customers, rising firm competition brings many tangible benefits. Firstly, greater choice of suppliers, brands, and products to select from. Customer leverage rises.

Secondly, lower prices and frequent promotional deals are common in competitive categories. Firms try to undercut each other and run discounts to attract buyers. Walmart and Target cut prices when Amazon Prime entered grocery.

Thirdly, quality and feature improvements emerge as companies try to differentiate themselves. For example, smartphone cameras and displays see rapid enhancements as Apple, Samsung, and Chinese vendors vie for buyers.

Lastly, heightened competition makes companies more responsive to consumer feedback. Firms constantly tweak products based on reviews and usage metrics out of fear of losing patrons.

However, some downsides also exist. Frenzied product proliferation leads to overwhelming choice. Brand loyalty declines as customers cherry pick deals. Small suppliers can get squeezed amid price wars between giants like Amazon and Walmart.

But overall, most experts agree competitive markets have structural benefits for consumers in the form of affordability, choice and innovation.

Industries Where Competition is Cutthroat

Certain global industries stand out for their hyper-competitive dynamics currently. Let‘s examine three such sectors:

Airlines – A plethora of low-cost carriers like Ryanair, AirAsia, and Southwest have challenged full-service airlines leading average ticket prices to fall 50% since 1980. Budget airlines strip amenities to lower fares. Leisure and corporate travel have surged with lower prices.

Smartphones – Over 60 brands now compete fiercely. Apple and Samsung exchange leadership positions as Chinese brands like Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi have gained share through rapid product launches and value pricing. Top players drive technological innovations at a torrid pace.

Video Streaming – The rise of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and others has completely disrupted the television industry. Each platform spends billions creating fresh original and exclusive content to attract subscribers. Prices are as low as $8 per month for unlimited shows.

How Can Consumers Benefit?

As consumers, how can we benefit from the lower costs and innovation competitive markets drive? Here are some tips:

  • Actively research to find low-cost suppliers and substitute products. Sites like PriceRunner help compare prices across vendors.
  • Consider lesser known brands that offer comparable quality at lower prices instead of just premium names. Give them a try.
  • Don‘t fall for vendor "lock-in". Multi-home across brands and platforms to get the best deals. Maintain switching flexibility.
  • Follow review sites and online communities to stay updated on emerging innovations and disruptive entrants. Be willing to switch loyalties.
  • Provide feedback on products and services you use so that companies keep improving features and value. This pushes competition.
  • Support fair trade rules and competition-friendly policies so that monopolies don‘t emerge and raise prices.

Healthy competition ensures we as buyers get the upper hand. By being vigilant customers, we can spur companies to compete fairly and drive innovation that benefits us.


Rising competitive intensity globally is reshaping industry landscapes and firm strategies. Companies are aggressively innovating, enhancing efficiency, and acquiring scale and capabilities to stay ahead.

For consumers, this leads to greater affordability, choice and quality improvements across products and services. But some downsides like information overload exist too.

Policymakers should continue to foster pro-competition regulations. Firms can focus on agility, innovation and customer centricity to constructively compete.

Harnessing competition‘s power while curbing cutthroat disruption will let markets and consumers benefit equitably from this global trend.

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