A complement refers to a complementary product or service used in conjunction with another product or service. Usually, the complementary product has little to no value when consumed alone, but when combined with another product or service, it adds to the overall value of the offering. A product can be considered a compliment when it shares a beneficial relationship with another product offering, for example, an iPhone complements an app.
The joint demand nature of complementary products causes an interplay between the consumer need for the second product as the price of the first product fluctuates. In economics, this connection is called negative cross-elasticity of demand. So, as the cost of a product increase, the user’s demand for the complement product decreases. Further, as consumer demand weakens, the market price of the complementary product or service may fall. For example, when the price of a product rise, the demand for its complement falls because consumers are unlikely to use the complement product alone.
For example, should the price of hot dogs increase, it can cause a decrease in the demand for hot dog buns. Since the cost of hot dogs has an inverse relationship with the demand for hot dog buns, they are considered complementary products. Consumers may substitute hamburgers for their picnic, and weak complementary mustard and ketchup products will see little impact on the rising price of the hot dog.
Additionally, complementary pairs are not two-sided and often have one-sided effects. Using another example, if the price of car tires decreases, it will not necessarily increase the demand for cars. However, if the price of automobiles decreases, it will increase the demand for car tires as more are sold.
Real World Example
Complements are often used by merchants to increase sales. Supermarkets place related food products next to each other, such as tortillas next to refried beans, to increase sales of each. Merchants might also sell a product at a low price but charge more for add-on items that complement the first item.
Complementary products are often more lucrative for producers versus a substitute product. Netflix, Inc.(NFLX) could be considered an alternative product for traditional cable. However, with the potential unbundling of cable channels, financial analysts believe that Netflix may move from a substitute product to a complementary product.
The unbundling of channels refers to consumers’ ability to pick and choose which cable channels they pay for rather than being required to purchase an entire cable package. The belief that Netflix may become a complementary product to cable once it decides to unbundle has caused analysts like those at CNBC to estimate that the company will add 70 million subscribers by the end of 2020. Unbundling reduces the overall cost of cable, and more users are expected to subscribe to Netflix in addition to their chosen cable channels.
Complements and Elasticity
There are weak complementary products and strong complementary products. Weak complements have a low cross-elasticity of demand. For example, if the price of coffee increases it will only have a marginal impact on reducing the consumption of cream. In the case of Apple increasing the price for iPhones, this would reduce sales of iPhones and the demand for iOS apps.
Complementary products differ from substitute products, which are different products or services that satisfy the same consumer need. The Apple iPhone is a substitute for Samsung phones. These two products can, therefore, replace each. So, rather than complement each other they become substitute products. For this reason, if the price of the iPhone increases, the consumer demand for a substitute will also increase.
- A complementary product is one used in conjunction with another product or service.
- Such a product may have little value without its complement.
- When the price of a particular product rises the demand for its complement drops because consumers are unlikely to use the complement alone.