Compare and Contrast the Four Different Market Structures

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In the world of economics, the competition between businesses is not always the same or level.  Certain fields of industry have very different types of markets than that of others.  Where one business could find itself in a field of competition where the playing field is leveled and easy to gain a foothold within, others find themselves in playing fields that are heavily stacked to favor one (or several large), industrial player.  The most common forms of market structure that are seen in the economic world are perfect competition, monopolistic competition, monopoly (as seen with Microsoft), and oligopoly.  All of these market structures have to define characteristics that separate them from each other and are all set up in a way that will have a dramatic distinction on how the competition within that market works.  The defining characteristics of the market structure will be one of the most important determining factors in how many, as well as, how large the major players within that particular market become.  One such example of a company that operates efficiently within its particular market structure is Samsung Electronics.  By understanding and playing to the strengths of the market structure that the company finds itself within, Samsung Electronics has been able to become one of the largest and most financially successful companies in the business world.

The first market structure to be described is named perfect competition.  This market structure is most easily recognized by the fact that its low barriers for entry on both the buyer and seller allow for the continued operation of a large number of firms (Econ Guru, 2006).  With a market structure such as this, new firms are able to constantly enter the market so long as they offer a product or service to a consumer base that is well received.  The economic efficiency within the perfect competition market structure, therefore, is seen to be very high because of these low entry barriers for new firms, which allows for a constant and continued level of competition to be maintained by the different number of firms within the particular market (Riley, 2012).  One of the most surprising factors about this sort of market structure, however, is seen when examining the innovative behavior of firms within this market.  Upon first glance, one would naturally be inclined to believe that the innovative behavior for a perfect competition market would be very strong because start-up firms would want to bring new, creative ways to market in order to propel their firms into a position of exposure and success.  Research shows this hypothesis to be incorrect, though.  Instead, the innovative behavior of a perfect competition market is relatively weak.  “In capitalist reality as distinguished from its textbook picture, it is not that kind of competition which counts but the competition which commands a decisive cost or quality advantage and which strikes not at the margins of profits and the outputs of the existing firms but at their foundations and their very lives” (Riley, 2012).

The next type of market structure to be examined is the monopolistic competition market structure.  Within this type of market, one would typically expect to see a large number of firms that produce a “congeneric product with distinguishable differentiation,” (Econ Guru, 2006, para. 4).  This means that the firms within this market structure will have many different competitors within the market, but each competitor will be selling a slightly different type of product.  Within this market, the entry barriers for both the buyer and the seller are very low and allow for easy entry or exit from the market (Hubbard & O’Brien).  One of the distinguishing features for firms within this market structure comes from the pricing found within it.  Within a monopolistic competition market, the firms act as the price-makers; they can set, raise, and lower the price of their products because they are selling something that is highly individualized.  Because of the set up of this market structure, the level of innovation is considered to be quite strong as firms entering the market can make subtle changes to existing products to form new, unique ones.  This market structure, therefore, places a high emphasis on advertising, much like feminist economics.  Firms that operate within the monopolistic competition market are, “often in fierce competition with other (local) firms offering a similar product or service, and may need to advertise on a local basis, to let customers know their differences” (Economics Online, 2012, para. 14).  

A third market structure seen in the economic world is the monopoly.  The monopoly is characterized as a market in which there is only one provider for a good or service to consumers (Econ Guru, 2006).  Within this type of market structure, the barriers for entry are extremely high as the firm with all of the power in the market can undercut its prices and force competitors out of the market.  From a buyer’s perspective, the barriers are low as their selection for products or services is so limited.  In a pure monopoly with only one firm controlling the market, the type of product is very limited; in fact, it is exclusively limited to what that particular firm offers to its consumers (Riley, 2012).  Being the controlling power of the market, a firm operating within a monopoly is considered to be a price maker in that it will be able to continually set, raise, and lower the cost of its offered product or service.  Within this type of market structure, the economic efficiency does run the risk of being damaged as the controlling firm will not have to deal with any competition, which could allow for the firm to become inefficient over time (Riley, 2012).  The same holds true for the innovative behavior within a monopolistic market.  The controlling firm has no real reason to be constantly reimagining and redesigning its products or services and can instead release upgrades and updates at its own pace with no real urgency.  Although, it is worth noting that a firm that holds a monopoly on the market could also have a strong innovative behavior because it is able to spend a lot of its profits on research and development.

The final market structure to observe is an oligopoly.  Similar to a monopoly in many regards, the oligopoly has one major difference when compared to the former.  Within a monopoly, there is one firm that controls the market, whereas an oligopoly has a few firms that dominate the market (Econ Guru, 2006).  A market structure such as this will, therefore, place considerable barriers on new firms that are entering the market as they must compete with several corporate giants, but will put limited barriers on the buyer because of the different options available to him or her.  The firms that dominate the market of an oligopoly can act, for the greater part, as price makers so long as the dominant firms keep their prices relatively similar (Riley, 2012). One such example of this occurring in the real world is seen in the gas industry.  The large firms that control the industry are able to set the price for gasoline to whatever they should choose so long as the competition does not dramatically lower their own prices and attract a larger proportion of the market to utilize its product exclusively.  It is within this market that innovative behavior is observed to be the highest (Riley, 2012).  The dominant firms are seen to spend a significant portion of their resources on research and development so that they can have the most innovative products to offer to their consumer base in order to attempt to gain a larger control of the market and gain a competitive advantage over their major competitors.  It is this sort of market structure that Samsung Electronics finds itself a part of.

Samsung Electronics operates in a market that is clearly an oligopoly.  One of the major components of this firm is seen in its cellular phone sales.  In this market, Samsung operates as a dominant force along with such companies as Apple, Motorola, and LG.  Outside of these major players, the competition is much more limited.  It is extremely difficult for outside firms to gain a foothold in this market because the dominant firms have such a large percentage control of the consumer base currently.  The effectiveness of the market structure is extremely beneficial for Samsung, and they have taken full advantage of it to become one of the most dominant firms in their particular market.  It is directly from the structure of the market that the forms of labor and demand are shaped for Samsung.

The demand that Samsung receives is based almost entirely as a consequence of the market structure of an oligopoly.  Because Samsung is able to dominate its market and place a high emphasis on the research and development of new, innovative products, the firm is able to offer technologically superior products to its consumer base that allows for the demand for its products to rise.  The Galaxy S III is a perfect example of this. This particular product is so innovative and well designed that it has allowed Samsung to become one of the top sellers of mobile phones worldwide and has consistently beaten out the iPhone 5 (Samsung’s main competition from Apple) on a consistent basis.  In terms of labor, as well as supply, the same basic principle holds true.  It is because of the dominant share of the market that Samsung controls by successfully navigating its market structure that allows for the company to produce so many products and keep its supply high enough to meet the demand facing it, and in order to produce such a high supply of new, innovative products, Samsung is able to employ a large labor force for everything from assembly of a product to research and development of new ways to design, market, and ultimately sell to its consumer base.  

Market structures play a key role in the way a firm is able to do business.  By understanding what sort of market structure that a firm is placed in, that firm will be able to see if the cost of business is worth continuing to fight for.  The factors that separate the different types of market structures can be the difference in whether or not a start-up firm will be able to become successful or be driven from the business by the major players that currently exist in that particular market structure.  It is by understanding and playing to the market structure that certain companies such as Samsung Electronics have been able to become so successful.  Different market structures place emphasis on different factors, however, one truth is held.  In the end, every firm is simply trying to push its products or services onto its consumer base.      

References

Econ Guru. (2006). Market structure. EconGuru Economics Guide, Retrieved from http://www.econguru.com/micro/market-structure.shtml

Economics Online. (2012). Monopolistic competition. Economics Online. Retrieved from http://www.economicsonline.co.uk/Business_economics/Monopolistic_competition.html

Hubbard, R. G., & O'Brien, (2012). Economics (4th ed.). Prentice Hall.

Riley, G. (2012, September 23). Market structure summary [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.tutor2u.net/economics/revision-notes/a2-micro-market-structures-summary.html