Hotelling's Law - Application


The street is a metaphor for product differentiation; in the specific case of a street, the stores differentiate themselves from each other by location. The example can be generalized to all other types of horizontal product differentiation in almost any product characteristic, such as sweetness, colour, or size. The above case where the two stores are side by side would translate into products that are identical to each other. This phenomenon is present in many markets, particularly in those considered to be primarily commodities, and results in less variety for the consumer.

Businesses in fact follow both product differentiation and Hotelling's law, as contrary as they may seem. Take for example JetBlue. The low cost airline markets itself as a revolutionary type of airline – cheaper airfare, nicer planes, better locations. As JetBlue tries to differentiate its product from its competitors, it also adopts similar flight schedules and similar service.

An extension of the principle into other environments of rational choice such as election "markets" can explain the common complaint that, for instance, the presidential candidates of the two American political parties are "practically the same". Once each candidate is confirmed during primaries, they are usually established within their own partisan camps. The remaining undecided electorate resides in the middle of the political spectrum, and there is a tendency for the candidates to "rush for the middle" in order to appeal to this crucial bloc. Like the paradigmatic example, the assumption is that people will choose the least distant option, (in this case, the distance is ideological) and that the most votes can be had by being directly in the center.

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