What Is Duopsony?

A duopsony is an economic condition in which there are only two large buyers for a specific product or service. Combined, these two buyers determine market demand, giving them considerably strong bargaining power, assuming they are outnumbered by firms vying to sell to them.

Duopsony is also known as a "buyer's duopoly" and is related to oligopsony, a term describing a market where there are a limited number of buyers.

Key Takeaways

  • A duopsony is an economic condition in which there are only two large buyers for a specific product or service.
  • Combined, these two buyers determine market demand, giving them considerably strong bargaining power, assuming there are lots of firms vying to sell to them.
  • Less competition usually yields stronger pricing power and higher profitability.
  • Duopsony status is synonymous with high barriers to entry.

How Duopsony Works

Duopsony status gives a company leverage to be picky and drive down prices. When there are more sellers than buyers, the purchaser wields power. The same theory applies to an oligopoly—when there only a small number of sellers or, better still, a duopoly—when they are only two large sellers in a market.

A simple example of a duopsony would be a town having only two operating restaurants. If there are many waiters and chefs in the town, the two restaurants will find themselves in a position of power, potentially enabling them to get away with offering lower wages.

The chefs and waiters have no choice but to accept the low pay, unless they choose not to work. This shows that firms that are part of a duopsony have the power not only to lower the cost of supplies but also to lower the price of labor.

Alternatively, a fishing fleet of small boats might only have two wholesale buyers in the small port town from which they sail.

Real Life Examples of Duopsony

Before the age of Amazon.com Inc.'s (AMZN) dominance in the retail space, Walmart Inc (WMT) and arguably Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) held duopsony power over their merchandise suppliers. Any supplier of retail goods needed to distribute through these chains or perish. This gave these two companies strong bargaining positions and the ability to extract concessions from these other companies.

In the stock market, financial engineers recognized this, at least for Wal-Mart. They created an index of companies that were dependent on selling to Wal-Mart, called the Wal-Mart suppliers index.

Another good example is Intel Corp. (INTC) and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD). Combined, they command nearly 100% of sales in the computer processing chip market, and, as a result, hold significant sway over their suppliers.

Special Considerations

Being unique and in the minority is what companies strive to achieve. Less competition usually yields stronger pricing power and higher profitability. Normally, other firms will try to cash in, eliminating the duopsony, although this is not so easy when the end product or service has high barriers to entry.

Profitability and long-term success hinges on a company holding a sustainable competitive edge. In 1980, Harvard professor Michael Porter built on this theory, introducing a model called “Five Forces” to help managers and investors examine how much power companies wield in their industries.

One of Porter’s forces happens to be the power of customers. The others are threat of new entrants, existing competition, the threat of substitute products and the power of suppliers.

Duopoly and Duopsony

There are some rare cases where a company can be a duopoly and duopsony. When you fly you probably notice that the plane you are on is either made by Boeing Co. (BA) or Airbus. They are the main sellers of airplanes to airlines, and, as a result, also happen to be the main buyers of the equipment used to build them.

There are hundreds of aerospace component manufacturers competing to win contracts to help build the latest Boeing and Airbus planes. Boeing and Airbus often hold the cards in negotiations, particularly among those engineers that supply commoditized products or components that airplanes can do without.