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Oligopoly is a typical market condition wherein a small number of large enterprises dominate the scene. Since the number of players is small, there is lesser competition & these enterprises start collaborating with each other. This kind of collaboration then translates into higher costs for their consumers. To put things in a better perspective, if the market is dominated by a single enterprise, that situation is known as 'monopoly'. If the market is dominated by two enterprises, it is known as 'duopoly'. Then, if the market is dominated by more than two enterprises, that condition is known as 'oligopoly'. While there is no maximum number in an oligopoly form, the number of enterprises in an oligopoly should be low enough such that the actions of one enterprise should considerably influence the business of the others. In an oligopoly market form, each of the enterprises in the oligopoly exert equally strong influence in the market and on the customers of the other enterprises.
Here are a few good examples of oligopoly:
Price-fixing and collusion is rampant in an Oligopoly market setup because companies find it more profitable to collaborate than to engage in pricewars or steal customer lists or poach in another companys area. Legislations also exist which seek to prevent cheating by companies in an oligopoly market form. But in spite of all that there are some situations where price-fixing is done using innovative means which do not make it look like blatant price-fixing A good example of price-fixing in an oligopoly is OPEC. Price wars are not only expensive but they hurt the interests of all other companies in the Oligopoly. So, companies use branding, product differentiation and other marketing techniques to promote their respectice products to reach out to more customers and expand their market reach.
A characteristic most closely associated with oligopoly is the high-entry costs. These costs can be due to massive capital expenditure, licensing costs (for example, oil exploration licenses, mobile phone operator licenses etc.). Some even say that these are the conditions that actually enable oligopolies. But advances in technology have changed the situation for these enterprises. Oligopolies started getting challenged by other enterprises which even provided better products or services than the original companies. Good example is Google taking on Microsoft's MS Office using Google Docs, which was not only free for the end-user but also provided equally good (if not better) functionality than MS Office. Another example is the North American oil companies came in for some stiff competition from OPEC which cut down prices to counter their rise. The five-firm concentration ratio in an oligopoly should be greater than 50%.
In an oligopoly market set-up, the term "five-firm concentration greater than 50%" means the top five companies in the oligopoly should have a combined market reach of at least 50%.
Concentration ratios are used by economists to measure the level to which an industry or market is oligopolistic. It can also be defined as the market shares of the biggest firms in the oligopoly. A"three-firm concentration ratio" means the market share of the top three enterprises in the oligopoly. A "five-firm concentration ration" means the market share of the top five firms in the oligopoly. In an oligopolistic setup, the five-firm concentration ration should be greater than 50%.
Inerdependence of firms indicates the level to which other companies get impacted by changes made by any one company in the oligopoly. Interdependence of firms is an important trait of oligopoly.
In an oligopolistic market, the term "barriers to entry" is defined as the factors that prevent other companies from entering the oligopoly. For example, high-entry costs is a barrier to entry of newer firms into an existing oligopoly.
In a typical oligopoly situation, companies do not always compete on the pricing alone. This competion could extend to non-pricing factors as well, like advertising, product quality, celebrity endorsements etc.
Competition of firms in oligopoly is factored upon many parameters. it could depend on the individual company's objective - is it looking for more profits or more sales? Competion could also depend upon the existing barriers to entry of other, newer firms into the oligopoly. And finally, existing laws also play a big part in detrmining the competition among firms in oligopoly. Oligopoly, due to its inherent definition of "few large firms, commanding a huge market share" can actually produce a stable market, which is good for the consumer. Oligopoly can also lead to collusion and price-wars.
According to the Kinked Demand Curve Model, prices will be mostly stable as companies in the oligopoly will not gain much in case of price wars. So, these firms look for other way to compete among themselves, using non-pricing methodologies.
All firms in an oligopolistic market get impacted not only by their own actions, but by the actions of other firms as well. The game theory model tries to simulate the extent to which a firm may get impacted due to certain changes made by another firm in the oligopoly. It deals with how companies make decisions when they are mutually interdependent. Game theory has clearly changed the way economists deal with microeconomic and macroeconomic issues.
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