Picking up on Lower Transaction Costs

Suppose a firm was pondering whether to integrate vertically into supplier activities or to keep buying supplies from the open market. One important factor is the decision would be the cost of each option. If the firm was buying the supplies from the market, it would have to search for the best price, best quality, and best on-time delivery, negotiate and sign a contract, and make sure that the terms of the contract are enforced. All these activities have costs associated with them—transaction costs. If the firm decided to integrate vertically, it would have to establish a value chain for the activities. It would hire, train, organize, motivate, and lead employees who carry out the activities of the supplier value chain internally—all of which also costs money. The firm would integrate vertically if its costs of organizing transactions internally are lower than those of doing so externally. That would depend on four things: asset specificity, uncertainty, the frequency of transactions, and whether the supplier is opportunistic. Asset specificity refers to how idiosyncratic an asset in the relationship becomes as it (the relationship) develops.


All else being equal, the higher the asset specificity, uncertainty, and frequency of transactions, the higher the transaction costs of market transactions, and the more the manufacturer should think about vertical integration.


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