Techniques of Demand Forecasting

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to demand forecasting- one is to obtain information about the likely purchase behavior of the buyer through collecting expert’s opinion or by conducting interviews with consumers, the other is to use past experience as a guide through a set of statistical techniques. Both these techniques of demand forecasting rely on varying degrees of judgment. The first method is usually found suitable for short-term forecasting, the latter for long-term forecasting. There are specific techniques which fall under each of these broad methods.

Judgmental Approaches to Forecasting

By their nature, judgment-based forecasts use subjective and qualitative data to forecast future outcomes. They inherently rely on expert opinion, experience, judgment, intuition, conjecture, and other “soft” data. Such techniques are often used when historical data are not available, as is the case with the introduction of a new product or service, and in forecasting the impact of fundamental changes such as new technologies, environmental changes, cultural changes, legal changes, and so forth. Some of the more common procedures include the following.

1. Simple Survey Methods

For forecasting the demand for existing product, such survey methods are often employed. In this set of methods, we may undertake the following exercise.

  1. Consumers Survey – Complete Enumeration Method: Under this, the forecaster undertakes a complete survey of all consumers whose demand he intends to forecast, Once this information is collected, the sales forecasts are obtained by simply adding the probable demands of all consumers. The principle merit of this method is that the forecaster does not introduce any bias or value judgment of his own. He simply records the data and aggregates. But it is a very tedious and cumbersome process; it is not feasible where a large number of consumers are involved. Moreover if the data are wrongly recorded, this method will be totally useless.
  2. Consumer Survey – Sample Survey Method: Under this method, the forecaster selects a few consuming units out of the relevant population and then collects data on their probable demands for the product during the forecast period. The total demand of sample units is finally blown up to generate the total demand forecast. Compared to the former survey, this method is less tedious and less costly, and subject to less data error; but the choice of sample is very critical. If the sample is properly chosen, then it will yield dependable results; otherwise there may be sampling error. The sampling error can decrease with every increase in sample size
  3. End-user Method of Consumers Survey: Under this method, the sales of a product are projected through a survey of its end-users. A product is used for final consumption or as an intermediate product in the production of other goods in the domestic market, or it may be exported as well as imported. The demands for final consumption and exports net of imports are estimated through some other forecasting method, and its demand for intermediate use is estimated through a survey of its user industries.

2. Consensus Methods

As an alternative to the “bottom-up” survey approaches, consensus methods use a small group of individuals to develop general forecasts.

  1. Experts Opinion Poll: In this method, the experts on the particular product whose demand is under study are requested to give their ‘opinion’ or ‘feel’ about the product. These experts, dealing in the same or similar product, are able to predict the likely sales of a given product in future periods under different conditions based on their experience. If the number of such experts is large and their experience-based reactions are different, then an average-simple or weighted –is found to lead to unique forecasts. Sometimes this method is also called the ‘hunch method’ but it replaces analysis by opinions and it can thus turn out to be highly subjective in nature.
  2. Reasoned Opinion – Delphi Technique: This is a variant of the opinion poll method. Here is an attempt to arrive at a consensus in an uncertain area by questioning a group of experts repeatedly until the responses appear to converge along a single line. The participants are supplied with responses to previous questions (including seasonings from others in the group by a coordinator or a leader or operator of some sort). Such feedback may result in an expert revising his earlier opinion. This may lead to a narrowing down of the divergent views (of the experts) expressed earlier. The Delphi Techniques, followed by the Greeks earlier, thus generates “reasoned opinion” in place of “unstructured opinion”; but this is still a poor proxy for market behavior of economic variables.

Judgmental techniques of demand forecasting are important in that they are often used to determine an enterprise’s strategy. They are also used in more mundane decisions, such as determining the quality of a potential vendor by asking for references, and there are many other reasonable applications. It is true that judgment based techniques are an inadequate basis for a demand forecasting system, but this should not be construed to mean that judgment has no role to play in logistics forecasting or that salespeople have no knowledge to bring to the problem. In fact, it is often the case that sales and marketing people have valuable information about sales promotions, new products, competitor activity, and so forth, which should be incorporated into the forecast somehow. Many organizations treat such data as additional information that is used to modify the existing forecast rather than as the baseline data used to create the forecast in the first place.

Experimental Approaches to Forecasting

In the early stages of new product development it is important to get some estimate of the level of potential demand for the product. A variety of market research techniques are used to this end.

  1. Customer Surveys are sometimes conducted over the telephone or on street corners, at shopping malls, and so forth. The new product is displayed or described, and potential customers are asked whether they would be interested in purchasing the item. While this approach can help to isolate attractive or unattractive product features, experience has shown that “intent to purchase” as measured in this way is difficult to translate into a meaningful demand forecast. This falls short of being a true “demand experiment”.
  2. Consumer Panels are also used in the early phases of product development. Here a small group of potential customers are brought together in a room where they can use the product and discuss it among themselves. Panel members are often paid a nominal amount for their participation. Like surveys, these procedures are more useful for analyzing product attributes than for estimating demand, and they do not constitute true “demand experiments” because no purchases take place.
  3. Test Marketing is often employed after new product development but prior to a full-scale national launch of a new brand or product. The idea is to choose a relatively small, reasonably isolated, yet somehow demographically “typical” market area. The total marketing plan for the item, including advertising, promotions, and distribution tactics, is “rolled out” and implemented in the test market, and measurements of product awareness, market penetration, and market share are made. While these data are used to estimate potential sales to a larger national market, the emphasis here is usually on “fine-tuning” the total marketing plan and insuring that no problems or potential embarrassments have been overlooked. For example, Proctor and Gamble extensively test-marketed its Pringles potato chip product made with the fat substitute Olestra to assure that the product would be broadly acceptable to the market.
  4. Scanner Panel Data procedures have recently been developed that permit demand experimentation on existing brands and products. In these procedures, a large set of household customers agrees to participate in an ongoing study of their grocery buying habits. Panel members agree to submit information about the number of individuals in the household, their ages, household income, and so forth. Whenever they buy groceries at a supermarket participating in the research, their household identity is captured along with the identity and price of every item they purchased. This is straightforward due to the use of UPC codes and optical scanners at checkout. This procedure results in a rich database of observed customer buying behavior. The analyst is in a position to see each purchase in light of the full set of alternatives to the chosen brand that were available in the store at the time of purchase, including all other brands, prices, sizes, discounts, deals, coupon offers, and so on. Statistical models such as discrete choice models can be used to analyze the relationships in the data. The manufacturer and merchandiser are now in a position to test a price promotion and estimate its probable effect on brand loyalty and brand switching behavior among customers in general. This approach can develop valuable insight into demand behavior at the customer level, but once again it can be difficult to extend this insight directly into demand forecasts in the logistics system.

Complex Statistical Methods

We shall now move from simple to complex set of methods of demand forecasting. Such methods are taken usually from statistics. As such, you may be quite familiar with some the statistical tools and techniques, as a part of quantitative methods for business decisions.

1. Time Series Analysis or Trend Method

Under this method, the time series data on the under forecast are used to fit a trend line or curve either graphically or through statistical method of Least Squares. The trend line is worked out by fitting a trend equation to time series data with the aid of an estimation method. The trend equation could take either a linear or any kind of non-linear form. The trend method outlined above often yields a dependable forecast. The advantage in this method is that it does not require the formal knowledge of economic theory and the market, it only needs the time series data. The only limitation in this method is that it assumes that the past is repeated in future. Also, it is an appropriate method for long-run forecasts, but inappropriate for short-run forecasts. Sometimes the time series analysis may not reveal a significant trend of any kind. In that case, the moving average method or exponentially weighted moving average method is used to smoothen the series.

2. Barometric Techniques or Lead-Lag Indicators Method

This consists in discovering a set of series of some variables which exhibit a close association in their movement over a period or time.

For example, it shows the movement of agricultural income (AY series) and the sale of tractors (ST series). The movement of AY is similar to that of ST, but the movement in ST takes place after a year’s time lag compared to the movement in AY. Thus if one knows the direction of the movement in agriculture income (AY), one can predict the direction of movement of tractors’ sale (ST) for the next year. Thus agricultural income (AY) may be used as a barometer (a leading indicator) to help the short-term forecast for the sale of tractors.

Generally, this barometric method has been used in some of the developed countries for predicting business cycles situation. For this purpose, some countries construct what are known as ‘diffusion indices’ by combining the movement of a number of leading series in the economy so that turning points in business activity could be discovered well in advance. Some of the limitations of this method may be noted however. The leading indicator method does not tell you anything about the magnitude of the change that can be expected in the lagging series, but only the direction of change. Also, the lead period itself may change overtime. Through our estimation we may find out the best-fitted lag period on the past data, but the same may not be true for the future. Finally, it may not be always possible to find out the leading, lagging or coincident indicators of the variable for which a demand forecast is being attempted.

3. Correlation and Regression

These involve the use of econometric methods to determine the nature and degree of association between/among a set of variables. Econometrics, you may recall, is the use of economic theory, statistical analysis and mathematical functions to determine the relationship between a dependent variable (say, sales) and one or more independent variables (like price, income, advertisement etc.). The relationship may be expressed in the form of a demand function, as we have seen earlier. Such relationships, based on past data can be used for forecasting. The analysis can be carried with varying degrees of complexity. Here we shall not get into the methods of finding out ‘correlation coefficient’ or ‘regression equation’; you must have covered those statistical techniques as a part of quantitative methods. Similarly, we shall not go into the question of economic theory. We shall concentrate simply on the use of these econometric techniques in forecasting.

We are on the realm of multiple regression and multiple correlation. The form of the equation may be:

DX = a + b1 A + b2PX + b3Py

You know that the regression coefficients b1, b2, b3 and b4 are the components of relevant elasticity of demand. For example, b1 is a component of price elasticity of demand. The reflect the direction as well as proportion of change in demand for x as a result of a change in any of its explanatory variables. For example, b2< 0 suggest that DX and PX are inversely related; b4 > 0 suggest that x and y are substitutes; b3 > 0 suggest that x is a normal commodity with commodity with positive income-effect.

Given the estimated value of and bi, you may forecast the expected sales (DX), if you know the future values of explanatory variables like own price (PX), related price (Py), income (B) and advertisement (A). Lastly, you may also recall that the statistics R2 (Co-efficient of determination) gives the measure of goodness of fit. The closer it is to unity, the better is the fit, and that way you get a more reliable forecast.

The principle advantage of this method is that it is prescriptive as well descriptive. That is, besides generating demand forecast, it explains why the demand is what it is. In other words, this technique has got both explanatory and predictive value. The regression method is neither mechanistic like the trend method nor subjective like the opinion poll method. In this method of forecasting, you may use not only time-series data but also cross section data. The only precaution you need to take is that data analysis should be based on the logic of economic theory.

4. Simultaneous Equations Method

Here is a very sophisticated method of forecasting. It is also known as the ‘complete system approach’ or ‘econometric model building’. In your earlier units, we have made reference to such econometric models. Presently we do not intend to get into the details of this method because it is a subject by itself. Moreover, this method is normally used in macro-level forecasting for the economy as a whole; in this course, our focus is limited to micro elements only. Of course, you, as corporate managers, should know the basic elements in such an approach.

The method is indeed very complicated. However, in the days of computer, when package programmes are available, this method can be used easily to derive meaningful forecasts. The principle advantage in this method is that the forecaster needs to estimate the future values of only the exogenous variables unlike the regression method where he has to predict the future values of all, endogenous and exogenous variables affecting the variable under forecast. The values of exogenous variables are easier to predict than those of the endogenous variables. However, such econometric models have limitations, similar to that of regression method.

About Abey Francis

Abey Francis is the founder of MBAKnol - A Blog about Management Theories and Practices - and he's always happy to share his passion for innovative management practices. You can found him on Google+ and Facebook. If you’d like to reach him, send him an email to: [email protected]
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