Threat of substitutes

Threat of substitutes occurs when companies within one industry are forced to compete with industries producing substitute products or services. It comprises one of the five forces that determine the intensity of competition in an industry. The others are barriers to entry, the bargaining power of buyers, the bargaining power of suppliers and industry rivalry.

Substitutes limit an industry’s potential returns by placing a ceiling on the prices that firms within that industry can charge to make a profit. As the price-performance alternative offered by substitutes becomes more attractive, it becomes even more difficult for those firms to make a profit. Demand for substitutes can also reduce the demand for industry products and services. Substitutes can create intense competition during normal economic times, and reduce potential profit increases during positive economic times.

Identifying substitutes involves searching for other products or services that can perform the same function as the industry’s product or service. Positioning an industry’s products or services against the substitutes may take place via collective industry actions (e.g., sustained advertising by industry participants).

Key substitutes

Substitute products that deserve the most attention include those:

  • subject to trends that improve their price-performance tradeoff with the industry’s product
  • produced by industries earning high profits—development increases competition in their own industries, causing price reduction or performance improvement


Porter, M. (1998).Competitive Strategy.New York: Free Press. pp. 25-26

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