Consumer surplus is the difference between the maximum price that an individual consumer (or the market) would be willing to pay to receive a good or service and the actual market price that they have to pay. Every potential consumer has a maximum price point that they are willing to pay. This price reflects the value that the potential consumer has for that particular good or service. The consumer's willingness to pay also reflects the opportunity cost of the purchase: the value or benefit of the next best alternative given up when making a choice. How much value the potential buyer has for the purchase, relative to what else the buyer could spend money on, determines the buyer's willingness to pay. Paying just a penny above this would be too costly as far as the consumer is concerned. Above this price point, the consumer is no longer in the market for the good or service.
The concept of maximum willingness to pay offers a different way to consider a demand curve, or a line on a graph showing different combinations of quantities demanded and prices, which can also be used to show the maximum price that an individual consumer (or the demand side of the market) would be willing to pay. For example, assume individual consumers are willing to pay different maximum amounts for their morning coffee, ranging from $0.10 on the low end to $4.00 on the high end. This can be represented on a demand schedule, a table that shows the quantity demanded of a good at different prices which can also be used to show the maximum price that a consumer would be willing to pay.
It's important to note these basic calculations do not take into account every possible factor that could impact demand and the price consumers are willing to pay. Ceteris paribus is a Latin term meaning "all other things being equal." In economics, ceteris paribus means all other variables are being held constant or no other changes are occurring at the same time. Ceteris paribus is an important concept in economics because in real life many aspects of the economy are in motion at the same time. In order to study the effect of prices on the quantity of a good demanded by consumers, all other variables must be held constant.
|Demand Schedule for Coffee|
|Potential Customer||Willingness to Pay|