Dynamic Pricing: Is The Price Tag Legacy Coming To An End?

Dynamic pricing is the practice of having multiple price points based on several factors, such as customer segments, peak times of service, and time-based consumption that allow the company is applying dynamic pricing to expand its revenue generation.

Thus, wherein a static or fixed pricing a company applies the same price level to any customer and market condition, in a dynamic pricing strategy a company applies several prices based on a few critical factors for the business

When price tags didn’t even exist

Today we go to any store find a price tag and assume that is the value of that item we’re purchasing. There’s no question asked, nor interaction in many cases with the clerk. Yet there was a time when price tags didn’t exist.

Finding the origin of things is always hard. Before the 19th-century price tags didn’t exist. In other words, before buying anything you needed to bargain and haggle with the clerk to finalize the purchase.

When price tags got introduced, they did represent an incredible innovation.

Indeed, stores could finally manage more inventories with fewer clerks. That’s because clients needed to walk to the clerk to ask for the price and after haggling, a bit agree on the purchase.

This might have been time-consuming in terms of the clerks required to manage the inventories, the training needed to have clerks know the price ranges, and what was allowed. And the time it could take for customers to bargain the price.

As price tags have become the norm, where the same prices are applied to anyone, we find it odd when on the web the same thing changes in price.

In many cases, we look for a flight ticket, which price is different, or an item on a popular e-commerce platform that according to where and when we browse shows us a slightly different price.

This makes us wonder whether the era of price tags is over in favor of what is called dynamic pricing.

Also, many dynamic pricing strategies are already used in many of the products or services you might buy. It’s just that you don’t realize that.

What is dynamic pricing?

Dynamic pricing is the practice where prices for goods or services change based on several factors.

Think of the case in which there is a surge in demand for a service (Uber for example), and the price of it rises accordingly.

Uber is a two-sided marketplace, a platform business model that connects drivers and riders, with an interface that has elements of gamification, that makes it easy for two sides to connect and transact. Uber makes money by collecting fees from the platform’s gross bookings.

Therefore, there are certain times of the day or certain periods where the same service or item can be sold for more. Also, at a certain interval of time, the demand for a service might be higher. Think of the case of more people trying to purchase a ticket for a concert which might drive the price up.

Is dynamic pricing legal?

As fixed prices have become the norm after the 19th century, people often wonder whether dynamic pricing is legal.

Yet it is when price discrimination depends on economic factors that are affected by demand and offer. In other cases, if price discrimination might be based on gender, race, or religion that becomes illegal.

Technological changes are enabling dynamic pricing

Think of the case in which you enter a store to purchase a coffee and pay $2. Yet a person enters the same coffee shop and purchases the same coffee for $1.

Would you feel good about it? Chances are you’d feel ripped and perceive the so-called dynamic pricing as a fraud.

Think of a different scenario. If you’re purchasing an item on e-commerce, that item price is set according to several factors.

The algorithm that drives the offering on the e-commerce platform has quite some data about your behavior, and spending habits, it knows your location, and it knows the time of purchase.

Based on all those variables it determines the price of the good you’re buying. You would perceive it as all done algorithmically and automatically by a machine, which is not thinking. You might perceive it as technological advancement.

Besides, if you don’t feel like buying, you can see quite the e-commerce and get back when and if prices are lower.

The fact that technology nowadays allows platforms to embed algorithms makes it easy for those companies to leverage dynamic prices and makes it easier for consumers to accept this practice.

How can you apply dynamic pricing to your business?

If you’re evaluating dynamic pricing for your business, then it makes sense to understand whether your business model might be better off with this approach.

For instance, do you serve several segments that have entirely different budget levels?

Think of a company that serves both consumers and business clients. The former will have a budget that is way lower compared to the latter. In that case, you can achieve higher revenue by simply repackaging your product or service in a different format.

Therefore, for the customer segment with the highest budget, it might make sense to have your service at a certain time of the day. Thus the price for that segment will be higher. In other cases, your product or service might have peaked.

Think of the case of more people consuming electricity at a certain time of the day. Based on simple demand and offer electricity will cost more.

Think also of a coffee shop for which customers purchasing from the early hours of the morning are willing to pay more. You can create a fast track that makes the price higher for those customers.

Think also of the case of e-commerce that does business around the world. In certain countries (like the US and Canada) the value of the service is higher and the spending ability as well.

Therefore, based on the IP of the user accessing your store prices will change to reflect local spending habits.

In short, there are several ways in which you can apply dynamic pricing to your business, and it boils down to a few scenarios:

  • Peak or surge pricing: based on peak hours or periods where the service gets charged more.
  • Segmented pricing: based on the spending ability of some customers compared to others.
  • Changing conditions: applied for instance when sales start to slow down due to macroeconomic factors, to keep up with the trend and adjust them upward again when the market gets better.
  • Time-based pricing: offer faster service for a higher charge.
  • Penetration pricing: lower the price of service as a sort of marketing expense to penetrate a markets

Other dynamic pricing examples

To better understand why prices fluctuate in response to various factors, we’ve mentioned some dynamic pricing examples below.

In the current online e-commerce industry, there are many examples of dynamic pricing.

Indeed, as most of the interactions happen without a salesperson in the way of finalizing the transactions, digital platforms experiment as much as possible with pricing dynamics that match users’ journeys with the final product price. 

Let’s see some of them. dynamic pricing

One example is Booking’s Occupancy-Based Pricing. As Booking explains

Occupancy Based Pricing allows you to maximize the occupation rate of your more spacious (but, usually harder to book) and most valuable rooms by offering a tailored price depending on the number of people staying in each room.

The occupancy-based pricing works in this way. If perhaps a room can fit up to 4 people, instead of offering a single option, for 4 people, the property owner can offer the room for groups of 3, 2, or even to a single guest. Each group will have different pricing. 

Booking shows this simple example: 

Standard Price:

  • Price for 4 people = 100$

Example with Occupancy-Based Pricing, for a Quadruple Room: 

  • Price for 4 people: 100$
  • Price for 3 people: 90$
  • Price for 2 people: 80$
  • Price for 1 person: 60$

This enables the owner to fill the room more easily while matching the proper price with the potential customer’s needs. 

Amazon dynamic pricing

Amazon has a diversified business model. In 2021 Amazon posted over $469 billion in revenues and over $33 billion in net profits. Online stores contributed to over 47% of Amazon revenues, Third-party Seller Services,  Amazon AWS, Subscription Services, Advertising revenues, and Physical Stores.

One of the digital platforms that are able to leverage dynamic pricing is definitely Amazon. Indeed, on Amazon, also a product like the Kindle might change in price throughout the year: 

amazon-kindle-price-variationKindle price chance tracked by Keepa

The price chance will depend on multiple factors, including seasons, the ability of third-party sellers to run their own campaigns on the platform, and Amazon’s experimentation with pricing to enable more convenience compared to retail prices. 

Airbnb smart pricing

Airbnb is a platform business model making money by charging guests a service fee between 5% and 15% of the reservation, while the commission from hosts is generally 3%. For instance, on a $100 booking per night set by a host, Airbnb might make as much as $15, split between host and guest fees.

Airbnb offers the ability to run smart prices on the platform. As the company explains

When you have Smart Pricing turned on, your pricing suggestions reflect the controls you’ve set, combined with a lot of data. In fact, Smart Pricing takes into account over 70 different factors that could change your price. 

What are some of the factors taken into account? As Airbnb points out, some of those factors might comprise: 

  • Lead-time or how close is the booking to the check-in date. 
  • Market popularity or how many people are looking for the same home (of course, the price will go up for more popular locations).
  • Seasonality, as the high season comes close the prices will go up. 
  • Listing popularity or the pricing increase as the listing gets more and more views. 
  • Listing details or the more amenities you add to the listing the more the price might increase or vary. 
  • Bookings history or when the host closes higher booking rates compared to what the algorithm suggested, the pricing will adjust to that new pricing, so enable the host to earn more. 
  • Review history or as the listing gets more positive reviews the price will adjust upward, based on those reviews. 
In 2021, Airbnb generated enabled $46.9 Billion in Gross Booking Value, and it generated $6 Billion in service fee revenues. In 2021, there were $300.6 Million Nights and Experiences Booked, ad an average service fee of 12.78%, at an Average Value per Booking, of $155.94.
In Q3 2022, Airbnb recorded its most profitable quarter ever. With revenues of $2.89 billion in Q3 2022, Airbnb posted a record of $1.21 in net income. The first nine months of 2022 posted revenues of $6.5 billion and a net income of $1.64 billion. Thus Airbnb will be profitable in 2022.

Airline ticketing

Like the vast majority of airlines, American carrier Delta Airlines utilizes dynamic pricing in its airfares to maximize profit. How does this play out in practice?

  • Higher prices if there is less competition – Delta adjusts its prices according to the level of competition on certain routes. Industry analyst AI Multiple found that Delta charged around $200 more for its Minneapolis-St Paul (MSP) to Detroit Wayne County (DTW) route than a flight from MSP to Lansing. Both routes are around 650 miles, but since Delta was the only airline flying between MSP to DTW, it could charge a higher price.
  • Higher prices for frequent flyers – according to a piece published in Time Magazine, Delta was at one point charging its frequent flyers $300 more than an economy seat on the same flight. Experts believe Delta was able to use dynamic pricing because frequent flyers were often businesspeople who needed to travel frequently.

Event ticketing

Dynamic pricing is also used to sell more tickets at major sporting events. In 2011, baseball team the San Francisco Giants initiated a project to become the first pro sports team to use the approach. 

Team management identified that consumer demand was ultimately determined by:

  • The time and day of the match.
  • Who was pitching, and 
  • Whether there were any special promotions.

Based on this information, they introduced the SaaS application Qcue into their ticketing system.

The app, which analyzes dozens of factors to provide price recommendations, was trialed on 2,000 seats in the outfield and upper deck which were usually the last to sell.

Dynamic prices netted the team an additional $500,000 from the sale of 25,000 seats over the season.

Qcue’s algorithm was fine-tuned in the months after, with ticket prices rising in value in response to factors such as Friday night fireworks or the rock-star-esque appeal of pitcher Tim Lincecum.

In 2010, Qcue was rolled out park-wide with daily price recommendations increasing club revenue by $7 million. 

Utility consumption

While most households in the United States pay a flat, per-kilowatt-hour fee for their electricity, dynamic pricing and smart meters are now seen as a way to foster sustainable energy use.

In this context, consumers pay a higher price for electricity when storms or heat waves reduce the supply of available energy.

Smart meters then alert consumers via text or SMS that the price of power will be increasing over a set period, which encourages consumers to turn off appliances on standby and reduce discretionary power use.

Dynamic pricing has already been rolled out in Washington, D.C., where consumers reduced energy consumption in response to price increases during peak demand.

Aside from the environmental benefits of sustainable energy use, dynamic pricing when applied on a broader scale is seen as an effective way to reduce the risk of system-wide blackouts.

Pricing Strategy Examples

A pricing strategy or model helps companies find the pricing formula in fit with their business models. Thus aligning the customer needs with the product type while trying to enable profitability for the company. A good pricing strategy aligns the customer with the company’s long term financial sustainability to build a solid business model.

From the FourWeekMBA research, we identified 14 pricing example formulas that you can borrow for your business:

AppSumoed: transforming subscriptions in lifetime deals

This implies a pricing formula, where to launch your product (especially for software products) you move (temporary) to a one-time deal. This enables the product to quickly gain traction.

Auction: the winner takes it all

In an auction pricing strategy, two or more people bid on a product, and the product gets sold to the bidder who offers the most.

Bundled: more for less

Bundling consists of grouping a set of products and services, more conveniently priced if they were priced singularly.

Consumption-based: pay what you consume

In a consumption-based model, customers only pay when the product gets used. This is usually well suited for those services or products that require continuous usage.

Couponized: discounted as default

In a “couponized” scenario, the platform acts as a deal platform where you can find default continuous discounts.

Fixed-price: the safe price

In a fixed-pricing pricing strategy, the company “promises” to keep the same pricing level forever, thus assuring customers about the potential future market fluctuations.

Pay-as-you-go: charge it up and go

In a pay-as-you-go pricing strategy, you can enable customers to prepay for a certain level of service to be used at their discretion.

Pay as you want: customer-made pricing

In a pay-as-you-want model, customers make the price.

Platformed: get a cut on one or both sides

In a platform business model, you can make money by charging a single side of the platform (LinkedIn charges recruiters) or by collecting a fee from both (Airbnb earns a commission from both hosts and guests).

Psychological pricing: change the product’s perception

In a psychological pricing strategy, rather than changing the physical nature of the product offered, you can leverage on psychological elements to carve the perception around your product.

SaaSified: transform a product into a service

In the SaaS industry, most software is sold as subscription services.

Subsidized: let the rich pay for the poor

In a subsidized pricing strategy, a set of customers pay for everything else. This pricing strategy makes the product free for most customers while the premium for others.

Uberized: dynamic pricing

Dynamic pricing is the practice of having multiple price points based on several factors, such as customer segments, peak times of service, and time-based consumption, that allows the company to apply dynamic pricing to make the transactions on the platform more scalable.

Unbundled: let them get what they want

In an unbundled scenario, rather than trying to lock in with a higher-priced product bundle, the company can make available the only product people want the most.

Why do companies use dynamic pricing?

Dynamic pricing can be used for several reasons. In some cases, it can help gain market shares or tackle demand and supply in a network. Take the case of how Uber used dynamic pricing to make some routes more interesting to drivers in specific areas and times of the day. Or how dynamic pricing helped Uber make rides more convenient for riders, thus gaining market shares.

What factors affect dynamic pricing?

The structure of the market, network, demand, and supply dynamics are all factors that influence dynamic pricing. Dynamic pricing, if adequately rolled out, can help improve the value of a network by regulating demand and supply, thus making the network more fluid.

Is dynamic pricing fair to customers?

In some instances, dynamic pricing can enhance a service. Take the Uber rides that are unavailable at specific times or areas. While dynamic pricing might make these rides more expensive, it also enables an additional service to be available to customers. In other cases where demand is scarce, dynamic pricing might make the price lower for customers, in order to incentivize the market’s demand.

Other Pricing Examples

Premium Pricing

The premium pricing strategy involves a company setting a price for its products that exceeds similar products offered by competitors.

Price Skimming

Price skimming is primarily used to maximize profits when a new product or service is released. Price skimming is a product pricing strategy where a company charges the highest initial price a customer is willing to pay and then lowers the price over time.

Productized Services

Productized services are services that are sold with clearly defined parameters and pricing. In short, that is about taking any product and transforming it into a service. This trend has been strong as the subscription-based economy developed.

Menu Costs

Menu costs describe any cost that a business must absorb when it decides to change its prices. The term itself references restaurants that must incur the cost of reprinting their menus every time they want to increase the price of an item. In an economic context, menu costs are expenses that are incurred whenever a business decides to change its prices.

Price Floor

A price floor is a control placed on a good, service, or commodity to stop its price from falling below a certain limit. Therefore, a price floor is the lowest legal price a good, service, or commodity can sell for in the market. One of the best-known examples of a price floor is the minimum wage, a control set by the government to ensure employees receive an income that affords them a basic standard of living.

Predatory Pricing

Predatory pricing is the act of setting prices low to eliminate competition. Industry dominant firms use predatory pricing to undercut the prices of their competitors to the point where they are making a loss in the short term. Predatory prices help incumbents keep a monopolistic position, by forcing new entrants out of the market.

Price Ceiling

A price ceiling is a price control or limit on how high a price can be charged for a product, service, or commodity. Price ceilings are limits imposed on the price of a product, service, or commodity to protect consumers from prohibitively expensive items. These limits are usually imposed by the government but can also be set in the resale price maintenance (RPM) agreement between a product manufacturer and its distributors. 

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.

Anchoring Effect

The anchoring effect describes the human tendency to rely on an initial piece of information (the “anchor”) to make subsequent judgments or decisions. Price anchoring, then, is the process of establishing a price point that customers can reference when making a buying decision.

Pricing Setter

A price maker is a player who sets the price, independently from what the market does. The price setter is the firm with the influence, market power, and differentiation to be able to set the price for the whole market, thus charging more and yet still driving substantial sales without losing market shares.

Read Next: Pricing Strategy.

Connected Business Concepts

Revenue Modeling

Revenue model patterns are a way for companies to monetize their business models. A revenue model pattern is a crucial building block of a business model because it informs how the company will generate short-term financial resources to invest back into the business. Thus, the way a company makes money will also influence its overall business model.

Dynamic Pricing


Geographical Pricing

Geographical pricing is the process of adjusting the sale price of a product or service according to the location of the buyer. Therefore, geographical pricing is a strategy where the business adjusts the sale price of an item according to the geographic region where the item is sold. The strategy helps the business maximize revenue by reducing the cost of transporting goods to different markets. However, geographical pricing can also be used to create an impression of regional scarcity, novelty, or prestige. 

Price Sensitivity

Price sensitivity can be explained using the price elasticity of demand, a concept in economics that measures the variation in product demand as the price of the product itself varies. In consumer behavior, price sensitivity describes and measures fluctuations in product demand as the price of that product changes.

Price Ceiling

A price ceiling is a price control or limit on how high a price can be charged for a product, service, or commodity. Price ceilings are limits imposed on the price of a product, service, or commodity to protect consumers from prohibitively expensive items. These limits are usually imposed by the government but can also be set in the resale price maintenance (RPM) agreement between a product manufacturer and its distributors. 

Price Elasticity

Price elasticity measures the responsiveness of the quantity demanded or supplied of a good to a change in its price. It can be described as elastic, where consumers are responsive to price changes, or inelastic, where consumers are less responsive to price changes. Price elasticity, therefore, is a measure of how consumers react to the price of products and services.

Economies of Scale

In Economics, Economies of Scale is a theory for which, as companies grow, they gain cost advantages. More precisely, companies manage to benefit from these cost advantages as they grow, due to increased efficiency in production. Thus, as companies scale and increase production, a subsequent decrease in the costs associated with it will help the organization scale further.

Diseconomies of Scale

In Economics, a Diseconomy of Scale happens when a company has grown so large that its costs per unit will start to increase. Thus, losing the benefits of scale. That can happen due to several factors arising as a company scales. From coordination issues to management inefficiencies and lack of proper communication flows.

Network Effects

network effect is a phenomenon in which as more people or users join a platform, the more the value of the service offered by the platform improves for those joining afterward.

Negative Network Effects

In a negative network effect as the network grows in usage or scale, the value of the platform might shrink. In platform business models network effects help the platform become more valuable for the next user joining. In negative network effects (congestion or pollution) reduce the value of the platform for the next user joining. 

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