Business Growth & Strategy

The Dilemma of Variable Pricing

Globalization has enabled unprecedented hyper-competition, and all types of dynamic comparative pricing models. Yet pricing within many segments of our economy appear like something from the The Stone Age.

If you go into a white tablecloth restaurant and order the sea bass on a Wednesday, you might pay $30.  If you return to the same restaurant on a Saturday the price would be the same, even though demand in the restaurant is likely to be very different.  Eateries price on the cost plus model built in the industrial age; the price is based on some multiple of raw materials (or labor).

Our economy doesn’t work this way anymore.  Consider the market for sports tickets. Sports franchises (the Lakers for example) set the initial price for a ticket. But the market resets the price in real time based on supply and demand. If it is a Tuesday night game against the Raptors, a seat may command a few dollars more than the face value.  A Sunday game against the Celtics could command double that within a market being energized by the likes of Stubhub and other online exchanges.

Variable pricing based on nuanced supply and demand is the future, and it is the present.  Marriott has historically been the most profitable hospitality company, as its revenue per available room (the industry benchmark) often exceeds that of rivals. In the case of hotel rooms (or airfares), business-to-consumer pricing models can shift daily based on numerous variables such as weather, events, or the calendar.  Like it or not, exchanges that provide comparative prices are proliferating, in both B2C and B2B.

I am not advocating the companies participate in such portals: they the fastest way to commoditize an industry. What I am saying is that the acceptance of such tools points out a broader problem (or opportunity), that markets re-price based on real demand, not arbitrary prices set by the seller.

Businesses, including those that market products and services business-to-business will need to be more analytical about which products and services could and should command higher prices and which will command less.  To set up a fixed pricing schedule seems overly convenient in a world where buyers have far more sensitivity over some purchases than others.  A software developer may need to sell a project at a low cost to win the business, but could charge far more (on an hourly basis) for change orders that are not foreseen by the client.

Most small and mid-market companies have not done enough research to understand the relationships between the products and services they sell.  If an accounting practice sells tax work and audit services, how should they price one against the other and what is the likelihood that clients will gravitate to them as a result of their pricing model or other variables? I think few really know.

Companies should test various pricing strategies to see what works best, and be more purposeful about tweaking pricing to reflect current demand.

The Pricing Dilemma

Category: Business Growth & Strategy


About the Author: Marc Emmer

Marc Emmer is President of Optimize Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in strategic planning. Emmer is a sixteen-year Vistage member and a Vistage speaker. The release of his second book, “Momentum, Ho

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