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In today’s competitive business landscape, pricing strategies play a crucial role in determining a company’s success. Setting the right price for your products or services is a delicate balancing act, as it directly impacts customer perceptions, profitability, and market positioning. With a plethora of pricing strategies available, understanding which one suits your business model can be overwhelming. In this article, we will explore 15 different pricing strategies and provide insights on how to determine the most effective pricing strategy for your business. By gaining a deeper understanding of these strategies and learning how to set yours, you will be equipped with the knowledge to navigate the pricing maze and make informed decisions that maximize your profits and propel your business forward.
Hopefully, you enjoy what you do, and that’s why you do it. But unfortunately, business isn’t just about doing what you love—it’s also about making money. And of course, making money means pricing your products or services correctly.
For your business to be sustainable, you’ll need a pricing strategy that generates adequate income while also being attractive to customers.
Here’s a guide to creating a pricing strategy that will keep your profits moving up and to the right.
What is a pricing strategy?
A pricing strategy is a plan for setting the best price for your products or services. The goal is to set a price that will entice customers to buy, but that isn’t so low that you’re not making a profit.
Sure, you could just trial-and-error a bunch of prices until you find the price that maximizes profit without deterring potential customers—and there will probably still be some of that even after you choose a pricing strategy for your business. But you’ll spend a lot less time and money starting with a pricing analysis than you will taking a complete shot in the dark.
15 common pricing methods and examples
Your core pricing strategy has to do with what you’re selling: a luxury, a bargain, or just a good product for a good price. Once you have that figured out, you’ll move on to choosing a pricing method, which is the how of your pricing strategy.
Pricing methods are sort of like plays in a playbook. Your product probably isn’t going to switch from being a luxury to a bargain and back again, but you can (and, in some cases, should) switch up the pricing method you’re using to better meet your market demands.
Here, we’ll look at 15 of the most common pricing methods, plus how and when to use them.
1. Value-based pricing
The first pricing method is probably the one you’re most familiar with: value-based pricing. You might think of it as the “default” pricing method since it consists of finding what the customer is willing to pay (the WTP price), making sure it’s higher than the cost of production, and setting your price somewhere in between.
If you need to make a price adjustment, you can do so as long as the new price falls within the WTP range. If the new price surpasses this range, you’ll need to explore avenues to expand the WTP range. You can do this by incorporating additional value into your product or service to increase the customer’s willingness to pay the new price.
Takeaway: Charge what you can without turning off the customer to your product.
2. Cost-plus pricing
A very similar method to value-based pricing is cost-plus pricing. Instead of basing prices on what the customer is willing to pay, businesses set prices by determining the cost of production and their ideal profit margin. For example, if a product costs $100 to make and a company’s target margin is 15%, then the product will sell for $115.
Cost-plus prices still need to fall within the WTP range, but they’re not chosen based specifically on what the customer is willing to pay. If the cost-plus price falls outside the WTP range, the company either needs to adjust its target margin or find a way to lower production costs.
Takeaway: Ensure all costs are covered and don’t keep you from reaching your desired profit margin.
3. Competitive pricing
Another recognizable pricing method is the competitive pricing model, in which a business sets prices based on what competitors charge for comparable products. If your product offers something your competitors don’t, you don’t always need to set prices competitively. But if you’re selling a bargain product, you need to be able to beat the competition.
When Norm McLaughlin formulated the pricing model for his business, Norm’s Computer Services, he decided that he wanted to be considered competitive but not cheap. That meant his pricing was on par with his peers, but he avoided the use of any terminology like “budget,” “cheap,” or “cheapest” in his small business’s marketing.
One of the things he tried early on was offering the first 15 minutes of work free of charge—if he solved the issue within that first quarter of an hour, the job would be completely free. It worked. Clients told him they wanted to pay even if he solved the issue in under 15 minutes because they didn’t feel good about paying nothing for a service that involved someone coming to their home. It was an attractive offer that increased his competitive edge without negatively impacting his bottom line.
Takeaway: Maintain or gain market share from your competitors.
4. Economy pricing
Similar to competitive pricing, economy pricing involves setting the lowest prices among your competitors to attract bargain buyers. But unlike competitive pricing, economy pricing specifically targets people who will consciously sacrifice quality in exchange for a cheaper price. Knowing this, you can source cheaper supplies, eliminate extra features, and make other changes to lower your production costs so that you can offer extremely low prices while continuing to make a profit.
The fast fashion industry is infamous for its reliance on economy pricing. Clothes are created quickly using cheap (and often ethically questionable) labor, and they wear out quickly. This allows stores to sell highly trend-conscious clothing, since customers need to replace their clothes more frequently. Unfortunately, it also causes major environmental damage—and usually doesn’t even save customers money compared to buying more expensive but longer-lasting clothing.
Takeaway: Attract price-sensitive customers while achieving high sales volume and cost efficiencies.
5. Penetration pricing
As a new business, you may find that you need to set your prices toward the lower end of the spectrum. Penetration pricing is when a business sets the price of a product or service low at the beginning, then raises the price once the company is more established.
Businesses that provide a service can draw customers in with low pricing, then win their loyalty with great service. Introductory offers can be a great way to entice new clients or customers. For example, you could offer a fixed price or percentage off the first job, or a portion of free labor. At least one of Norm’s competitors offered a 10% reduction on labor for returning customers. In Norm’s view, a better approach to customer retention was to offer them that 10% off the first job—and then do such good work that they wouldn’t mind paying the full price for subsequent jobs.
Takeaway: Gain market share and attract customers quickly with low initial prices, then raise prices once you’ve established a strong customer base.
6. Dynamic pricing
Have you ever pulled out your phone intending to grab a rideshare on a busy weekend night or (I wince just thinking about it) a holiday? Those jaw-dropping price surges are the result of what’s called dynamic pricing, or pricing that changes fluidly according to availability and demand.
Truly dynamic pricing requires an algorithm that can automatically adjust prices according to purchasing activity. Uber’s CEO isn’t sitting behind a Wizard of Oz curtain declaring price surges; the app automatically increases prices when demand is higher than the number of drivers on the road. A less immediate version of dynamic pricing can be seen at the gas pump, where prices change frequently in response to demand but aren’t automatic (in some states, like New Jersey, they can’t change more than once per day).
For small businesses, dynamic pricing works best with services or custom products that require a price quote, since customers expect prices to be different depending on the project and circumstances. If your prices are listed on your site and you change them constantly, you’ll drive away potential customers who perceive you as unpredictable or unreliable.
Takeaway: Maximize revenue while adjusting for real-time factors like demand, competition, and market conditions.
7. Price skimming
Price skimming is the opposite of penetration pricing, where you start by setting the maximum price and gradually lower it over time. This strategy works best with products that have major releases, like laptops or cars. By price skimming, you’ll be able to capture early buyers willing to pay top dollar for the latest and greatest; then, as you gradually lower the price, you’ll be able to sell the maximum number of products at each price before dropping it again.
One of the most well-known price skimmers is Apple, which has made its product launches into full events with tickets and fans to build as much hype as humanly possible. Mega-fans buy the newly unveiled products the moment they’re available, even waiting in lines overnight outside Apple Stores to do so. As each new product is released, the older models get shunted down the pricing ladder to capture buyers with lower WTP points.
Takeaway: Capture early adopters and maximize revenue with high initial prices before gradually reducing prices to attract more price-sensitive customers.
8. Hourly pricing
Often used in service-based industries, hourly pricing establishes prices based on the time spent on a particular task or service. This aligns the price directly with the effort or resources dedicated to the project. It’s a straightforward method for you and the client to understand and agree upon the service’s value.
Having said that, if your projects’ complexity or required resources vary quite a bit, a flat hourly rate may not be best for your business.
Takeaway: Ensure customers are billed fairly based on the actual hours worked.
9. Project-based pricing
Project-based pricing is also common in service-based industries. This method determines prices based on the scope, complexity, and resources required for each project. Rather than charging a fixed or hourly rate, companies assess the unique needs of each project and provide a tailored quote. That way, businesses are accounting for factors like resources, expertise, and time commitment required to complete the project successfully.
This pricing model is common for architects. When a client approaches an architecture firm with a request to design and construct a building, the firm will assess the project’s scale, complexity, materials, and other specific requirements to provide a project-based quote. Obviously, the process and requirements for designing a public bathroom vs. a skyscraper will be very different, beyond just time discrepancies.
Takeaway: Make sure profitability and effort are accounted for in your pricing structure.
10. High-low pricing
I’ve taught all my loved ones that we don’t walk into Michael’s without a coupon or buy anything at JOANN that hasn’t been marked down to at least 40% off.
These stores use high-low pricing, where they offer products or services at a higher price initially and periodically discount them. This approach attracts price-sensitive customers who are motivated by discounts (me) while also maximizing revenue from customers willing to pay higher prices to get their hands on the product before it starts flying off the shelves once it’s been discounted.
Companies can maintain a balance between profitability and reaching a larger range of customers by driving traffic to their stores or websites during promotional periods.
Takeaway: Create a perception of value to encourage customer purchases.
11. Bundle pricing
You’ve probably seen the Progressive commercials practically begging you to bundle your car and home insurance for a better deal. Or maybe you bundled your cable and phone services back in the day.
Bundle pricing is when a company combines multiple products or services and offers them at a lower overall price than what each item would individually cost. This creates a perception of added value, convenience, and savings for customers. If you sell a lot of small items or are trying to spread the love to an overlooked service, this pricing strategy may help you increase your sales.
Takeaway: Sell items together in a package deal that’s slightly cheaper than if you were to sell the items individually to increase sales and customer satisfaction.
12. Geographic pricing
I follow a candy shop on TikTok with the most delicious-looking candy I’ve ever seen. They’re located in the U.K. and I’m in the U.S., which means I’d have to pay outrageous prices to account for the shipping costs.
Geographic pricing involves setting prices based on different geographic regions or markets, considering factors like local market conditions, competitive landscape, and transportation costs like shipping. While this strategy makes it harder for a candy lover like me to get their hands on some delectable sweets, if you want to expand outside of your own geographic region, this strategy may be inevitable to keep your profits stable.
Takeaway: Maintain profitability across all your geographic markets by adjusting for variable factors.
13. Psychological pricing
A book priced at $20? I’ll pass. A book for $19.99? I’ll take 10. This common phenomenon that we all fall for time and time again is called psychological pricing. Also known as charm pricing, this strategy leverages consumers’ perceptions and emotions to make them think they’re getting a better deal than they actually are.
Making the price seem more appealing or affordable to customers effectively influences customer behavior and increases sales, even if the price difference is negligible (and even if the customer knows in their heart of hearts that it’s negligible). You can combine this strategy with another method since it’s a common standard in many industries.
Takeaway: Create the illusion of a lower price so customers perceive your price as fairer.
14. Freemium pricing
If you’re like me, you started out with the free version of Spotify until the ads were so grating on your soul that you gave in and shelled out the cash for the paid ad-free version. This method of offering a basic version of a product or service for free and charging for additional premium features or advanced functionality is called freemium pricing.
By offering a free version, companies can give customers a taste of the value their product or service offers, build brand awareness, and create a larger user base. They then monetize their user base with an enhanced experience for a subscription fee or one-time purchase. If you’re new to the market, this is a great way to get buy-in from people who would otherwise be unwilling to convert.
Takeaway: Attract a large user base and convert some into paying customers.
15. Premium pricing
Some people enjoy the prestigious vibe and social appearance of luxury brands. For example, luxury car companies, like BMW or Mercedes-Benz, position their vehicles as high-end, offering advanced technology, luxurious interiors, and superior performance. (Although I’d love to see what they have that my Honda CR-V doesn’t.)
With those high-end features comes a high-end price tag, otherwise known as premium pricing. This strategy positions the company as exclusive and superior in value in comparison to lower-priced competitors. It appeals to a target market willing to pay a premium for the perceived benefits. If that’s your target market, then this is your ticket.
Takeaway: Target affluent customers and generate higher profit margins.
Factors to consider when pricing a product
You likely know off the bat that you’ll need to consider your own business costs and competitor prices so that you can find a price that earns a profit but isn’t so high that it drives potential customers to other businesses with better deals. But unfortunately, it’s not that simple: there are a lot of factors you’ll need to consider in order to determine the best pricing strategy for you.
I know I just said cost wasn’t the only factor to consider, but it is the most important one to start with. If your prices aren’t higher than your costs, you’ll be out of business before you even get your company off the ground.
When calculating costs, make sure you include:
Employee wages (that includes what you pay yourself!)
Overhead costs (rent, insurance, utilities, taxes, etc.)
Software and services for things like accounting, marketing, and legal
Shipping and transportation
When costs change, your prices will have to change in order to stay competitive and keep making a profit. Businesses that rely directly on commodities as supplies—so things like lumber, oil, and metals—will be most vulnerable to economic fluctuations, but all industries are affected in some way or another by global, political, and social changes.
Conduct thorough research to identify what economic conditions your business thrives in, and recession-proof your business. Be proactive about anticipating events that could affect your supply and demand. You especially need to incorporate a safety net into your profit margins to ensure you have enough funds to stay in business during slow periods if you’re in a more temperamental industry.
Your prices don’t always need to be lower than your competitors’, but if they’re higher, you need to be able to justify it with added quality. Your products don’t always need to be quality, but if they’re low-quality, you’ll need to be able to justify it with lower prices. Where you fall on either side of this trade-off determines your value position, which we’ll discuss in a bit. But no matter how you decide to position your product, you’ll need to stay up-to-date on what your competitors charge, pricing trends in your industry, and what pricing models work best for your market.
It’s usually not difficult to find out what your competitors charge—either by visiting their websites or by calling them to ask. As you gather information for your competitor analysis, keep a spreadsheet where you can record prices and note things like introductory offers, loyalty programs, and discounts.
It’s a common misconception that businesses have to sell good-quality products to be successful. There are buyers at every price and quality level; what matters is how your product quality and price are positioned with respect to each other.
One of the easiest industries for demonstrating this concept is the airline industry, because there’s no way to mistake the difference between a high- and low-quality purchase when there’s a literal curtain dividing them. Normally, price and quality will align with one another. First-class tickets offer high quality at a high price, economy tickets offer low quality at a low price, and everyone else gets piled into coach.
Value prices occur when quality is higher than price—when you fly during off-peak times or get upgraded to first class for free. When demand is high and seats are limited, the airlines can afford to charge higher prices for lower-quality seats, counting on the fact that you’ll pay full price for a terrible seat if it’s your only option.
When you apply this to your own pricing, ask yourself what kind of value your product or service offers. Are you solving an urgent problem, or is your product more for comfort and enjoyment? If you sell a first-class product, you’ll lose money by selling it at economy prices. If you sell an economy product, you’ll need to sell it for a bargain price.
As you start off in business, it’s important to remember that you can change your pricing strategy as you go along. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so it’s more about building a client base of satisfied customers who will come back to you again and again than it is to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.
And the good news is that you don’t have to get everything right from the very beginning. You can try different approaches and make adjustments as you go until you’re achieving the outcomes you want. To continue optimizing for success, learn how you can automate your small business.
The best eCommerce website building platforms for online stores
Optimizing your small business product mix
The best CRMs for small businesses
The best project management software for small businesses
This article was originally published in December 2020 by Norm Mclaughlin. It was most recently updated in July 2023.
In conclusion, pricing strategies play a crucial role in determining the success of a business. With the ever-evolving market dynamics and intense competition, it is essential for businesses to carefully consider their pricing strategy and ensure it aligns with their overall business goals and objectives.
We have explored 15 pricing strategies, each with its own advantages and considerations. These strategies range from cost-based pricing, value-based pricing, and competitive pricing to penetration pricing, skimming pricing, and dynamic pricing. It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to pricing strategies. The selection of the most suitable strategy should be based on factors such as the target market, product differentiation, industry dynamics, and business objectives.
Setting the right price for a product or service requires a comprehensive understanding of customer preferences, competitors, cost structures, and market trends. This can be achieved through market research, analysis of customer behavior, and understanding the perceived value of the offering. Additionally, businesses must also consider the impact of pricing on their brand image, profitability, and long-term sustainability.
To set your pricing strategy effectively, it is advisable to gather data and insights from multiple sources, analyze market conditions, and conduct tests or experiments to determine the optimal price points. Regular monitoring and evaluation of the pricing strategy are also vital to adapt and refine it as market conditions change.
Ultimately, a well-defined pricing strategy can help businesses maximize their profits, capture market share, attract target customers, and create a sustainable competitive advantage. It is an ongoing process that requires continuous evaluation, adjustment, and responsiveness to market dynamics. By carefully considering the various pricing strategies and tailoring them to their specific business needs, companies can set prices that not only meet customer expectations but also contribute to the overall success and growth of the organization.
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