Surge Pricing Goes Mainstream

When I think about what differentiates Uber as a convenience driven customer experience, I think about their ability to dynamically price rides based on real-time supply and demand. The “surge pricing” concept is not new but Uber is the first consumer tech startup to shove price fluctuations into the face of its customers. You can easily get an Uber car on a cold rainy day in New York as long as you are willing to pay the additional price.

This blog post “Beyond Uber, Venture Investors Predict Mainstream Surge Pricing” in The Wall Street Journal describes that airlines and hotels have been doing this for years, but now new data collection technology has allowed for demand information to affect prices in other industries. The article mentions that some critics view this as strictly price-gouging. However, it makes sense to me that a luxury/convenience oriented business should be able to charge more for their services when demand far exceeds supply. Keep in the mind that in the case of a company such as Uber or Airbnb, it’s individual agents (drivers and property owners) that stand to gain the majority of this pricing increase.

BeyondPricing will likely bring this dynamic surge based pricing model to thousands of Airbnb hosts. Table8 gets you access to last minute reservations at popular restaurants. And I can definitely see this trend continuing into much of the healthcare industry.

On the flip side it will be interesting to see if any companies allow for a price-hedging option, meaning that the customer could lock-in a guaranteed price in exchange for purchasing the service well in advance. Southwest Airlines enjoyed the benefits of price-hedging during the recent US recession when they decided to lock themselves into jet fuel prices at early 2000’s prices. This benefit is of course passed onto consumers in the form of lower fares. Competitors to Uber such as Lyft are already developing a reputation for this type of service when demand is low and supply is high: Lyft offers 10-50 percent off rides during off-peak hours.

Keep a close eye out for even more industries to begin experiencing drastic changes in pricing; it’s likely their will be many opportunities as an influx of readily available information on supply and demand opens the free markets even more.

P.S. Kevin Novak recently talked about how a simple interface change at Uber dramatically changed consumer behavior during surge pricing. Check it out!

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John Marbach

Bitnami / Concorde.io.

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06 2014