In 2013, fourteen of the top 30 global brands by market capitalization were platform-oriented companies—companies that created and now dominate arenas in which buyers, seller, and a variety of third parties are connected in real time. These leaders include companies such as Akamai, LinkedIn, Airbnb and Uber. (See our earlier blog posts on Airbnb and Uber).
Of those brands, Uber in particular is known for its use of dynamic pricing—price fluctuations driven by supply and demand. For example, on a rainy Saturday night, Uber may raise its fares because its drivers are in high demand and more consumers opt for car services over public transportation or a walk in the rain. Why is this not considered price gouging, you ask? Because Uber is transparent about their dynamic model—the app alerts users that the current rate is higher than usual, and by how much, giving the consumer the option to decline and find alternate means of transportation.
As Uber investor and board member Bill Gurley points out in his blog post on Uber’s dynamic pricing model, this strategy is not new. Hotels, airlines, and rental car companies have long relied on dynamic pricing. This is why your flight during the Thanksgiving holiday will cost more than a plane ticket purchased almost any other time of year.
Of course, dynamic pricing can also benefit the consumer. Hotels loathe empty rooms. The same pricing model that raises the rates on some days also allows hotels to offer last-minute deals to fill inventory. And in those cases, the consumer wins.