What is volume pricing? Here's how volume discounting works


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  1. Introduction
  2. Types of volume pricing
  3. What types of business use volume pricing?
  4. Benefits of volume pricing
  5. Possible downsides of volume pricing
  6. Volume pricing best practices

Volume pricing is a pricing strategy in which an item's price per unit decreases as the purchase quantity increases. This practice, which incentivises customers to buy larger amounts of a product, is common in wholesale and retail markets. The strategy benefits sellers by increasing sales volume and helps customers save money when they buy in bulk.

For example, imagine a customer needs to buy screws. If they buy a box of 100, they might pay £0.10 per screw. However, if they decide to buy 1,000 screws at once, the business might charge only £0.08 per screw. Customers get a better deal for buying more. Studies show that this type of pricing can be effective because any type of discount can drive sales: a 2021 report found that 37% of shoppers say messages promoting coupons or discounts increase the likelihood that they'll buy from a specific brand.

This type of pricing model is known as "volume pricing", "volume discounting", "quantity discounting" or "quantity pricing" – there's no meaningful difference between these terms. They all describe the concept of providing a reduced per-unit rate based on the quantity purchased, in the aim of encouraging customers to make larger purchases by offering them a better price when they do.

Below, we'll cover what you should know about volume pricing – who uses it and why, its benefits and possible disadvantages, and how to adopt a strategic volume pricing model for your business.

What's in this article?

  • Types of volume pricing
  • What types of business use volume pricing?
  • Benefits of volume pricing
  • Possible downsides of volume pricing
  • Volume pricing best practices

Types of volume pricing

Volume pricing can benefit both the seller and the buyer. The seller can move more products and potentially clear stock, while the buyer gets a better deal on a per-unit basis. Here's a rundown of the different types of volume pricing:

  • Tiered pricing
    In this model, the price per unit decreases at set quantity levels. For instance, a product might cost £10 per unit for 1 to 100 units, but for units 101 to 200, the price might drop to £9 per unit. This encourages buyers to purchase more to reach the next tier and get a better rate.

  • Volume brackets
    Similar to tiered pricing, volume brackets offer set prices for specific quantity ranges. However, the entire order is priced according to the bracket in which it falls. For example, buying 150 units in a bracket of 100 to 200 units might mean that the entire order is priced at the lower bracket rate.

  • Cumulative volume pricing
    This type of pricing rewards repeat buyers. The discounts apply over a certain period, such as a quarter or year, and are based on the customer's total purchases. If a customer's total purchases over time reach a specific volume, they receive a discount.

  • Package or bundle pricing
    Here, businesses apply a discount when customers buy different products together. It's a way to encourage buyers to purchase more by offering a better deal on a bundle rather than individual items.

  • All-units pricing
    In this straightforward method, once a buyer reaches a certain quantity threshold, the reduced price applies to all units, including those below the threshold. For example, if the threshold is 100 units at £8 each, and a customer buys 150 units, all units are priced at £8, not just units 101 to 150.

  • Variable rate pricing
    This is a flexible strategy where the discount rate changes based on various factors, such as the time of year, stock levels or the buyer's negotiation skills. It's less structured and can be tailored to specific situations.

  • Mix and match pricing
    This approach allows customers to combine different products to reach the required volume for a discount. It's common in retail where, for instance, a buyer can mix different clothing items to reach the quantity needed for a discount.

What types of business use volume pricing?

A variety of businesses across different sectors use volume pricing. This strategy is particularly common in industries where buying in bulk is standard practice or where there's a clear benefit to selling large quantities quickly. Here are some examples:

  • Wholesale suppliers
    These businesses sell products in large quantities to retailers, to other businesses, or to industrial, commercial and institutional customers. They use volume pricing to encourage larger orders, which helps them manage their inventory and reduce handling costs.

  • Manufacturers
    Manufacturers often sell their products in large quantities to distributors or directly to retailers. Volume discounts help manufacturers stabilise demand for their products and streamline the production processes.

  • Retailers
    Retail businesses, especially large retailers like supermarket chains, use volume pricing to encourage shoppers to buy more. An example of this is "buy one, get one free" deals or bulk purchase discounts.

  • Software and technology companies
    These companies sometimes use volume pricing for licensing their products. The more licences a customer buys, the less they pay per licence. This encourages larger sales and wider use of their software.

  • Agricultural suppliers and food producers
    Businesses that deal in agricultural products or food items often use volume pricing to manage inventories of perishables, and to guarantee consistent supply to markets or processors.

  • Construction and building material suppliers
    Volume pricing is an important tool for businesses that sell materials such as lumber, steel or concrete in large quantities, as construction projects usually require materials in bulk.

  • Pharmaceuticals and medical supplies
    Volume pricing is common in the sale of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, especially when businesses work with hospitals, clinics or government health services, which typically order large quantities.

  • Printing and publishing
    Businesses in this sector offer volume discounts to clients ordering large print runs because it's more cost effective to print in bulk due to setup costs.

  • Chemicals and raw material suppliers
    These businesses use volume pricing to manage large orders for industrial use, when buyers often require substantial quantities for their own production processes.

  • Office supplies and equipment vendors
    Companies that provide office supplies or equipment often use volume pricing to cater to businesses that need to stock up on these items at regular intervals.

Volume pricing works because both the seller and buyer benefit. The seller enjoys the perks of moving inventory more quickly – which can mean lower costs for storage and handling – while buyers get more for their money. Businesses must monitor their margins closely to make sure they're not losing money with each sale.

Benefits of volume pricing

Volume pricing provides a range of benefits for businesses, making it a popular pricing strategy in a variety of industries. The strategy is highly adaptable – it can be a straightforward bulk discount, where any purchase over a certain amount will qualify for a lower rate, or it can include graduated pricing, where the discount increases with the quantity bought. The specific structure of the discount will depend on different factors, including the type of product, the market conditions and the seller's goals. However, in every case, there's the potential for significant financial benefits.

Here are some of the benefits that volume discounts can offer businesses:

  • Increased sales volume
    By offering products at a lower price per unit for larger quantities, businesses can encourage customers to buy more. This increase in sales volume can lead to higher overall revenue, even if the profit margin per unit is slightly reduced.

  • Improved inventory management
    Volume pricing can help businesses manage their inventory more effectively. By selling products in larger quantities, they can reduce inventory holding costs and lower the risk of being stuck with unsold stock, which is particularly beneficial for businesses that deal in perishable or time-sensitive products.

  • Enhanced cash flow
    With the increase in sales volume, businesses often experience an improvement in cash flow. Selling more products in a shorter time frame means more immediate revenue, which improves a business's operational health.

  • Cost efficiency in production and distribution
    For manufacturers, selling in bulk can create economies of scale, in which the cost to produce each subsequent unit decreases as production volume increases, resulting in overall cost savings. Similarly, distributing one larger order can be more cost effective than handling many smaller ones.

  • Attracting and retaining customers
    Offering better prices for larger quantities can attract customers who are looking to buy in bulk, such as wholesalers or large retailers. It can also improve customer retention, because buyers are incentivised to make all their purchases from one supplier to take advantage of bulk pricing.

  • Competitive advantage
    Implementing an effective volume pricing strategy can give businesses a competitive edge in the market. Volume pricing can be a deciding factor for customers choosing between similar products from different companies.

  • Flexibility in market fluctuations
    Volume pricing can provide businesses with more flexibility to adjust to market changes. For example, in times of high demand, businesses can minimise discounts to maintain profit margins, while in slower periods, they can increase discounts to boost sales.

  • Building long-term business relationships
    By offering more favourable terms to customers who buy in bulk, businesses can build long-term relationships with key clients. When based on trust and mutual benefit, these relationships can lead to stable, ongoing sales.

  • Market penetration and expansion
    Volume pricing can be an effective tool for businesses that want to enter new markets or expand in existing ones. It can make a product more attractive to a broader range of customers, helping to expand the business's market share.

  • Data and insight gathering
    Large volume sales can provide valuable data about market trends and customer preferences. Businesses can use this information to make informed decisions about product development, marketing strategies and future pricing models.

Possible downsides of volume pricing

While volume pricing has several advantages, there are also potential downsides. Volume pricing can promote growth and widen a business's customer base, but it requires businesses to keep a sharp eye on profit margins. A carefully planned and well-managed approach is key to minimising these risks and protecting the long-term sustainability of the pricing strategy.

Here are some possible downsides to be aware of:

  • Reduced profit margins
    The most immediate downside is the reduction in profit margins. Selling products at a lower price per unit means less profit on each item sold. This can lead to overall profit loss if not managed carefully, especially if the increase in sales volume doesn't compensate for the lower margins.

  • Risk of overdependence on key customers
    If a significant portion of sales comes from a few customers buying in bulk, there's a risk of becoming overly dependent on them. If these key customers reduce their orders or switch to a competitor, it could have a significant impact on your business.

  • Inventory and supply chain stress
    Offering volume discounts can lead to larger orders, which might strain the business's inventory and supply chain. If a company is unprepared to handle large orders efficiently, it can lead to delays, back orders and customer dissatisfaction.

  • Perceived value reduction
    There's a risk that customers might perceive the product as lower quality due to lower prices – especially in markets where price is often equated with quality.

  • Potential for unprofitable sales
    If the volume pricing isn't structured correctly, businesses might end up selling products at a loss. This becomes more likely if cost calculations aren't accurate or if market conditions change unexpectedly.

  • Complexity in pricing structure
    Implementing a volume pricing strategy can add complexity to pricing structures and require sophisticated systems for pricing management and customer billing. It can also lead to customer confusion if the business does not communicate information clearly.

  • Market saturation risks
    By encouraging bulk purchases, a business might unintentionally saturate the market, leading to reduced demand in the future. This is a particular concern for products with a long life or slow turnover.

  • Customer expectations and bargaining power
    Customers who are used to volume discounts might expect similar or better discounts in future business deals, which can put pressure on profit margins. Large buyers may also use their purchasing power to negotiate even lower prices.

  • Cash flow management
    While volume sales can improve cash flow, there's also the risk of tying up a significant amount of cash in large quantities of stock, which could create problems if sales expectations aren't met.

  • Impact on brand image
    For certain brands, especially those in the luxury segment, discounts can dilute the brand's perceived value and exclusivity.

Volume pricing best practices

Adopting volume pricing requires strategic thinking to ensure that it benefits the business without compromising profitability or market position. Here are some best practices for businesses that are considering implementing volume pricing or for those that are in the midst of doing so:

  • Data-driven pricing models
    Develop pricing models based on thorough market research, cost analysis and customer demand data. Use advanced analytics to understand price elasticity, customer buying behaviour and profitability thresholds. This data should guide the structuring of pricing tiers and discounts.

  • Segmented pricing strategy
    Recognise that not all customers have the same needs or value perception, and tailor pricing models to different customer segments. Customer segmentation will allow you to create customised volume pricing deals that are aligned with the specific characteristics and buying patterns of different groups.

  • Dynamic pricing capabilities
    Implement dynamic pricing mechanisms that can adjust prices in real time, based on market conditions, inventory levels and demand fluctuations. This requires sophisticated software but can significantly enhance pricing effectiveness.

  • Clear communication and transparency
    Communicate the volume pricing structure to customers clearly, avoiding complex jargon and confusing terms. Transparency builds trust and can foster long-term customer relationships.

  • Automated pricing adjustment systems
    For digital sales, put systems in place that automatically update pricing based on the quantity a customer selects. This improves the user experience and prevents errors in manual pricing adjustments.

  • Profit margin safeguards
    Establish safeguards to guarantee that discounted prices do not erode profit margins. This involves setting minimum thresholds for discounts and monitoring sales data for profitability.

  • Scalable inventory and supply chain management
    Prepare your supply chain and inventory management systems to handle fluctuations in order sizes. This might involve investing in scalable logistics solutions or developing stronger relationships with your suppliers.

  • Regular reviews and adjustments
    Review the volume pricing strategy regularly to make sure it remains relevant and effective. Be prepared to adjust pricing tiers, discounts and terms based on changing market conditions, cost structures and customer feedback.

  • Customer relationship management integration
    Integrate volume pricing strategies with customer relationship management (CRM) systems. This integration allows for personalised offers based on customer purchase history and preferences, enhancing the overall customer experience.

  • Legal and ethical compliance
    Confirm that your pricing strategy complies with all relevant laws and regulations, including those addressing anti-competitive practices and price discrimination. Ethical considerations should also guide pricing decisions.

  • Measuring impact and performance
    Implement key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of the volume pricing strategy. This could include metrics such as sales volume growth, customer acquisition and retention rates, as well as overall profitability.

  • Educating sales and customer service teams
    Train sales and customer service staff on the details of the volume pricing strategy. Staff should be able to explain the benefits and terms to customers effectively and handle negotiations professionally.

  • Balancing short-term gains with long-term goals
    Ensure that the volume pricing strategy is aligned with the business's long-term goals. Avoid deep discounts that may boost short-term sales but harm the brand or profitability in the long run.

  • Flexibility and responsiveness
    Stay flexible and be ready to adapt the pricing strategy in response to new competitors, changes in customer preferences or shifts in the economic environment.

By adhering to these best practices, businesses can implement volume pricing strategies that boost sales and market share while maintaining profitability and encouraging sustainable growth.

The content in this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accurateness, completeness, adequacy, or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent attorney or accountant licensed to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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