Usage-based pricing 101: What it is and strategies to implement it


Stripe Billing lets you bill and manage customers however you want—from simple recurring billing to usage-based billing and sales-negotiated contracts.

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  1. Introduction
  2. What is usage-based pricing?
  3. Types of usage-based pricing
  4. Usage-based pricing components
  5. When would you use usage-based pricing?
  6. How does usage-based pricing work?
  7. Benefits of usage-based pricing
  8. Usage-based pricing best practices

Usage-based pricing responds directly to the needs of businesses and their customers. Unlike flat-rate or subscription methods, this approach sets prices based on real consumption of products or services. As businesses search for ways to connect with audiences and adapt to market changes, usage-based pricing has grown quickly as a top choice among pricing models. From 2018 to 2022, the adoption rate among software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies of the usage-based pricing model grew from 27% to 46%.

This pricing model offers clear advantages: it creates stable revenue opportunities for companies while providing transparent pricing for users. Below, we’ll break down the key aspects of usage-based pricing, how it functions, and the best practices businesses can adopt to maximize its benefits.

What’s in this article?

  • What is usage-based pricing?
  • Types of usage-based pricing
  • Usage-based pricing components
  • When would you use usage-based pricing?
  • How does usage-based pricing work?
  • Benefits of usage-based pricing
  • Usage-based pricing best practices

What is usage-based pricing?

Usage-based pricing is a billing approach in which charges correspond directly to a customer’s consumption of a product or service. Unlike flat rates or subscription billing, this model hinges on specific metrics, such as data usage volume, hours of service access, or quantity of items consumed. The result is a granular pricing system that adapts to each user’s needs.

Types of usage-based pricing

Usage-based pricing comes in several distinct models, each tailored to specific business needs and customer consumption patterns. Common types include:

  • Variable pricing
    Variable pricing focuses on consumption metrics. Costs fluctuate based on the exact quantity or volume a customer uses. This model is a mainstay in sectors such as utilities, where customers pay for each unit they consume (e.g., kilowatt-hours of electricity or gallons of water).

  • Tiered pricing
    This model focuses on thresholds, where consumption determines the unit cost, but in relation to a specific cutoff. For instance, imagine a scenario where the unit cost for the first 100 units differs from that of the subsequent 100 units. This structure provides an incentive for higher consumption while still maintaining a usage-based approach.

  • Dynamic pricing
    Market conditions, specifically demand, take center stage with dynamic pricing. Prices are fluid and shift in real time. Ride-sharing platforms are a prominent example of this: fares can rise during rush hour or in areas experiencing high demand, reflecting the balance (or imbalance) of supply and demand.

  • Per feature pricing
    This approach is prevalent in the software industry. Instead of charging users for a complete suite of features, this model bills users solely for the features they activate and use, promoting a sense of autonomy and cost efficiency.

Usage-based pricing components

Usage-based pricing changes how customers are charged, and also impacts the fundamental components of the billing system. For businesses interested in switching to this pricing model, it’s important to understand these elements. Here are the major components to consider:

  • Measurement unit
    This is the unit that businesses use to gauge consumption. Depending on the service or product, this unit can differ. Cloud storage services might measure usage in gigabytes, while a telecommunication service might count minutes or texts.

  • Billing cycle
    This defines how often customers see a bill—for instance, monthly, quarterly, or annually. Throughout the cycle, usage is tracked, and when the cycle ends, customers receive a bill based on their consumption.

  • Rate
    This denotes how much each measurement unit costs. While some services have fixed rates, others might change them based on factors such as volume.

  • Usage tracker
    Every usage-based pricing model needs a reliable way to monitor consumption. This tool or system tracks usage, either in real time or close to it, guaranteeing that customers are billed correctly. Additionally, it can alert customers when they approach certain usage limits.

  • Billing adjustments
    Sometimes customers are overcharged, or perhaps they qualify for a discount in one month. This component handles discrepancies, refunds, and credits. It increases the chance that the billing process remains fair and transparent.

  • Notifications
    To prevent surprises on the bill, many providers keep their users informed about their consumption. Businesses might send out alerts when users reach a specific level of usage or are close to a set threshold.

  • Reporting
    Both businesses and users benefit from detailed reports on consumption. For businesses, these reports can help with forecasting and inventory management. For users, understanding their own patterns can help in budgeting and usage decisions.

Together, these components form the basic framework of any usage-based pricing system. Implementing these components effectively in a unified strategy is key for a smooth and transparent billing experience.

When would you use usage-based pricing?

The choice to offer usage-based pricing reflects a strategic decision that businesses make to address the unique demands of their industry and the nature of services they deliver. Here are a few sectors where this model has gained traction in recent years:

  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS)
    Some SaaS platforms let businesses pay according to the features they tap into or the number of users they have. This model appeals to companies with fluctuating demands, or those that want to experiment with a software solution without committing to a full package.

  • Utility providers
    Electricity, water, and gas companies have long used this method for billing, because of its innate fairness and because it incentivizes resource conservation.

  • Cloud service providers
    As reliance on cloud solutions grows, providers are billing users for the exact amount of storage or computing power they use. Companies, especially startups or those with shifting needs, appreciate this model since it lets them adjust their usage without getting bogged down by a fixed cost.

  • Telecommunication companies
    Pay-as-you-go plans, where users are billed for the actual number of minutes they use or texts they send, supports those wary of monthly plans or those who do not have consistent usage.

  • Streaming platforms
    Some services charge users based on the content they select. Instead of a set monthly charge, a user might be billed per movie or episode. It’s a unique approach that caters to occasional viewers who aren’t interested in regular subscriptions.

  • Rental services
    Urban rentals such as bikes or scooters often use this model, which charges users for the precise amount of time they’ve used the vehicle. This makes the service more appealing to occasional riders or tourists.

  • Data providers
    For businesses offering specific data application programming interfaces (APIs), the billing might be tied to the number of data calls a user or business makes. This approach can be popular with developers or businesses that have variable data needs.

Ultimately, usage-based pricing’s value lies in its adaptable approach. It broadens service accessibility and resonates with diverse customers, from budget-conscious individuals to businesses with varied demands.

How does usage-based pricing work?

Usage-based pricing tailors its structure to match the unique needs of each user. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

  • Monitoring and metering
    The foundation of this billing approach is the precise tracking of every user’s consumption. This could encompass variables such as the volume of data used, the duration a service has been accessed, or the units of a resource consumed. With advancements in technology, tracking systems have evolved to capture these details with pinpoint accuracy, allowing for granular billing.

  • Rate determination
    Each unit of consumption has an associated price point. Consider how a cloud storage provider might bill for every megabyte or gigabyte used. Similarly, a telecom operator might levy charges for every minute spent on calls or every text message sent. Determining these rates requires a deep understanding of market dynamics, operational costs, and user behavior.

  • Billing cycles
    Regular intervals—whether daily, weekly, or monthly—mark the periods when users are billed. The nature and demands of the service dictate the length and frequency of these cycles. Once the cycle ends, the system compiles all user activities.

  • Dynamic invoicing
    After the computation of all consumption metrics for the cycle, the system generates a tailored invoice. It arrives at this by multiplying the aggregate units consumed by the predetermined unit rate. As a result, each user receives an invoice that mirrors their specific interactions with the service during that period.

  • Notifications and alerts
    To preempt bill surprises, many providers have implemented mechanisms to send users timely warnings as they approach or exceed set consumption benchmarks. These alerts act as a cost-control measure for users as well as a trust-building tool between them and the service provider.

  • Payment methods
    After the invoice hits their inbox, users can choose from an array of payment options. These could range from traditional methods such as credit cards and bank transfers to contemporary solutions such as digital wallets.

  • Disputes and adjustments
    With billing post-consumption, there’s a chance that users might contest charges. Having a robust, transparent, and user-friendly mechanism to address these concerns, rectify discrepancies, and ensure customer satisfaction is of utmost importance.

Usage-based pricing offers a dynamic and adaptive billing approach. It’s constructed around the user’s activity, leading to a more transparent, flexible, and equitable billing system that resonates with both businesses and their users.

Benefits of usage-based pricing

Usage-based pricing offers a multitude of benefits that support the dynamic needs of businesses. Here’s a deep dive into its advantages:

  • Flexibility for customers
    Charging customers based on consumption equips them with tools to manage and predict expenses more effectively. This model prevents overcharging for unused services or underbudgeting. It appeals to a wide range of customers, from startups on a tight budget to larger corporations seeking granular cost controls.

  • Transparency in billing
    Billing users for the exact amount of a product or service they consumed adds a layer of honesty and clarity to the process. This straightforward approach can instill trust and confidence by avoiding hidden charges, which can position a business as a trustworthy leader in its field while eliminating negative feedback.

  • Adaptability to market changes
    Businesses that employ usage-based pricing retain the flexibility to tweak their pricing based on shifting market conditions, competitive pressures, or changes in resource acquisition costs. Being nimble and responsive in pricing can be a cornerstone for businesses aiming to maintain an edge in a fluid market.

  • Potential for increased revenue
    The pay-for-what-you-use concept can embolden users to experiment with additional features or services, potentially increasing their overall consumption. This expanded engagement can uplift revenues, especially when businesses roll out novel services, using the model to spur early adoption.

  • Improved customer retention
    The bond between expenditure and received value plays a pivotal role in retaining customers. When customers discern tangible value in every dollar spent, their loyalty to the brand or service intensifies. Over time, keeping an existing customer can prove more economical than onboarding a new one, which emphasizes this advantage.

  • Reduced financial waste
    This pricing approach helps businesses cut down on the financial waste seen in flat-rate models, where there’s potential for resource underutilization. By gearing resource allocation to user demand, businesses can prioritize sustainability and resource efficiency.

  • Adoption of a pay-as-you-grow approach
    This model eliminates hefty initial costs, and is particularly beneficial for startups and smaller entities. These businesses can begin their journey with services they need and, as they expand, progressively scale their usage and related expenses. This modularity breaks down entry barriers, facilitating more organic growth trajectories and fostering innovation.

These advantages underscore the ways that usage-based pricing is aligned with key business tenets of today, including rapid adaptability, transparency, and a keen focus on customer needs.

Usage-based pricing best practices

Usage-based pricing is a transformative step in the way businesses approach their pricing and billing strategies. Adopting it without proper planning and execution can introduce unforeseen challenges. Here are some best practices to optimize the shift:

  • Establish direct and open communication with customers: A transparent transition to usage-based pricing requires more than an announcement. Businesses should host webinars, generate comprehensive guides, and facilitate Q&A sessions. A proactive approach to customer education, where potential concerns are preemptively addressed, paves the way for a more accepted transition.

  • Continually reevaluate and refine pricing strategies: The dynamic nature of markets demands frequent evaluations of pricing structures. Keeping a pulse on industry trends, competitor shifts, and customer feedback regarding billing can guide informed decisions. It also ensures your business remains relevant and appealing to its user base.

  • Commit to comprehensive usage monitoring solutions: Precision in tracking customer usage transcends billing accuracy. Modern tracking tools should not only register every unit consumed, but it should also offer strategic insights into consumption behaviors. Such data can prove invaluable for future strategy development and targeted offerings.

  • Supply customers with exhaustive billing insights: Elevate the billing experience by providing in-depth analyses of consumption. Interactive dashboards or comprehensive monthly reports can spotlight consumption behaviors, granting users a deeper understanding and possibly unveiling opportunities for additional services.

  • Place customers at the forefront of strategy: Showcase your dedication to customers beyond billing. Facilitating their growth, through tools or consultation sessions, can solidify your position as a growth partner.

  • Offer flexible and scalable contract terms: While a one-size-fits-all approach offers operational simplicity, flexibility can be the deciding factor for certain customers. Tailored contracts, unique pricing tiers, and customizable features can demonstrate adaptability and a willingness to support individual needs.

  • Undertake systematic checks and evaluations: Periodic assessments of your billing processes can spotlight areas for improvement, from inaccuracies to inefficiencies. Regular evaluations rectify these issues and also refine the billing process, uplifting the customer experience.

  • Equip customers with the ability to monitor their usage: Grant customers tools to autonomously monitor their usage, heightening the user experience and alleviating demands on customer support teams.

  • Solicit customer feedback—and respond to it: Genuine feedback channels can yield important insights. Incorporating changes rooted in this feedback can demonstrate adaptability and a commitment to co-creation, deepening trust and rapport with customers.

When done correctly, transitioning to usage-based pricing can communicate a company’s commitment to transparency, fairness, and customer satisfaction.

Learn more about how Stripe powers usage-based pricing for businesses.

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 accuracy, 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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