Creating a Market with Dynamic Pricing

Uber Car

From James Surowiecki article titled – “In Praise of Efficient Price Gouging

“In the four years since the car service Uber launched, it has been beset by criticism from myriad groups, including city officials annoyed by its sometimes cavalier attitude toward regulation and taxi companies annoyed by increased competition. Some of the harshest criticism, though, has come from an unlikely place: Uber’s own customers. Thanks to its reliance on what it calls “surge pricing”— meaning that during times of high demand, Uber raises its prices, often sharply—the company has been accused of profiteering and exploiting its customers. When Uber jacked up prices during a snowstorm in New York last December, for instance, there was an eruption of complaints, the general mood being summed up by a tweet calling Uber “price-gouging assholes.”

Uber’s algorithm (which it has been refining since 2011) is the company’s greatest asset and most significant innovation, allowing it to find the price that will attract drivers—whom, as independent contractors, it can’t order onto the road—without alienating customers.

The basic reality of Uber’s business model is that when people want a ride the most, it’s likely to be the most expensive. This will always be irritating, just as exorbitant prices for last-minute airline tickets are irritating. But over time, surge pricing will also become more familiar and less surprising.

Utilities are now starting to use dynamic pricing for electric power, which can help prevent blackouts at times of high demand and promote energy conservation more generally. A new startup called Boomerang Commerce, which is led by former Amazon engineers, has been helping online retailers set prices dynamically. Dynamic pricing is the future, even if the road to get there will be bumpy.”

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