Best Alternative to the Cost Plus Pricing Strategy for eCommerce Businesses

Best practices in price monitoring 25.5.2023. Reading Time: 7 minutes

As price is the element earning for you, you should wisely determine it. The eCommerce world is continuously and rapidly changing, as well as product and service pricing online, on a daily basis, aiming to acquire customers searching to purchase certain products or services at any given moment. Price brings a competitive advantage, therefore, you should test and tailor your pricing strategy to the industry, market conditions, your business goals, and customers’ purchasing behaviors.

We’re here to present another pricing strategy that might work for you. If it turns out that cost plus pricing wouldn’t be as beneficial to your business, we immediately offer an alternative. Let’s consider.

What is cost plus pricing?

Cost plus pricing is a pricing strategy commonly used among businesses, where the selling price of a product or service is determined by adding a markup (profit margin) to the cost of producing or providing that product or service.

The basic formula for cost plus pricing is:

Selling Price = Cost + (Cost x Markup Percentage)

In this formula, “Cost” refers to the total expenses incurred in producing or providing the product or service, including direct costs (such as materials and labor) and indirect costs (such as overhead expenses and administrative costs).

The “Markup Percentage” represents the desired profit margin or the percentage of profit businesses want to earn on top of the cost. The markup percentage is typically based on factors like industry standards, market conditions, and desired profitability.

For example, let’s say a company produces a product costing $50, and decide to apply a markup percentage of 20%. Using cost plus pricing, the selling price would be:

Selling Price = $50 + ($50 x 0.20) = $60

In this case, the company adds a $10 markup (20% of $50) to the cost of $50, resulting in a selling price of $60.

Did you know that cost plus pricing was utilized during World War II?

Cost plus pricing was notably utilized during World War II in the United States.

During the war, the U.S. government implemented cost plus pricing for contracts with defense contractors. This approach ensured that contractors would be reimbursed for their costs of production and receive a guaranteed profit margin. The rationale behind this strategy was to incentivize the production of essential goods and materials needed for the war effort. The government recognized that it would encourage contractors to meet production demands and maintain profitability in the face of increased expenses.

This historical context highlights how this pricing strategy has been used in unique circumstances to align economic incentives and support critical initiatives. Although its origins and implementation may not be attributed to a single individual or organization, it has played a role in various contexts throughout history.

Today, cost plus pricing is often used in industries where costs are more easily identifiable and predictable, such as manufacturing. It provides a straightforward approach to pricing by ensuring that the company covers its costs and earns a desired profit margin. However, it may not consider market demand or competitive pricing dynamics, so businesses should assess the market conditions and adjust the pricing strategy accordingly. Let’s consider the main advantages and disadvantages of this pricing strategy.

cost plus pricing


Simplicity and Transparency: provides a straightforward and transparent method for determining the selling price. It is relatively easy to calculate by adding a predetermined markup to the cost. This simplicity helps in setting consistent prices across products or services, making it easier for both the business and customers to understand.

Cost Recovery and Allocation: ensures that all the costs associated with producing or providing a product or service are covered and allocated to each product or service. By including both direct and indirect costs in the pricing calculation, businesses can ensure they recover their expenses and maintain financial stability. This helps in understanding the profitability of individual products or services and making informed decisions regarding their pricing, production, or discontinuation.

Profitability: businesses have more control over their desired profit margins. The markup percentage can be set to achieve the desired level of profitability. It allows businesses to ensure they earn a reasonable profit on each sale, which is especially important in industries with tight profit margins.

Flexibility in Cost Fluctuations: provides flexibility in adjusting prices based on changes in costs. If production costs increase, the business can adjust the selling price accordingly to maintain profitability. This allows for better cost management and adaptation to market conditions.

Supplier Relationships: In certain industries, cost plus pricing can facilitate better relationships with suppliers. By sharing cost information and allowing for a reasonable markup, it establishes a more transparent and collaborative environment, which can lead to improved negotiations and partnerships.


Ignoring Market Dynamics: doesn’t directly consider market demand, customer behavior, or competitive pricing. Relying solely on cost-based calculations may lead to pricing products or services at levels that are unattractive to customers or higher than what competitors offer. This can result in lost sales and reduced market share.

Lack of Differentiation: doesn’t take into account the unique value proposition or differentiation of products or services. It treats all products as if their costs and values are the same. In competitive markets, customers often consider factors beyond price, such as quality, features, brand reputation, and customer service. Focusing solely on costs can undermine efforts to position products or services as distinct and valuable in the market.

Margin Compression: In industries where competition is intense or profit margins are thin, relying solely on cost plus pricing can lead to margin compression. If competitors have more efficient cost structures or are employing alternative pricing strategies, they may be able to offer lower prices or higher value propositions. This can put pressure on businesses to either lower prices and accept lower margins or find alternative ways to differentiate themselves.

Limited Pricing Flexibility: it may limit the ability to respond quickly to market changes or implement dynamic pricing strategies. If costs fluctuate significantly or market conditions change rapidly, businesses using cost plus pricing may find it challenging to adjust prices accordingly. This can result in missed opportunities or pricing products or services out of sync with market realities.

Cost Misallocation: attempts to allocate costs to products or services, but it may not accurately reflect their true cost drivers. Indirect costs and overhead expenses are typically allocated based on broad assumptions or simple formulas, which may not capture the actual cost contribution of each product or service. This can result in skewed profitability analysis and suboptimal pricing decisions.

Potential for Underpricing or Overpricing: does not guarantee optimal pricing. If costs are miscalculated or the chosen markup percentage is inappropriate, it can lead to underpricing, where the business fails to adequately cover costs and generate sufficient profit. Conversely, overpricing can occur if the markup percentage is set too high, resulting in reduced customer demand and lost sales opportunities.

Cost plus pricing in eCommerce

Here’s how cost plus pricing can be utilized in an eCommerce setting:

  • Determining the cost: In eCommerce, the cost includes not only the production or procurement costs but also additional expenses related to online operations. This can include costs like inventory management, website maintenance, payment gateway fees, shipping and fulfillment costs, packaging materials, customer support, and marketing expenses specific to online channels. All these costs should be considered when calculating the total cost.
  • Markup percentage: Once the total cost is determined, you need to decide on an appropriate markup percentage. This can be influenced by various factors such as your desired profit margin, industry standards, competition, and customer price sensitivity. The markup percentage should take into account the unique aspects of eCommerce, such as the need to cover online expenses and potentially lower overhead costs compared to physical stores.
  • Competitive analysis: While cost plus pricing provides a foundation for setting prices, it’s essential to monitor market and competitors’ prices in eCommerce. Conduct a competitive analysis to evaluate how your prices compare. If your prices are significantly higher or lower, you may need to adjust your markup percentage or consider other pricing strategies to remain competitive.
  • Dynamic pricing: Unlike traditional businesses, eCommerce platforms offer flexibility in implementing dynamic pricing strategies. You can monitor market demand, competitor pricing, and other variables to adjust your prices in real time. This allows you to optimize your pricing strategy based on factors like seasonal fluctuations, inventory levels, or promotional campaigns.

Certainly, cost plus pricing can be a good starting point for pricing in eCommerce, but your competitiveness depends on other factors such as customer behavior, market trends, and pricing psychology. 

cost-plus pricing

Best Alternative for eCommerce Businesses

The best alternative to cost plus pricing strategy for eCommerce businesses is value-based pricing. Value-based pricing focuses on determining the price of a product or service based on the perceived value it delivers to customers. Instead of primarily considering the internal costs of production, value-based pricing takes into account customer preferences, market dynamics, and the benefits that customers derive from the product or service.

Here are the key steps involved in implementing a value-based pricing strategy for eCommerce businesses:

  • Customer Segmentation: Identify different customer segments based on their needs, preferences, and willingness to pay. Understand the specific value drivers for each segment and the unique benefits they seek.
  • Value Assessment: Assess the value proposition of the product or service from the customer’s perspective. Understand the specific benefits, solutions, or outcomes that customers derive from using the product or service. This may include factors such as convenience, time savings, quality, reliability, innovation, and customer support.
  • Market Research: Conduct market research to gather data on customer preferences, competitor pricing, and market demand. This helps in understanding how customers perceive the value of your offerings relative to competitors.
  • Pricing Strategies: Develop pricing strategies that align with the value proposition. This can include premium pricing for products or services with unique features or superior quality, or penetration pricing to gain market share by offering a lower price initially.
  • Dynamic Pricing: Leverage the flexibility of eCommerce platforms to implement dynamic pricing strategies. Monitor market conditions, customer behavior, and competitor pricing to adjust prices in real time. This allows you to optimize pricing based on demand, inventory levels, or promotional campaigns.
  • Communication: Clearly communicate the value proposition and benefits to customers through effective marketing and product descriptions. Highlight the unique value your products or services offer compared to competitors.

Value-based pricing allows eCommerce businesses to capture the value they deliver to customers while also accounting for market dynamics and customer perceptions. By aligning prices with customer value, businesses can potentially increase profitability, improve customer satisfaction, and differentiate themselves in the market.

It’s important to note that value-based pricing requires a deep understanding of customer preferences, market research, and ongoing monitoring of competitors and market conditions. Regular assessment and adjustments based on customer feedback and market trends are crucial to the success of a value-based pricing strategy.

Define Your Ideal Pricing Strategy

Cost plus pricing is a straightforward strategy that ensures cost recovery while allowing businesses to set desired profit margins. However, to maximize profitability, businesses should consider incorporating market-based pricing strategies, competitor analysis, customer segmentation, and other factors. eCommerce businesses are advised to incorporate value-based pricing to overcome the limitations of cost plus pricing strategy. Certainly, businesses should investigate misconceptions of value-based pricing strategy beforehand. It is important to strike a balance between cost considerations and customer value to achieve optimal pricing strategies in the dynamic eCommerce landscape.

Hopefully, this article gives you insights into two pricing strategies to consider when defining your pricing strategy.


Marijana Bjelobrk
Marijana Bjelobrk is a Junior Digital Marketing Specialist, writing for Price2Spy since November 2021. She graduated BBA at Oklahoma City University in May 2020, majoring in marketing. While studying, she had a part-time job at the Economical Research and Policy Institute, where she gained experience in research, critical thinking, and writing professional articles.