Pricing: a question of trust

Pricing: a question of trust

I recently posted a simple question on Facebook. It received a lot of replies and so I thought it would be worth investigating on my blog. Here was my query:

Question posted on Facebook

Earnest question: would you, a potential consumer, trust a service provider who didn’t give any indication of their price on their website?

View full thread (Friends only)

The resulting thread showed how people were answering this question in their own businesses. Here are the pros and cons.

Pros – in favour of sharing prices

🔵 Trust: a trustworthy-looking website that also shares its prices is likely to be seen as even more trustworthy.

As one commenter said: ‘This isn’t about price. This is about trust and confidence, and trust matters more than ever.’

🔵 Differentiator: in a field where others aren’t sharing their prices, your business could take the lead by sharing your prices. I’ve done this for my technical writing business, and it’s helped me attract more interest. I’ve written a blog series about technical writing prices.

Making things convenient for customers is important. One respondent said: ‘For me it’s not so much a question of trust, but one of convenience. If I were searching for an approximate idea of price the absence of that detail would probably cause that service provider’s site to slip off my radar.’

🔵 Time-saver: displaying a ballpark price could save you a lot of time. Someone who wants a blog post written for £20 shouldn’t come to me, for example. I can save my time and a prospective client’s by telling them that on my website. For me, that’s great because it gives me more space to concentrate on the people who want to work with me.

Many people appreciate the time-saving aspect of seeing a price. One person said: ‘I can be quite shy about approaching people or companies for quotes (entirely irrational, I know), so it’s not that I trust them more, but I’m more likely to look favourably on people who help me skip that part of my initial research.’

And here’s another respondent in favour of saving time by quoting prices: ‘The pricing I have is to ward off people who would just waste my time and are wanting the project based on cost. I want clients who value my skills, and by being up front with a price range I know if a client contacts me, then I know they are serious.’

What helps to build trust is an openness to discussing pricing.

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Cons – not in favour of sharing prices

🔴 It depends: a lot of people see their services as difficult to price, because they deliver a tailored offering for each customer. A price range would be too broad to be meaningful, and so they don’t display any prices at all.

🔴 It doesn’t matter: several respondents said that not seeing a price wouldn’t deter them. One person said: ‘If a price isn’t given, I assume that the vendor needs more information from me before they can give a price and it doesn’t put me off.’

🔴 It isn’t common practice: most service providers (the ones I often come across, anyway) tend not to share their prices. Others will see this and follow suit. ‘It’s not the done thing.’ I was of that mind for a long time.

🔴 Different business streams: it’s tricky to display prices when you offer two or more services whose costs differ significantly.

Say you charge £1000 per day for consulting and £200 per day for editing. This could lead to some misconceptions and difficult conversations.

‘£1000 for an editor? Pass!’

‘You charged Bob £200. Can’t you do that for me, too?’

So, publishing both prices could be a bad move: you might end up alienating both your target markets. And publishing just one price probably wouldn’t work either. It might really be safer not to publish any prices at all.

🔴 Race to the bottom: some respondents thought that displaying prices might lead to an undercutting exercise, with clients ending up looking for providers who offer their services for $5. That’s a perfectly fair concern. What this tells me is that we need to do everything in our power to show our audience that we’re able to give them something they can’t get elsewhere for $5.

The content marketer Mark Schaefer says that we all operate in the business of trust. Whoever is the most trusted will never be short of business. This is a great message to counter the fears of the race to the bottom: building trust will mean you can find the clients who will be willing to pay your rates, because they want to work with you.

More quotes from respondents

Here I’m sharing a load of extra responses I’ve seen since posting the original question.

⚪️ ‘From a customer’s point of view I think a guide price is good. For example I was looking [for something and] I hadn’t realised it would be quite the price I received in the quotes. I feel guilty now for messaging them and “wasting their time”. If I had seen a guide price on their pages I probably wouldn’t have messaged them at all.’

⚪️ ‘I always like to see prices. Nine times out of ten, if I have to ask I don’t bother.’

⚪️ ‘As a customer I wouldn’t even consider the site unless there were some indication of price.’

⚪️ ‘The tracker on my site shows the majority of people look for the price at some point, and from a personal point of view I would be one of them.’

⚪️ ‘I hate having to ask for prices, even guide prices as then if I find they are too expensive then I won’t buy and hate feeling like I’ve wasted someone’s time. I think if there is a guide price then you can contact someone to find out more if the guide price shown fits with your budget.’

⚪️ ‘I don’t like asking [for prices] as it makes me feel like I’m committing myself.’

⚪️ ‘I run an academic editing and proofreading business and my prices are on my website – although they are still just a guide really, because it depends on the nature of the work. I find it’s useful for people to get an idea and they aren’t shocked at the prices after asking!’

⚪️ ‘I’d rather know at least a guide/starting price. This way I know whether they’re even in my price range before I waste mine and their time contacting.’

My take on pricing

I’ve already said that I’m happy to share my rates, and you can see the result on my Pricing page. But I accept that this won’t be for everyone. You have to be a little brave to do this, and I haven’t been doing it for long enough to tell whether it will have been a good long-term strategy. (It’s working for now, yes, but it would be foolish to say that that in itself makes it right.)

I’ve already mentioned above the importance of building trust. Now, publishing your prices alone is not the magic bullet that suddenly makes everyone trust you. Trust is far more nebulous than that. I find that what helps to build trust is an openness to discussing pricing. That doesn’t mean displaying pounds and pence – it means being willing to have a public conversation about the things that affect pricing in your business.

There could be good reasons why you don’t share your prices publicly. That’s fine. Talk about those reasons. Give potential customers the information they need to make a positive buying decision from you.

The more information the customer has before they contact you, the more likely they are to want to do business with you. If you don’t talk about pricing – again, that doesn’t necessarily mean pounds and pence – then you can be sure that someone else will.

Over to you

What do you think about service providers who don’t share their pricing? Are there any more compelling reasons for not discussing pricing on your website? I’m really interested in the answer, so pop a comment below or catch up with me on Twitter.

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Thanks for reading, John Espirian

  • Interesting to note the varied responses to your question, John.

    I like how you’ve gone about openly showing prices on your own website.

    It’s a similar situation when comparing banks’ savings interest rates. Those giving measly 0.05% interest usually place that information in hard-to-find places. And as a result, trust is eroded.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing your research.

    • Thanks for stopping by, David. I’ve taken a calculated risk by being so open, and I can’t guarantee the same approach will work for others – I feel as though I really need to say that in case people think I’m saying that my way is the only way. I definitely don’t think that’s the case. For now, the approach is working well enough, though: I’ve had more interest in my services since publishing my prices, and it has saved a lot of time during email conversations.

      I’m very interested to hear from others about this, particularly from people who have changed their approach and whether that’s had an impact on their business.

  • As we’ve discussed, John, I’m not anti the idea at all but I’ve been trying to work out how to present the info in a way that doesn’t push me into a corner. Your discussion encouraged me to work on the problem and I’ve now come up with a ballpark pricing table for my Get a Quote page that I hope will a) entice those who would have previously passed me by because the pricing info wasn’t there; and b) filter out those who might have got in contact for a quote without the pricing info but would have taken the discussion no further once we started talking about money (thereby saving us both time). I’m going to continue tracking my data and then review i) the impact on the number of requests to quote and, more importantly, ii) the conversion rate of requests to quote to confirmed bookings. I do think there are many ways to leverage trust, and I respect the fact that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s an exciting test, and on an issue that I really want to understand better in terms of how it relates to my proofreading business and my potential clients. Thanks for opening up the discussion! We can’t learn the answers unless we ask the questions!

    • ‘We don’t know the answers unless we ask the questions!’ – that’s the spirit of innovation that I love about you, Louise. Thanks for stopping by. Always great to hear your thoughts.

  • StraygoatWritingServices

    I’ve tried it both ways and in the end decided to keep pricing visible. The main reason for this was to deter people who were miles off with their expectations. It is a double-edged sword though, I agree.

    Props for breaking the “not the done thing” trend too.

    • Thanks for your comment, Craig. I still get timewasters even though I’m open with pricing, but at least it’s easier now to deal with them – ‘look here for my prices’.

  • Unsurprisingly, these are all excellent points.

    In my case, the first thing an interested prospect will ask me for is my price, so I put it right up front to save myself the trouble of answering the same question over and over again. It’s like a FAQ which serves the additional purpose of keeping away authors who aren’t a good fit for the service I provide.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Michael. Yes, it makes sense to save the repetition of manually answering pricing questions, doesn’t it? The practice still seems to fill some people with dread, but I think they’ll come round eventually.