SWITCHING COSTS: Definition, Examples, Strategies

Switching Costs

Switching costs are the additional expenditures that are incurred by a consumer when they make a purchase of goods or services from a different company. It may be possible for a company to improve its client retention rates if the switching costs associated with leaving the company are significant. However, customers may be less likely to transfer brands if businesses educate themselves on how to calculate the costs involved in making the switch. In this piece, we will define what switching costs are, explain why they are essential, and go over the different kinds of switching costs that exist with examples.

Switching Costs Definition

When a customer or a corporation decides to switch brands, suppliers, or goods, they are subject to additional fees known as “switching costs.” Customers’ purchasing decisions are influenced by the cost of switching providers. Customers might stick with the same business if it has high switching costs, but they might decide to go with a different provider if the switching costs at the competing business are lower. When consumers move between retailers or companies, they could have to pay switching costs in the form of fees as well as higher or lower pricing for the goods or services they purchase.

The consumer is presented with roadblocks in the form of switching prices in an effort to deter them from making the transition to an alternative provider. For instance, if a customer wants to cancel a food subscription service and switch to a different service, the company may require the customer to wait thirty days before they process the cancellation, require the customer to fill out extensive paperwork, and charge the customer an exit fee in order to discourage them from leaving.

Why are Switching Costs Important?

Switching fees are essential for stores because they enable businesses to continue making sales while also growing their brand awareness. Because of the significant expenses associated with switching, customers are less inclined to leave or switch to a rival. As a result, your sales may remain the same or even increase. Customers may be more interested in your company and have a greater awareness of your brand if your switching costs are high because it indicates that your products or services are more unique than those of your competitors.

Understanding Switching Costs?

When a consumer changes brands, products, services, or suppliers, they typically experience some form of financial loss as a result of the change. These losses are referred to as switching costs. However, it is essential to keep in mind that such expenditures also include costs that are not monetary in nature. Aside from financial costs, there are also psychological, time-based, and effort-based costs.

Take, for instance, the case of a person who is presently responsible for paying $50 a month for her phone bill. The person realizes that another service provider offers the same phone plan, but it can be purchased from them for a monthly fee of $45.

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In the previous illustration, the individual will have the opportunity to save $5 if she decides to switch phone plans. However, there are a lot of costs that need to be taken into consideration, such as the following:

  • Time costs: length of time that must be spent switching phone plans, and whether or not this requires a substantial amount of time (i.e., driving to the store or waiting for an available store representative)
  • Psychological costs: Whether the newly proposed phone plan would be an improvement over the currently utilized phone plan (i.e., whether the new phone plan offers better city-wide signal coverage)
  • Effort-based costs: Check to see if the person has to make a substantial amount of effort to switch phone plans (i.e., whether a lot of paperwork must be completed)
  • Switching costs can be “high” or “low.” Individuals are less likely to be inclined to transfer brands, products, services, or suppliers when there is a larger cost associated with making the switch. When it comes to consumers, the value that they derive from switching to a different brand, product, service, or supplier is inversely proportional to the cost of making the transfer.

Strategies Employed by Companies

Now let’s take a look at the techniques that businesses devise in order to raise the “switching costs” for customers in the hopes of discouraging those customers from switching brands, products, services, or suppliers. It is considered a competitive advantage for a business to be able to raise prices for customers, as this provides the business with additional revenue.

Bring to mind the preceding illustration of an individual opting to switch to a more affordable phone plan. If the person needs to put in a large amount of effort and time in order to move to the cheaper phone plan, then it is possible that the person will decide against switching phone plans in order to save $5.

Companies will use a variety of tactics in order to increase the amount of money that customers will have to spend in order to transfer providers. Take, for instance:

  • Imposing a significant price for the cancellation of services when they are requested to be canceled.
  • Including a protracted or involved cancellation procedure for service cancellations
  • Demanding a substantial amount of paperwork for the cancellation of service

However, it is essential to keep in mind that while businesses have the ability to establish high switching costs for customers, other businesses’ offerings can help consumers reduce the burden of such high costs by covering a portion of those expenses themselves. For instance, a business may require customers to pay a hefty fee to terminate their subscription to their services; however, a rival company may propose that they cover the cost of the cancellation fee in exchange for the customer’s agreement to convert to their product or service.

Types of Switching Costs

The costs associated with switching can be divided into two categories: low-cost switching and high-cost switching. The ease of transfer, in addition to the availability of comparable products made by the competition, is the primary factor that determines the price difference.

Low Switching Cost

Low switching costs are typical for businesses that provide goods or services that can be easily duplicated by rivals at rates that are comparable to those offered by the original provider. The customers of apparel have very low switching costs since they can readily find sales on clothing and quickly compare prices by walking from one store to another. This allows apparel companies to have very low switching costs. Consumers now have even more options for shopping for clothing without leaving the comfort of their homes because of the proliferation of Internet merchants and the acceleration of shipment times.

High Switching Cost

Businesses that develop one-of-a-kind products that are difficult to replicate, have few available alternatives and require a lot of work to utilize effectively have large switching costs. Take for example Intuit Inc. (INTU), which provides its customers with a variety of software options for use in bookkeeping. Few consumers are eager to transition away from Intuit since it takes a significant amount of time, effort, and financial investment to learn how to use the apps that Intuit provides.

Users get access to additional functions and benefits as a result of the fact that many of Intuit’s applications are connected to one another. Very few companies offer products that can compete with the scope and utility of Intuit’s offerings. If a company decides to stop using the software provided by Intuit, the business may experience disruptions in its operations and run the risk of making errors in its financial reporting. The majority of customers for Intuit’s bookkeeping products are small businesses. As a result of the high switching costs and stickiness that these variables generate for Intuit’s products, the company is able to charge premium rates for those goods.

Costs Typically Incurred When Switching

There are many different types of switching prices that businesses can charge customers in order to discourage customers from leaving their service in favor of one of their rivals. The following are some of the most common ones:


Customers will appreciate the convenience offered by a business that stocks its wares in multiple retail locations, as this makes it simpler for them to purchase the company’s products. Customers may decide to stick with a more expensive product even if a cheaper alternative is available from a competitor that is further away and more difficult to access. This is because customers value convenience more than they value saving money.


Many businesses continue to do business with their existing suppliers, for example, simply because the emotional cost of locating a new source, creating a new connection, and getting to know new individuals could be expensive.

It is comparable to the reasons why a person might decide to continue working in one job rather than moving on to another career that pays a slightly better compensation.

Because the person is familiar with both their manager and the other employees at the company, the emotional cost of switching jobs may be too great.

Departure Costs:

Many businesses have exit fees that must be paid before departing. These costs are typically unnecessary; yet, a business will add them on at the very end in the hopes that the customer would remain loyal to the brand. It is up to the individual business to decide how to classify these fees, and administrative fees for terminating an account are one possibility.


Customers typically do not transfer brands if it is a time-consuming process since they do not want to go through the inconvenience. For instance, if a person is required to wait for a considerable amount of time over the phone before they can speak to someone about closing an account, and on top of that, they are required to fill out paperwork in order to close the account, the individual may decide that the amount of time required to do so is not worth it.

Costs of Switching in Economic Terms

Customers are less price sensitive because switching costs make demand less elastic, therefore prices of competing goods and services have less of an impact on customer purchasing decisions.

New entrants are put in an unfavorable position from the very beginning because the competition in this industry is not solely based on price. Instead, businesses need to offer value propositions that are significantly differentiated from those of the incumbents in order to take market share from them.

There is a point at which lowering prices no longer makes economic sense since businesses need to make a profit in order to remain in business for the long term; hence, there is a cap on the amount that prices may be reduced.

As a result, businesses should design techniques to increase switching costs and leverage them in order to make clients who have already been acquired more reluctant to convert to a competitor.

The type of end-user is one of the most important factors that determine how influential switching fees might be.

Business-to-Business (B2B):

B2B enterprises can extract more benefits from switching costs due to increased incentives of their client base to stay with their current providers or suppliers. This allows B2B companies to derive more benefits from switching costs.

Business-to-Consumer (B2C):

B2C enterprises often receive fewer benefits than other types of businesses. This is due to the fact that customers of B2C businesses experience relatively lower switching costs, particularly when placing individual orders of inexpensive products.

Barriers to Switching and the Danger of New Competitors

If the expenses of moving are higher than the benefits supplied by the new supplier, then the old provider has a better chance of keeping its consumers.
Due to the fact that they have the potential to discourage new entrants from entering the market, the terms “switching costs” and “switching barriers” are sometimes used interchangeably.

Building up a devoted client base that makes consistent repeat purchases and has a low rate of attrition is analogous in many ways to the idea of switching costs.

Switching costs can act as a barrier to entry into a market if the new entrant does not offer a value proposition that is noticeably more appealing and is supported by improved technical capabilities.

Customers that face prohibitive switching prices are less likely to transfer service providers, which makes it more challenging for new entrants to capture a portion of the market.

Switching costs can potentially create an economic moat, which is a long-term competitive advantage that can protect a company’s profit margins from competition and external threats. This is accomplished by raising the bar for customers who wish to switch between providers, which in turn raises the cost of doing so.

Examples of Switching Costs in the Industry: A Look at the Competition

Self-storage facilities are one of the examples of a sector that can gain from switching costs. These are establishments where customers typically put their belongings, such as unused furniture, for extended periods of time.

Imagine for a moment that a brand new facility for self-storage sprang up with the intention of undercutting adjacent competitors. It is possible that the plan will not be successful in persuading customers to switch.

Why? Not only must the price that the new entrant offers be lower than the rates that are now being charged on the market, but it must also take into consideration the financial cost of switching (e.g. the rental equipment, moving trucks).

The pricing structure should also provide benefits that are greater than the time lost, making the inconvenience as well as the physical effort involved worthwhile.

Because of this, self-storage facilities are well-known for demonstrating constant cash flows that are not cyclical and low churn rates, even during times of market downturns.

Examples of High Costs Associated with Switching: the Apple Ecosystem

Apple (NASDAQ: APPL), or more specifically, its line of goods which is generally referred to as the “Apple Ecosystem,” is one of the many examples of a publicly traded corporation that has high switching costs.

Customers who own a greater number of Apple goods are eligible for an increased number of perks and advantages due to Apple’s interconnected product offerings, which were developed with the express purpose of enhancing and facilitating one another.

It is highly unlikely that iOS users who have already purchased one Apple product, such as the iPhone, will stop with just that one device.

Each additional good or service provides an additional layer of advantages, which in turn helps to fortify the advantageous effects that result from reduced switching costs.

If an iPhone user was in the market for new headphones, you could reasonably wager that the vast majority of them purchased Apple’s AirPods.

Customers who use Apple products, such as an iPhone, MacBook, AirPods, iPad, Apple Watch, and so on, have access to sync capabilities and features that are seamlessly integrated for the best possible user experience. This is exactly what Apple is going for, and it is exactly what customers can expect.

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However, if you use a combination of Apple and Windows devices, you may find that the incompatibility of specific programs, such as iMessage, the Apple Calendar app, the Notes app, and the Mail app, can be an irritating part of your overall user experience.

Other tales include the subpar synchronization functionalities offered by iCloud for Windows users and the manner in which the Safari browser was removed from the Windows platform.

The implication here is that customers who want the very greatest user experience should continue to use Apple products. This is a suggestion that is not explicitly stated.

Leveraging its own ecosystem has clearly paid off for Apple, which was the first publicly traded company in the United States to have a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion. Not to mention the “cult-like” following from Apple’s loyal customer base and its market-leading positions in not just one but multiple industries with large total addressable markets (TAMs).

Switching Costs FAQs

What are the three types of switching costs?

Switching costs are one of the most significant expenses connected with any product. In reality, there are three basic forms of switching costs: financial, procedural, and relational.

Who benefits from switching costs?

One of the seven business model mechanics you may employ to develop superior business models is switching costs. Switching expenses reduce client acquisition costs and allow businesses to flourish on regular customer revenue. They can also shield you from your rivals.

Who benefits from switching costs?

One of the seven business model mechanics you can use to design superior business models is switching costs. Switching costs reduce customer acquisition costs and allow businesses to thrive on recurring customer revenue. They can also shield you from your rivals.

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One of the seven business model mechanics you can use to design superior business models is switching costs. Switching costs reduce customer acquisition costs and allow businesses to thrive on recurring customer revenue. They can also shield you from your rivals.

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