Case | HBS Case Collection | February 2000 (Revised August 2000)

Priceline WebHouse Club

by Thomas R. Eisenmann and Jon K Rust


Priceline empowered consumers to "name their own price" for airline tickets and hotel rooms; then it shopped these offers to marketers. Priceline's founder Jay Walker described the resulting transactions as a new ecosystem, that helped consumers realize lower prices while allowing marketers to turn excess inventory into profit and, in so doing, price discriminate without damaging their brands or their published prices. Airline tickets and hotel reservations were only the starting point for Priceline, however. By the end of 1999, Priceline had made inroads into the mortgage, new car sales, and car rental businesses. In November, Walker launched Priceline WebHouse Club to bring the "name-your-price" concept to groceries, with plans to eventually scale WebHouse to include almost every type of retailing. Several pressing issues confront the Priceline WebHouse management team in this case. First, the company had yet to close a deal with any major brand manufacturer. Thus, to satisfy customers, WebHouse subsidized member savings out of its own coffers, which, combined with early consumer success, led to significant losses and cash burn. To continue its customer acquisition, Walker projected that $200 million to $500 million in additional capital would be necessary. Meanwhile, the company confronted questions about where and how quickly it should expand.

Keywords: Business Model; Strategy; Disruptive Innovation; Internet; Entrepreneurship; Retail Industry;


Eisenmann, Thomas R., and Jon K Rust. "Priceline WebHouse Club." Harvard Business School Case 800-287, February 2000. (Revised August 2000.)