SaaS Inflation Index: 2024

A CFO’s guide to understanding rising software prices

SaaS inflation outstrips consumer inflation once again

The cost of everything is rising, in some places sharply. From rent to milk, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to afford many of the things we need. The same is true for businesses, with office space, salary expectations and suppliers all hitting the expense line much harder than in recent history.

With SaaS specifically, the problem appears to be more pronounced.

In general, spend on software has grown 17.9% over the past 12 months alone. Yet taken as a single data point, it can be hard to distinguish between how much of that growth is made up of investments in new products or due to inflationary pressures.

This research takes a detailed look at how spending on SaaS is changing, with particular regard to inflation and rising prices, while also examining the explicit details behind the mechanisms driving this trend.

Put succinctly, a typical business in 2024 will be spending significantly more on software than it was a year ago — even without purchasing any new products or licenses.

While investments in technology can typically lead to more effective employees and market advantages, managing this SaaS inflation requires considered thinking, a close understanding of pricing data and an intelligent approach to software purchasing.

SaaS spend is surging by any measure

It is incredibly rare to find an organization with more than 100 employees that does not also have more than 100 different SaaS products in its tech stack. Everything from Slack to Salesloft costs money to use at an enterprise scale, so software has simply become a cost of doing business for most CFOs – especially given the acceleration in adoption after the Covid-19 pandemic.

In 2023, almost $200bn will have been spent on SaaS globally. That’s more than the GDPs of Algeria, Hungary, and Ukraine. Putting that into more practical terms for finance leaders, that represents approximately $7,900 per employee, up from $6,220 in 2022.

Tooling individual workers with everything they need to be productive is a meaningful investment. Just consider the most basic of needs from IT (collaboration, video conferencing, messaging), HR (resource management), security (SSO, networking, endpoint) and finance (payroll, expense management) before any specific departmental SaaS products are considered.

Yet the figure of $7,900 may still come as a surprise, especially given that this represents a premium well above 10% on top of the median salary in the US. It also, for the first time ever, surpasses the contribution that employers pay to provide employee healthcare coverage.

Spend on SaaS per employee is now a bigger contribution than healthcare.

This increase is incredibly sharp — up 27% from 2022 — and is a subsequent result of headcount cuts, growth in new software expenditure, and the impacts of SaaS inflation. While most (54%) vendors charge per-employee pricing, often expressed as ‘per seat’ or ‘by license,’ many others use pricing based on features or consumption.

Consumption, or usage, based pricing is not necessarily variable by month, and will typically include pre-agreed criteria for certain thresholds.

Examples of this pricing model include Snowflake (queries), Twilio (SMS) or Zapier (API requests) and while costs will scale up and down to a customer’s needs, it is rarely elastic. Users of Marketo, for instance, cannot easily reduce the number of contacts in their customer/prospect database in order to reduce their marketing automation bill.

If an organization has made cuts to staffing, and subsequently has a reduced workforce, it is unlikely to realize many — if any — savings on SaaS.

Even for the vendors with seat-based pricing, it can be very challenging to make software savings in the short term. Most customers make multi-year commitments without the provision to remove licenses from agreements, and negotiating with vendors at point of renewal is unlikely to yield meaningful reductions in cost.

Spend on SaaS has increased as a share of total cost, now representing 14.1% of a typical company’s expense line.

A large proportion of businesses, in almost every segment, have experienced both highs and lows in performance over a tumultuous start to the decade.

Cuts were common across both 2022 and 2023, with over 400,000 technology workers laid off and countless office leases slashed in that period. In San Francisco, the retreat by businesses into hybrid working has resulted in over 30 million square feet of office space sitting idle — almost a third of the city’s capacity.

These broad cuts, combined with increased spend on software, means that the typical organization now spends over $1 in every $8 on SaaS. The figure has grown from 12.7% of total spend in 2022 to 14.1% in 2023.

Cloud spend has also grown as a total dollar value and as a share of the spend. This category of spending, also known as IaaS, includes investment in infrastructure like AWS, Azure and Google Cloud (GCP) and has grown even faster than SaaS, rising from 8.7% in 2022 to 10.7% in 2023.

Read our Cloud Spend Report for more insights into spend management ›

The SaaS Inflation factor

It’s obvious that SaaS spending has grown — as a total, as a share of spend, and per employee. Dissecting the factors driving that is a more nuanced matter, but the rising price of software is unmistakably a significant one.

SaaS inflation is a term coined to describe the average price increase of software. Just like a typical person’s shopping cart is used to quantify the consumer price index (CPI), the same can be done for an organization’s SaaS stack. If you were to take the full stack of SaaS products that your organization was using 12 months ago and compiled the licenses, contracts, features and commitments into a single, simple figure, what would that same package of products cost today? Well if it was a conveniently round sum of $1,000,000 before, it would cost an additional $87,000 now — for the exact same stack.

In 2023, SaaS inflation increased by 8.7%, meaning the same unchanged set of SaaS products will cost businesses significantly more than it did a year ago.

SaaS inflation in 2023 has been driven by a variety of factors, but fundamentally it is due to a majority of vendors increasing their pricing.

Almost three quarters (73%) of all software vendors put prices up over the past 12 months, 1% less than the share that did in 2022, but significantly more than the share that did so in 2021, when barely half of vendors raised prices (56%).

Among those that did raise prices in 2023, the average increase was 12% — well above consumer inflation. Most major vendors hiked their prices, such as HubSpot, which raised by the 12% average, or Microsoft which increased its pricing by 15%. Some were even higher, such as web development platform, Webflow, whose customers experienced a 23% rise.

This average is well above consumer inflation, even after accounting for those that left prices unchanged. Consumer inflation, which includes everything from apparel and food to housing and healthcare, remains higher than in recent periods but has fallen relatively sharply compared with 2022, in most markets by at least 2 or 3%. SaaS inflation, however, is almost identical to the very high rates seen in 2022, falling by only 0.3%.

While wider consumer inflation has fallen globally from 7.5% to 5.2% (UN), SaaS inflation remains uncomfortably high — 68% higher than for other products.

SaaS inflation is higher than consumer inflation, meaning the cost of SaaS is growing much faster (+68%) than the cost of goods in general. This is considerably quicker than in 2022, when SaaS inflation was still higher than consumer inflation (+20%), but not as severely.

Vendors broadly increase pricing at a globally consistent rate, with exceptions notable by their rarity. Consumer inflation, of course, varies wildly between regions and can be directly managed by central banks for each nation. SaaS inflation is less beholden to these forces, but it means that the growth in the cost of SaaS outstrips the cost of other goods at a swifter pace in some regions than others.

SaaS inflation is three times the rate of consumer inflation (CPI) in Spain, and around double the inflation rate in the US, Singapore and Canada. In regions where CPI is very high, such as the UK and Australia, SaaS inflation will feel more aligned to consumer inflation, but is still at a might more aggressive rate than in other product categories — rivaled only by food and drink.

The rise in SaaS prices is not uniform by product category either. Sales software, which is already the least utilized in terms of licenses by employees and among the poorest segments for pricing transparency, has seen bigger price hikes than in other software categories.

The inflation rate for sales SaaS is 10.6%, followed by finance (10.2%) and productivity (10.1%) tools. HR and marketing software, perhaps less likely to be considered essential or to directly deliver an ROI, has seen more modest inflation rates. Salesforce is perhaps the most notable example in the sales category, raising its pricing by around 10% in the summer of 2023.

SaaS Shrinkflation is rampant

One striking finding from this research is that while SaaS spending is growing by 17.9% in total, only 8.7% of this comes from a growth in vendor list prices. The remainder is driven by at least two other mechanisms. Firstly, there is increased levels of adoption; essentially more investment in new products and additional licenses. In AI software alone, spending tripled in the first six months of 2023.

The other is shrinkflation, which is a portmanteau coined to describe the effect of obfuscated changes to pricing in terms of value to the customer that may not immediately appear on a pricing rate card.

Inflation is, for most people, a fairly intuitive concept. It’s simple to grasp how a grocery item that cost $1 five years ago now costs $2. SaaS is a little more nebulous, involving a complex constellation of packages, bundles and license agreements that make comprehending it more difficult. Shrinkflation takes advantage of this confusion, with vendors employing a handful of novel tactics to increase revenue without making obvious increases to pricing.

Most (57%) SaaS providers take measures to mask their pricing to customers, meaning just 43% of vendors publish pricing in their public-facing materials, such as on their website. This is a small drop on last year, when 45% did so. It’s worth stressing this data point, as it is underlined by the finding that vendors with weak Pricing Clarity scores are much more likely to increase prices than those with strong Pricing Clarity scores.

Pricing Clarity is a score developed by Vertice that provides insight into how a vendor compares with peers with regard to its pricing approach. The score is comprised of three core metrics, each concerning a different aspect of a vendor’s pricing.

  • Simplicity is rated on how easy and intuitive pricing is to understand
  • Transparency is rated on the availability of published pricing structures
  • Parity is rated on how consistent pricing is across similar customer profiles

Vertice research shows that an increase in Pricing Clarity by one standard deviation leads to lower average price increases by 2.7%. Put more simply, the more hidden, complicated and divergent a vendor’s pricing is, the more likely it is to be increased.

See our ranking of vendors with standout Pricing Clarity scores ›

There are a myriad of ways in which SaaS shrinkflation manifests, and understanding the concepts behind them can be useful when negotiating renewals or managing new purchases.

Bundling of products and features can often hide decreases in real value to end customers. Vendors such as Aircall and Atlassian position their pricing to compile multiple solutions into a single offering, not all of which are necessarily required by their customers.

Unbundling of products and features can achieve the same end result, albeit with inverted methods. By charging for individual modules rather than a single platform, the SaaS vendors can squeeze out more revenue per customer. Hex, for instance, now charges for view-only seats, which were previously included in its platform pricing.

Non-cumulative pricing limits the amount of value a customer can accrue over time. Some vendors do not allow customers to collect cumulative credits on usage or other criteria, instead making customers use their paid-for allowance or accept losing it for subsequent pay periods. Switching to a use-it-or-lose-it model is a subtle way of increasing revenue for SaaS vendors — both Snowflake and Zapier use this model.

Currency harmonization is the practice of adjusting prices regionally to account for currency drift, retaining some parity between pricing in different markets. In reality, vendor pricing is often increased in markets that are more affordable for customers, rather than pricing being in markets that are comparatively more expensive — as was the case with Microsoft in the summer of 2023.

Restructuring pricing can also be a wholesale change, as when Unity transformed its approach for charging developers to catastrophic effects. This can be aligned with a major product shift, such as when moving to the cloud, or just a strategic business change. Major adjustments to pricing models can mask increases as it becomes challenging for customers to compare in a before-and-after analysis.

Reduced discounting occurs when vendors adopt new parameters for setting levels of discounts for their products, and is an often invisible element of shrinkflation. Reducing the levels of discounts salespeople are able to unilaterally agree to, in order to secure a deal can drive up net prices. A push for longer term contracts can obfuscate contractual price increases, with discounting less flexible over time. Vertice has observed that the willingness to discount has reduced markedly among software vendors.

How to tackle SaaS inflation

While consumers face a cost of living crisis across much of the world, businesses are facing their own ‘cost of software’ crisis, with costs rising much faster than is reasonable. This is driven largely by SaaS inflation, and amplified by the more subtle impact of SaaS shrinkflation.

When coupled with other spiraling costs, such as those associated with working in the cloud, it’s evident that CFOs that can manage their costs in a lean, strategic way stand to benefit significantly over those that don’t. Efficient businesses are not only more likely to turn a profit or avoid cash flow problems, but they are also less vulnerable to being forced into making redundancies and other hard-hitting measures that can cut deep into a business.

This is where Vertice comes in. With access to authentic and validated pricing data for more than 16,000 vendors worldwide, our expert purchasing team will ensure you’re getting the best possible deal on any SaaS contract, enabling you to reduce your annual software spend by up to 30% without compromising on your preferred tech stack.

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