What is a Markup Formula?

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  • Originally Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Revised By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 June 2019
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When companies sell something, they want to earn profits and need to set their prices accordingly. A markup formula is a math tool that gives businesses a way to figure out what they should sell something for while still making money and covering overhead expenses like materials. Customers sometimes use these equations to get a sense of whether something is overpriced, although an accurate picture requires information about the overhead expenses that the average buyer might not have. The formulas might involve dollar amounts, percentages or a combination of the two, depending on the goals people have. Experts say it’s better to adjust the formula that is applied by the categories of goods and services offered, rather than to rely on just one method.

Basic Formula

A company might use the following general formula:

To use this formula, the seller determines the desired percentage, and everything follows from that. Figuring out what this needs to be can be very complex, however. A business manager must consider a wide range of overhead expenses that need to be covered, such as employee wages, taxes, webhosting, utilities, taxes, rent and maintenance. He then has to look at the financial goals of the company and figure out how much net profit he would like to gain from the sale, understanding that the higher the added amount is, the fewer items he needs to sell to meet whatever profit level he wants.


Keystone Method

The keystone method is an example of a very simple approach to markup and presents a different formula. To use this method, a person simply doubles the amount the company pays to determine the retail price. A $5 US Dollar (USD) item therefore is sold for $10 USD, while a $500 USD item would be sold for $1,000 USD. Note that while the formula is consistent—COST x 2 = SELLING PRICE—the profit for each sale goes up with the initial expense of the item. Put another way, the keystone method has a 50% margin and 100% markup. Showing this in terms of the general formula for the two pricing examples gives:

How Customers Calculate Additions

In some cases, a customer might look at a sale price and want to know how much a business added to its cost. She can figure this out looking just at dollar amounts, or she can calculate the percentage the company used. Using just monetary values, for example, an item might sell to consumers for $100 USD. The merchandise only set the seller back $75 USD. The buyer would subtract the what the company paid from the selling price:

If a customer wants to look at the added amount in terms of the percentage the business used to get the final sale amount, she has to use a more complex formula:

Using the figures from the previous example, this would become:

Markup Formula Versus Profit Margin

People sometimes confuse the final value involved in a markup formula with profit margin. A markup is an amount added to the company’s cost to get the final selling price. It includes the expenses a company has to cover as well as the amount of money it wants to keep, and it is always relative to what the business pays. By contrast, a profit margin is the percentage of the sale amount that is gross profit, and it is always relative to the what the consumer pays. To find net profits, or the amount of money from a sale that the organization actually can hang onto, a person has to subtract overhead expenses from the gross profits.


A business has to resist the temptation to add big amounts to boost profits, because customers will compare the sale price to the prices other competitors set. If the addition puts the sale price well above the general market value for the item, buyers might assume that the company is purposely exaggerating what it charges. If the customer thinks the company is unfair, he likely will go to a different seller that offers a lower rate. In this sense, market value and what a company adds are always connected.

Even though a customer can figure out how much a business has added to the original purchase or manufacturing price, without being an insider to the company, he really can’t determine the profit margin the organization has. An addition of 50% might seem like too much to the buyer, for instance. If the manufacturer or retailer has extremely high overhead expenses, however, the margin will be low.


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Discuss this Article

Post 4

@Charred - I’ve heard the same thing myself. The oil companies don’t set prices for oil, the market does. When speculating drives the prices up, the companies make a decent profit even if their margins are small.

I can’t give you the actual markup calculation for oil companies, but I think grocery chains have small margins too, at around 1%.

Post 3

@David09 - I’ve often heard that the industry with the smallest gross profit margin is oil, believe it or not. I haven’t been able to confirm this, except from speaking with a few friends who work in the industry. The margin is thin because of the costs of research, drilling and exploration.

Post 2

@David09 - I think the industry with the biggest markups has got to be jewelry. I know someone who works in the retail business who confided to me that with engagement jewelry, they have markups of 300% to 1,000%. Of course, he didn’t just volunteer that information to me. I had to keep bugging him to give me the average margin formula, and I wasn’t in the market for jewelry at the time.

I’ve heard from other industry insiders that this kind of range is quite reasonable. If you’re looking to buy jewelry, you should definitely shop with this in mind. You can still take a hefty discount while letting the jeweler make a decent profit.

Post 1

My wife ran a part-time, specialty merchandise business for some time. She sold her stuff through parties, and direct sales. The company she worked with gave her catalogs that showed the retail markup formula for each product. There was usually enough wiggle room for her to offer discounts to her customers and still make a decent profit on her products.

There was also a second catalog that had wholesale markup formula listings. These were the prices she could offer resellers—people who would be willing to buy her products in bulk in order to resell them. Again, the markups were much smaller, but in bulk purchases she still made decent money.

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