Online firms are using increasingly inexpensive computing power to factor consumer location, distance from competitors, and credit rating so quickly that online purchasers do not even realize that they are receiving a difference price than other buyers, according to a 12/24/12 wsj.online article, “Websites Vary Prices, Deals Based on Users' Information” by Jennifer Valentino-Devries, Jeremy Singer-Vine and Ashkan Soltani.
WSJ researchers found discrepancies in online prices on posted by Staples, Home Depot, Rosetta Stone, Lowe’s Cos., and Discover Financial Services. For Staples, the WSJ randomly picked over 1,000 items and found price differences for about 1/3 of the products. The average delta was 8%. Rosetta Stone offers up to a 20% discount on German language lessons to some US and Canadian website visitors, but not to viewers from the UK and Germany.
Staples stated only that that "in-store and online prices do vary by geography due to a variety of factors, including rent, labor, distribution and other costs of doing business."
"We are increasingly focused on segmentation and targeting," a Rosetta Stone spokesman said. "Every customer is different."
Some of the differences are testing of different price points and bundles, but the practice appears to be more widespread than traditional testing.
We already knew that prices in bricks and mortar locations differed, but the Internet was supposed to be the great equalizer and many consumers still want equality online. According to the article, “But price-changing online isn't popular among shoppers. Some 76% of American adults have said it would bother them to find out that other people paid a lower price for the same product, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.”
The bottom line is that there is no firm bottom line in online price research; online prices are increasingly variable. You probably need Big Data analytics to understand competitors pricing practices and algorithms, not a few researchers checking websites.