3 On Your Side
3 On Your Side

Online invasion secrets 'they' don't want you to know about

Posted: Updated:
Dynamic pricing means the price of a product can go up or down in a split second depending on if you're the buyer or someone else is. (Source: 3TV) Dynamic pricing means the price of a product can go up or down in a split second depending on if you're the buyer or someone else is. (Source: 3TV)
Cookies are little text files stored on your computer that your web browser sends to a server when you visit a website. They're used to track website activity. (Source: rawpixel via 123RF) Cookies are little text files stored on your computer that your web browser sends to a server when you visit a website. They're used to track website activity. (Source: rawpixel via 123RF)
How can online shoppers know they're really getting a bargain? Well, it just might depend on the computer they're using. (Source: tuthelens via 123RF) How can online shoppers know they're really getting a bargain? Well, it just might depend on the computer they're using. (Source: tuthelens via 123RF)
(3 ON YOUR SIDE) -

Dynamic pricing means the price of a product can go up or down in a split second depending on if you're the buyer or someone else is.

Michelle Moran is a busy mom and shopping with kids can be a handful. Moran said that's why she does a lot of online shopping.

"Amazon is like my best friend," she said. "Anything we need, it's like 'click,' and there we go." 

Moran says she’s a savvy consumer, but how can she and other consumers know they're really getting a bargain? Well, it just might depend on the computer they're using, as well as other factors.

"A lot of people don't realize how much information your computer gives up the minute you hit a website," explained Ken Colburn, a computer and technology expert with Data Doctors. He said your computer and all the information on it might dictate the deal you get.

How frequently you shop online, the type of computer you're using and how much time you spend browsing online are little secret factoids that your computer relays to retailers via cookies, small text files stored on your computer that your web browser sends to a server when you visit a website. Cookies are used to track website activity.

With that info, retailers can adjust or change their pricing. It's a practice known as dynamic pricing, sometimes called surge pricing or demand pricing.

"They'll know whether you're using Windows or a Mac, and retailers know that Macintosh households generally have a higher income than Windows households," Colburn said. "Someone that's on a Mac, they spend twice as much on the computer. Maybe their propensity to spend more is a little higher."

Colburn says shopping from a mobile device can also affect dynamic pricing.

"Mobile users that are hitting a lot of different travel sites, this person's probably a business traveler; let's give them more aggressive pricing because he probably does his homework versus someone that, basically it's the first time we've seen him; they probably don't know any better; let's just throw a bigger price at them and see if they buy."

What this all means, of course, is that certain buyers like Moran might wind up getting a different price than someone else.

Colburn says it's even true for where you live. Ever punch in your ZIP code into a retailer's website?  Believe it not, retailers can quote you a price depending on how wealthy your area is.

"You can try changing ZIP codes to maybe a rural location," Colburn said. "We have seen in the past where the algorithm is smart enough to realize, based on your location, you're closer to their location then the competitor far away, and based on that they're gonna provide you with a higher price."

Colburn says it's a very sophisticated and constantly changing process that most consumers don't even know exists.

"No, not at all. I don't think your average, everyday person knows anything," he said. "They think they're going online to go shopping and making their life easier and getting a good deal, and meanwhile, whatever is going on in the background, they're charging you a couple dollars more; they're getting your information."  

That's something consumers like Moran may not like if they aren't getting the best possible deal.

"No, I never would have thought, it's just like this is the price tag on it, so that's what it is," she said. "It's a good deal for me, so I'm gonna take it. I never thought well for 'Sally,' it's $5 more because she lives two hours from the nearest mall."

The good news is there are ways to help combat dynamic pricing.

  • Shop around on multiple sites; do a lot of comparison shopping.  The "data" that you're transmitting will pick up on this and likely adjust your price.
  • Shop and search on more than one browser.
  • Plug in different ZIP codes on a product you want and see if there's a price difference.
  • Shop in secret by going to your tool bar and looking for the "incognito window." This hides your cookies and prevents retailers from knowing too much about you. You can also try using a proxy or VPN service that encrypts your web traffic.

Moran says it's important information she didn't know, especially since she watches every penny she spends.

"Yeah, I want that 50 cents and all of it!"

Dynamic pricing takes a lot into consideration, including like the day of the week or even the time of day you're going to buy something online. So, like everything else, shop around for the best price.

Copyright 2016 KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


  • Social Connect

  • Contact

    AZ Family
Contact 3 On Your Side