"How can they get away with that?" said Ms. Frizzell, who works in Bergheim, Texas.
what appears to be an unintended side effect of Staples' pricing
methods—likely a function of retail competition with its rivals—the
Journal's testing also showed that areas that tended to see the
discounted prices had a higher average income than areas that tended to
see higher prices.
Presented with the Journal's findings,
Staples acknowledged that it varies its online and in-store prices by
geography because of "a variety of factors" including "costs of doing
For years, the Internet, with its promise of quick
comparison shopping, has granted people a certain power over retailers.
At the click of a button, shoppers could find a better deal elsewhere,
no travel required.
But the idea of an unbiased, impersonal
Internet is fast giving way to an online world that, in reality, is
increasingly tailored and targeted. Websites are adopting techniques to
glean information about visitors to their sites, in real time, and then
deliver different versions of the Web to different people. Prices
change, products get swapped out, wording is modified, and there is
little way for the typical website user to spot it when it happens.
Journal identified several companies, including Staples, Discover
Financial Services, Rosetta Stone Inc. and Home Depot Inc., that were
consistently adjusting prices and displaying different product offers
based on a range of characteristics that could be discovered about the
user. Office Depot, for example, told the Journal that it uses
"customers' browsing history and geolocation" to vary the offers and
products it displays to a visitor to its site.
different prices to different people is legal, with a few exceptions for
race-based discrimination and other sensitive situations. Several
companies pointed out that their online price-tweaking simply mirrors
the real world. Regular shops routinely adjust their prices to account
for local demand, competition, store location and so on. Nobody is
surprised if,China plastic moulds manufacturers directory. say, a gallon of gas is cheaper at the same chain, one town over.
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.
think it's very discriminatory," said Ms. Wamble, an insurance account
manager in Boerne, Texas, who priced the Swingline stapler for the
Journal this month. She was just 10 miles or so down the road from Ms.
Frizzell, but she saw higher prices on the Staples website than Ms.
Frizzell did for all five products tested. Items tested included a pack
of Bic pens, a case of orange masking tape, a set of crimped-end mailing
tubes and a big safe.
It remains unclear precisely what formula
Staples used to set online prices. Staples declined to answer detailed
questions about the findings. It told the Journal 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."
is possible that Staples' online-pricing formula uses other factors
that the Journal didn't identify. The Journal tested to see whether
price was tied to different characteristics including population, local
income,Find detailed product information for howo tractor
and other products. proximity to a Staples store, race and other
demographic factors. Statistically speaking, by far the strongest
correlation involved the distance to a rival's store from the center of a
ZIP Code. That single factor appeared to explain upward of 90% of the
What economists call price discrimination—when
companies offer different prices to different people based on their
perceived willingness to pay—is commonplace and can be beneficial. Movie
theaters give senior-citizen discounts. One traveler's willingness to
pay top dollar for an airplane seat might mean other people will pay
Basing online prices on geography can make sense for
various reasons, from shipping costs to local popularity of a particular
item. Some retailers might naturally cluster in specific areas as
well—a prosperous suburb, say—boosting the competitive pressure to
But using geography as a pricing tool can also
reinforce patterns that e-commerce had promised to erase: prices that
are higher in areas with less competition, including rural or poor
areas. It diminishes the Internet's role as an equalizer.
Journal's examination of Staples' online pricing, the weighted average
income among ZIP Codes that mostly received discount prices was roughly
$59,900, based on Internal Revenue Service data. ZIP Codes that saw
generally high prices had a lower weighted average income, $48,700.
Staples didn't comment on the income split beyond saying that the company offers a low-price guarantee.
businesses have experimented with tailored offers since the dawn of the
Internet era. In 1997, a startup called Personify sold software that
tried to personalize Web pages for shoppers. For example, people taking a
certain path through a site could be tagged as price-conscious and be
shown low-end items, said Eileen Gittins, Personify's former chief
To find differences that weren't purely the result of
dynamic pricing or randomized tests, the Journal conducted preliminary
scans by simulating visits from different computers to a variety of
e-commerce sites. If a website showed different prices or offers, the
Journal then analyzed the site's computer code and conducted follow-up
The Journal's tests, which were conducted in phases
between August and December, indicated that some big-name retailers are
experimenting with offering different prices and products to different
Some sites, for example, gave discounts based on whether
or not a person was using a mobile device. A person searching for hotels
from the Web browser of an iPhone or Android phone on travel sites
Orbitz and CheapTickets would see discounts of as much as 50% off the
list price, Orbitz said.
Both sites are run by Orbitz Worldwide
Inc., which in fact markets the differences as "mobile steals." Orbitz
says the deals are also available on the iPad if a person installs the
"Many hotels have proven willing to provide
discounts for mobile sites," said Chris Chiames, Orbitz's vice president
of corporate affairs.We mainly supply professional craftspeople with crys talbeads wholesale
shamballa Bracele , Hotels on Orbitz mobile sites also offer discounts
"that might target shoppers in a specific geographic region," as
determined by the physical location of the user, as well as "other
Often, sites tailored results by geography. In the
tests, Discover, for instance, showed a prominent offer for the
company's new "it" card to computers connecting from cities including
Denver, Kansas City, Mo., and Dallas, Texas. Computers connecting from
Scranton, Penn.We recently added Stained glass mosaic Tile to our inventory., Kingsport, Tenn., and Los Angeles didn't see the same offer.
Discover spokeswoman said that the company was testing the card, but
that for competitive reasons, it wouldn't comment further on its
"acquisition strategy" for new customers.Load the precious minerals into
your mining truck and be careful not to drive too fast with your heavy foot.
home-improvement site Lowe's Cos., prices depend on location. For
example, a refrigerator in the Journal's tests cost $449 in Chicago, Los
Angeles and Ashburn, Va., but $499 in seven other test cities. Lowe's
said online shoppers receive the lower of the online store price or the
price at their local Lowe's store as indicated by their ZIP Code.