6 Ways to Avoid Sneaky Online Price Changes

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By Kyle James

It's called "dynamic pricing," and it's when online retailers change the price of a product depending on factors like your browsing or purchase history, operating system, and even your zip code.

For example, if you shop regularly at NeimanMarcus.com, a retailer could jump to the conclusion that you're more likely to buy at an expensive price point. Online retailers have even been known to use the income level of your zip code to determine the price they should offer. The fact of the matter is you leave a trail when you shop online, and retailers can tap into that trail in an effort to maximize their profits.

Here is what you need to know about dynamic pricing, along with ways to combat this legal pricing strategy.

1. Check If the Price Changes

So how do you go about determining if you're being duped by dynamic pricing? Here is one easy way to tell: After you look at an item online, decide not to buy it, but later return to the item, does the price get higher? If so, you're dealing with this pricing tactic.

Also, be sure to check the price on your mobile device, or conversely, on a laptop or desktop if you're already on a smartphone. Whether it's the price of an item on Amazon, or the price of a ticket on Orbitz, often retailers will offer a different price depending on your device. If the price changes, then you know you're also dealing with dynamic pricing.

Okay, so you've been able to determine you're dealing with a sneaky pricing tactic, so what can you do about it?

2. Browse in Incognito/Private Mode

By setting your browser to incognito or private mode, none of your browser history is stored on your computer. (Here is a good resource for learning how to set incognito mode on different browsers.) It should also be noted that just because you're in this mode you're not completely anonymous, as each website you visit still has access to your IP address. But they cannot change the price based on your buying and browsing history if you are in incognito or private mode.

3. Disable Third Party Cookies

By using browser cookies, which are tiny bits of information about your computer and browsing history, retailers can determine your likelihood to buy at certain price points. By disabling these third party cookies on your browser, you have essentially stopped online retailers from targeting you with advertisements and adjusting prices on items you've perused via those ads. Third party cookies can generally be blocked without causing any major disruptions in your browsing experience. This should be done in conjunction with browsing in incognito or private mode to maximize your results. Here is a good resource on how to disable cookies across multiple browsers.

4. Shop and Buy on Separate Browsers

Another easy way to avoid dynamic pricing is to simply shop from one browser and make your purchases from another. For example, read product reviews, do price comparisons, and search for coupons on your Firefox browser, then when you're ready to buy, fire up Google Chrome and make your purchase. By doing this you completely trick the online retailer as they think you're a brand new visitor, with no browsing history, and thus are less likely to jack up the price.

5. Enter a Different Zip Code

In recent years, retailers like Office Depot, Staples, and Home Depot have all used your zip code to track your geographical location in an effort to offer different prices to different shoppers. In other words, if you live in a zip code with a high median income, you stand a better chance of being hit by a higher price via dynamic pricing. A simple way to combat this is to enter a different zip code during the checkout process -- perhaps a neighboring zip code with a lower income level -- and see if the price changes. If the price does decrease, then clear your cookies, shop from a mobile device, or shop from a different browser. Only make your purchase when you have the lower price verified in your virtual shopping cart.

6. The Amazon Factor

Amazon is famous for constantly changing their prices based on the competition's price, your browsing and buying history, and a bunch of other factors they'll never disclose. Instead of trying to out-think the retail giant, learn to beat them at their own game. Do this by using the free website CamelCamelCamel which allows you to create "Amazon price drop alerts" on millions of products they sell. When the price drops on Amazon for a product you're tracking, you'll get an alert via email or Twitter. You also get access to the price history of over 18 million Amazon products to help you decide when the price is right. Don't let the strange name of this service fool you -- if you use it regularly, you'll never have to worry about getting overcharged by Amazon again.

As consumers, we have the right to shop with whomever we please. If you feel a website is dynamically raising the price on you, and you're unable to get the lower price, then simply boycott them and take your hard-earned dollars elsewhere. There will almost always be another website or brick and mortar store who can match or beat it.

Have you ever noticed a website changing the price on you? If so, did you decide to shop elsewhere or go ahead and make the purchase?
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