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When the Device You Use Determines the Price You Get

by on October 28, 2014
in Shopping, News, Travel & Entertainment, Travel, Home Improvement, Blog :: 4 comments

Couple making a purchase online with a tabletMost major e-commerce websites embrace personalization – that is, making recommendations on products and services based on your known past preferences. In most situations, it’s a win-win for both the consumer and website. But according to a new study from Northeastern University (PDF), personalization could be costing you a lot of money, especially when it comes to travel websites.

In the study, 300 recruited real-world online shoppers visited 16 different websites – 10 of which were general retailers, and six of which were hotel booking sites. Researchers compared the prices each person was quoted and studied how these prices varied based on operating system, browser, past purchases and clicks. Seven of the 16 sites exhibited some degree of personalization where different people wound up being served different search results or different prices.

Fortunately, there’s no need to wonder which site offers which discounts to whom – the research spells out all that information for us. Here are the seven sites that personalize search results, and the information you need to know to get the best prices on each. Spoiler alert: Apple iPhone owners often see lower prices.

Home Depot

Of the ten different general retailers studied by Northeastern – Best Buy, CDW, Home Depot, JCPenney, Macy’s, Newegg, Office Depot, Sears, Staples and Walmart – only Home Depot practiced price discrimination at any significant rate. Specifically, the researchers found that Home Depot charges Android users higher prices on approximately 6% of the items in its catalog. Thankfully, the average price differential is small – just $0.41 on average. But on an item-by-item basis, you can occasionally see browser-specific price swings of $100 or more.

Cheaptickets and Orbitz

To get the best deals on both Cheaptickets or Orbitz, you’ll want to be a registered account holder. Researchers found that when users logged in they saw better "members only" prices on 5% of hotel listings, saving an average of $12. There’s no cost to sign up for an account, so be sure to do so before you go shopping, not after!

Hotels.com and Expedia

The study found that neither Hotels.com nor Expedia practices price discrimination – all users get the same price, regardless of operating system or browsing history. But these two sites do serve different search results to different users. Each visitor is placed into one of three random groups based on cookies, each of which is shown significantly different search results for the same queries. You can attempt to change your random group by clearing your cookies and visiting the site again.

Priceline

Priceline, like Hotels.com and Expedia, doesn’t practice price discrimination. But 'The Negotiator' does alter your search results based on your history of past clicks and purchases. If you prefer booking cheaper hotel rooms, Priceline will favor cheaper rooms in your search results. If you regularly book 3- and 4-star accommodations, Priceline will default to showing you its more expensive options. Thankfully, hotel results are easily sorted by price on the site, even if it doesn’t happen automatically.

Travelocity

If you’re going to book a hotel room on Travelocity, you’ll definitely want to do it on an iPhone or iPad. The researchers found that as many as 5% of the site’s rooms carry a special unadvertised iOS “Apple discount” averaging $15 per night. Watch out if you’re visiting on Chrome or IE 8, though: One room showed up $50 more expensive on those browsers than on others.

[Couple shopping online on tablet via Shutterstock]



Discussion loading

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Boo!

From Greg Williams on October 28, 2014 :: 12:30 pm

That is dispricination
and how do they justify it? Just knowing this will change my opinion of those stores and service Web sites and I will give my business to the ones that do not do that or do it the least. But more Apple snobbery again and just when you thought most of it was dead it rears it’s ugly head again. There are now considerably more android users than fan boys and fan girls. We had to grin and bear it until android grew beyond Apple and the playing table leveled, now I hear this again and it gets my blood boiling!

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Oh please, I could also

From Life is Never Fair on October 29, 2014 :: 1:33 am

Oh please, I could also call you an Android fanboy or fangirl. There is nothing wrong with liking Apple products. As an American, you should support Apple rather than boo them. To be fair, I have both Android and Apple devices and I can tell you that Apple devices are much more reliable to use than Android devices even if they are supposedly on dated technology. Giving special treatment based on device used is nothing new. I guess you’ve never heard of Amazon giving heavily-discounted Special Offers for products exclusively to its Kindle device owners. You were born poor, live with it. Life is never fair, live with it.

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To Never Fair

From Raindrop on October 29, 2014 :: 11:46 am

Typical…I’ll bet you’re a Republican, too.

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Difference of opinion

From Ryne Smith on November 01, 2014 :: 9:27 pm

That is still just your personal experiences. I have had the opposite experiences with Apple products. I was tired of overpaying for the unreliability of my Apple devices. I have been much happier with my Android and Windows devices. People just have different experiences. I do enjoy having more options with my hardware than I did with Apple though. Either way, it is sad that these companies do this. However, I do think they should have the right to do so. Just like I have the right to not go back to them.

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