Discriminatory pricing is nothing new, a good salesperson or market stallholder can quickly sum up a punter’s ability or willingness to pay and offer the price which will get a sale.
Anybody who’s travelled in countries like Thailand or China is used to Gwailos and Farang prices being substantially higher even for official charges like entrance fees to national parks and museums.
The Internet takes the opportunity for discriminatory pricing even further arming online stores armed with a huge amount of customer information which allows them to set prices according to what the algorithm thinks will be the best deal for the seller.
Recently researchers found that the Orbitz website would offer cheaper deals for people searching for fares on mobile phones and prices would vary depending of which brand of smartphone people would use.
Writers for the Wall Street Journal did an experiment with buying staplers and found the same thing.
Interestingly, one of the factors Staples’ seems to take into account is the distance customers live from a competitors’s store – the closer you live to the competition, the lower the price offered.
There’s also other factors at play; sometimes you don’t want a customer, or you don’t want to sell a particular product and it’s easy to guess the formulas used by Staples and other big retailers do the same thing.
One of the great promises of the internet was that customers’ access to information would usher in a new era of transparency. In this case it seems the opposite is happening.