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Study: Devious Retailers Are "Steering" You Into Higher Prices

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

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How do shoppers know that the price they're paying online isn't being manipulated by retailers? The Wall Street Journal reports on a study by Northeastern University computer scientists about discriminatory prices and finds that the practice is definitely happening, in one form or another.

Discriminatory pricing or "price steering" is when e-commerce sites personalize prices per customer, charge different prices for the same items, or steer some users toward higher-price items. The scientists tracked search experiences on 16 popular e-commerce sites and found that six out of 16 used "price steering" practices and none shared these practices with customers.

According to the Northeastern University research, these companies included Cheaptickets and Orbitz, which charged some customers more when they weren't logged into the site. Meanwhile, Home Depot showed more expensive products to customers on mobile devices as opposed to desktop computers. Travelocity charged iOS mobile users less, and Expedia and used A/B testing to place customers in groups that spotlights either more expensive or less expensive hotels. Home Depot, Expedia, and Orbitz spokespeople all said that pricing is not intentionally manipulated.
· Why You Can't Trust You're Getting the Best Deal Online [WSJ]
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