Why Some People Pay More Than Others When Shopping Online

by Gerry Smith, The Huffington Post

ccardcomputerYou may pay more than your friends when shopping online based on your web browsing history or what kind of smartphone you own, according to a new study analyzing price discrimination on e-commerce sites.

In April and May of this year, researchers at Northeastern University in Boston studied the search results of 300 people who visited 16 online retailers and travel agencies. On nine of those sites, they found that customers were shown different prices or different results for the same searches.

The researchers said such differences – which they called “price discrimination” or “price steering” – are based on data collected about consumers and can be hard for online shoppers to detect.

“As a user, it’s almost impossible to know whether the prices you are being shown have been altered, or if cheaper products have been hidden from search results,” one of the researchers, Christo Wilson, wrote in an op-ed this week in the Washington Post.

For example, the study said that online travel company Expedia displays pricier hotels to some users based on the browsing history stored on their computers,

which are called “cookies,” though researchers could not determine what sort of browsing activity triggered the higher prices.

Continue reading, and link to the study »