WSJ: Staples, others, adjust prices based on location


— 9:53 AM on December 24, 2012

This summer, the Wall Street Journal broke a story about Orbitz featuring different deals for Mac and PC users. The Journal is now reporting on something similar but arguably more aggravating. Apparently, some e-tailers and other e-commerce sites are charging different prices depending on where customers live—and no, none of it has to do with taxes or shipping. The paper explains:

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that the Staples Inc. website displays different prices to people after estimating their locations. More than that, Staples appeared to consider the person's distance from a rival brick-and-mortar store, either OfficeMax Inc. or Office Depot Inc. If rival stores were within 20 miles or so, Staples.com usually showed a discounted price.

The Journal says Staples charges more in higher-income areas, too. And it turns out that other companies do the same thing. During its investigation, the Journal found that Discover, Rosetta Stone, and Home Depot were all "consistently adjusting prices and displaying different product offers based on a range of characteristics that could be discovered about the user."

Surprisingly enough, the practice is legal—and has a fairly long history. Amazon reportedly implemented a similar scheme back in 2000, although it eventually backtracked and refunded users who were overcharged. According to a poll quoted by the Journal, 76% of American adults say they would be bothered if someone else paid less than they did for a given item. I'm surprised that number isn't higher.

   
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