The online age has armed Internet users with the ability to instantly compare the cost of just about any product or service. In the fraction of a second that it takes to punch in a search term or tap on an ad, shoppers get access to numerous online stores. From there, just about anything there is to buy can be bought in just a few clicks.
A new coat, shoes for the kids or a great, all-inclusive holiday in turkey. Ever more deal hunters are turning to the Internet. Leisurely weekend shopping trips to the city in search of the latest fashions, trendiest gadgets and lowest prices no longer feature in “smart” shopper’s lives.
Younger generations in particular no longer feel the need for face-to-face consultation or hands-on contact when purchasing consumer goods. Instead, they rely on digital offers and in some cases even appreciate the anonymity of salesperson-free shopping.
Shopping online: Beware of data harvesters and price traps
Unfortunately, virtual shopping is nowhere near as anonymous as many online shoppers would like to believe it is. The notorious data harvesting practices employed by companies like Google and Facebook have long been the subject of discussion in politics and press. Data protection and personal freedom with regards to data observation by secret service agencies and governments is also an ongoing issue. But it is online shopping portals that have been the most innovative in the methods they use to capture user data and turn it into profit.
These methods include retargeting and remarketing, in which web applications known as “cookies” are installed within users’ web-browsers. The harvested data is used to market to users through targeted advertisements, both on the online store and through countless other websites.
Dynamic Pricing: An Increasing Trend
Many big online stores, including numerous travel portals, take “personalized” shopping a step further by adjusting their prices based on your location and spending habits, as per the intelligence they’ve collected. Thanks to this dynamic pricing, you may be charged much more for a product, such as a flight, if data indicates that you are exceptionally keen on buying that product.
You may also be charged more for products, such as hotel lodging, based on the type of device you use to access the offer. Example: If statistics show that Apple device users are generally willing to spend more, higher price tags for products and services may automatically apply when you shop using an Apple device.
The same rule applies to locations. The average online shopper in Zurich may be willing to spend more than a customer in an Alpine village. Just shopping online from Switzerland already makes you a candidate for much higher prices at many cross-border online stores.
Aside from your location, your online behavior and the device you use, numerous other factors are also used to generate the price which data suggests you are willing to pay. The time of day and the weather at your location are just two examples of relevant data.
Collectively, the practice employed in creating targeted prices customized to match each customer individually is known as “dynamic pricing”. This practice is not in any way limited to travel. While it is already being rapidly adopted by online stores, we may soon see dynamic pricing being used by insurance and banking portals as well (moneyland.ch does not use dynamic pricing in its comparisons).
Tips for avoiding price traps
Although there is still no legal apparatus in place to protect consumers, a few simple precautions can help protect you from the most common data collection practices and resulting rip-offs.
For a start, try using two different browsers: one to search for the deals you want, and the other to make purchases. Doing this will cut out price hikes based on your search data. Secondly, always clear your browser cache, deleting your search history and cookies, after each online session.
Unfortunately, just adopting these simple online habits is no longer enough to fully protect you from dynamic pricing. Specialized programs and anonymity software are available, and these can go a long way in protecting you from data harvesters. The Tor Browser is currently one of the most anonymous browsers available. However, the added protection comes at the cost of longer loading times.
Fingerprinting on the rise
Unfortunately, data harvesting technology employed by advertisers (like AddThis) and merchants usually manages to stay a step ahead of protective measures. Deleting your browser data will only protect you for a limited amount of time.
An increasing number of websites now employ what is known as “canvas fingerprinting”. This technology identifies you based on your browser and computer profile, regardless of whether or not you clear your browser’s cache. Some web experts now believe that completely anonymous browsing is no longer possible.
The moneyland.ch team