This article comes to us from consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch.
One of the most powerful tools retailers use to trick you into spending money is dynamic pricing. This refers to the practice of fluctuating prices on products throughout the month, week or even day. Both online retailers and brick-and-mortar stores use analytical tools to manipulate prices based on demand, time of day, weather and even zip code with the ultimate goal of maximizing profits. For example, a study tracking Amazon found the online giant changed the price on a GE microwave nine times in just one day.
By adjusting prices based on consumer and market behavior, retailers can capture more customers while getting the most money from each sale. That means the price you viewed on a product in the morning could change by the time you get home from work at night. These analytical tools may also identify an IP address for repeat searches and subsequently send a price soaring.
With such advanced technology working against you, dynamic pricing may seem unbeatable. However, the following tactics can put you back in control of your spending and help you snag the best price on a purchase.
Clear Your Cookies
Cookies (in Internet-speak) are what help you avoid entering your login information every time you check your bank statement, but they’re also responsible for tracking your buying patterns across the web. This creates a digital profile of your purchasing behavior and sites adjust pricing and search results accordingly. Erase your cookies before your next online shopping task to receive unbiased results.
A study about price discrimination from Northeastern University in Boston revealed registered users to sites like Orbitz were sometimes presented with better deals than non-registered users. Clearing your cookies as advised above could impact member pricing, so in these cases it’s best to browse covertly. If you’re a repeat customer with a login, use Chrome’s Incognito mode or Firefox’s Private tab to search for prices and compare them to traditional browsing to determine any price differences.
Compare and Track Prices
The biggest weapon against dynamic pricing is price tracking. Knowing the history of a product’s price can show you how high or low it’s been, and during what times. CamelCamelCamel offers price history and tracking for Amazon products, while TrackIf.com helps you track products from other retail websites. You can also use price comparison search engines like PriceGrabber to find out who has the best price at the moment. Finally, browser add-ons like Invisible Hand alert you when a product you’re looking at is better priced elsewhere.
Set Sale Alerts
When you’re short on time, setting sale alerts is helpful to learn when a product’s price drops due to a promotion or available coupon. Pinterest actually has a setting to alert you when something you’ve saved (or “pinned”) from a retail website drops in price. You can also use SnapUp, an app that organizes your mobile screenshots of products into a database and lets you organize by category (“clothing” or “John’s birthday”), and sends you an email when product prices drop. PoachIt offers similar price-tracking features but highlights specific coupon codes that help you offset the cost of your purchase.
Apply a Coupon
Obvious, yes, but oh-so-important! If a checkout page has a field for a promo code, take a moment to look for one before you proceed. Search for coupon codes on deal sites like CouponSherpa.com to easily find deals from specific stores or within product categories. If you’d rather not search through coupon sites, install the Honey browser extension and have available codes automatically pop up during checkout.
To compete for your business, several major retailers are willing to match one another’s prices, making your pursuit of savings much easier. Plus, if you have perks with one retailer (like rewards cash), you don’t have to sacrifice those rewards to get a better price. Review the retailer's price-match policy or open up a live chat session with an online rep. You’ll have to provide proof of the better price but it should be as simple as copying and pasting a link from the other store.
Name Your Own Price
Ideally, you could always pay the price you think something is worth, but in retail it doesn’t typically work that way. However, when it comes to gadgets, electronics and, um, baby gear, Greentoe gets us to that point. Search for your desired product and Greentoe shows you the lowest and average online price, plus gives you an idea of how well your offer will be received. Submit an offer and the first retailer to accept it gets the sale, and you get the product at the price you want. You also have the power to name your own price through portals like Craigslist or Facebook Groups, where you can negotiate your preferred price with the seller.
Call Customer Service
When in doubt, give customer service a call and speak to someone. You’d be amazed what you can get by simply asking. A friend of mine was disappointed with part of a purchase she made over Black Friday weekend, and was torn about whether to keep it anyway because the return-shipping fees would be outlandish. I encouraged her to call customer service and let them know she wasn’t satisfied with the product. She did, and the company sent her a return-shipping label, no questions asked. I’ve also used this tactic countless times and have had expired coupons honored or been granted free overnight shipping.
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* All banks listed are a Member FDIC.