Why do prices fluctuate in online advertising

Different prices on the net

Unit prices have long been a thing of the past when shopping online. The prices that are shown to you online can depend on many factors. The time of purchase, the device you are using or your place of residence can result in different prices being displayed in the same online shop.

Individualized prices are the exception

So far, there has been little reliable knowledge about how and to what extent online retailers use dynamic or individualized prices. In order to change that, the market watchdog experts at the Brandenburg Consumer Center examined the prices of 16 German online retailers, Amazon and retailers on the Amazon marketplace in 2018 - with a surprising result: very few online retailers use individualized price differentiation. Nevertheless, there are reasons for uncertainty.

The focus of the current study was the individualization of prices according to customer-based parameters such as the respective device or location. In order to find out whether customers are receiving different prices for the same product in the same online shop at the same time, the market watchdogs have prices of 1,554 items at 16 online retailers, Amazon and more than 2,000 retailers on the Amazon marketplace from January 31 to January 6 . September 2018 evaluated on five devices.

Device and location hardly influenced the price

Only at two online retailers was there a price differentiation according to location. There was no systematic price advantage for one of the locations examined. Sometimes the one benefited, sometimes the other. In principle, however, it is not allowed to demand different prices from consumers from different EU countries, further information: No more geoblocking when shopping online.

With regard to the individualization of prices according to end devices, however, there were definitely differences in the study. For example, different end devices show different prices for a significant proportion of the products examined over a period of 20 minutes - in the toy category even for more than half (61%). However, these price differences can be traced back to other causes: If prices are changed almost every minute, it is hardly possible to distinguish whether the price differentiation is highly dynamic or individualized.

In addition, mobile devices usually display article information in a very shortened form. It is not always clear for which specific model variant the displayed price applies. It gives the impression of different prices for the supposedly same product.

Dynamic pricing: price jumps within a very short time

In a previous study, the market watchdogs took a closer look at different online prices over time. For this purpose, the prices of selected dealers were observed for 34 days. The result: In the extreme, the price for one and the same product was changed up to 32 times during this time. More than every third examined product was exposed to price fluctuations within the observed 34 days and almost two thirds of the varied prices changed up to three times, 36 percent even four to 15 times.

There were also major differences in the amount of price adjustments: around a third of the prices were more than doubled in some cases. In the case of a mobile phone from MediaMarkt, a total of 220 euros was between the lowest and highest offered price in the same shop.

The timing makes the difference

Whether in the evening or in the morning - the time is also decisive for the displayed price: At the online retailer ATU, car batteries or tires were up to 30 percent more expensive in the morning than in the afternoon before. At the DocMorris and Sanicare mail-order pharmacies, price reductions were accompanied by price increases for other items on individual days.

Our tips for dealing with dynamic pricing

  • It is generally recommended Pay close attention to prices online. As the study shows, especially at different times of the day.
  • Especially with larger, expensive purchases, a price comparison pay off over a longer period of time. Comparison portals can also be suitable for this.
  • Order in addition to discounted products there are other articles that you should pay particular attention to.
  • We have put together further tips on the subject of online trading for you here.

Different buyer, different price

In the future, which price is displayed to you online could also depend more on other factors than dynamic pricing, such as your individual surfing behavior, the device used or your place of residence. In order to avoid having to pay extra, these tips can help - but it is important to compare the prices of different providers:

  • If you look at an article several times, this signals to the retailer that you are interested in buying. This could potentially result in a higher price being shown to you. So look at the same offer - especially with expensive products with a different browser at. It is important that the second browser no cookies are stored, which can also lead to different prices. You can delete the cookies in your browser via the settings.
  • Browse through online stores not when logged in, but ideally first register at the checkout. As a registered user, the online retailer can easily analyze your purchasing preferences and adjust your prices accordingly.
  • If you shop with your smartphone or tablet, compare the price again using the browser on your PC or laptop. Different price views can often also be from device used depend.
  • With a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service, you can avoid this type of individualized pricing and your Hide or change the IP address: A VPN encrypts your internet connection. In this way, your data (e.g. your location) remain secret.