When you shop online, the websites that you visit can tell a lot about you. It may come as a surprise to you, but it is possible for a website to determine what type of computer you are using and what browser you are using.
You might think it is harmless that the site you visit can tell if you are using Chrome, Safari, Firefox or some other web browser. The reality, however, is that the website’s knowledge of your browser and computer can actually end up costing you money.
Your Web Browser Influences Online Prices
Many websites use a sophisticated algorithm to determine what visitors see when they stop by their site. This is why, for example, you may see targeted ads on your Gmail page for sunglasses if you’ve talked about sunglasses in an email.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that websites that sell you stuff also try to cater the shopping experience to your specific needs. One of the tools that these sites use to do this is to assess what computer and/or web browser you are using and to adjust what you see accordingly. This can be harmless, such as when you visit Amazon and see recommended items based on things you’ve recently looked at or recently bought.
It is, however, harmful when websites start to use the data about your browser or computer to show you higher prices. Unfortunately, some websites are doing just that. According to a Wall Street Journal article, for example, Orbitz determined that users of Apple computers tend to have more money and tend to spend it on pricier hotels. With an average price of only about $100 per night on Orbitz, Mac users tended to spend between $20 and $30 more per night on hotels and were 40 percent more likely to book either a 4-star or a 5-star hotel as compared to Windows users.
Using this information, Orbitz has started to show Apple users different travel options than those they show to Windows users. These travel options are, of course, pricier. As a result, a Mac user essentially now has the choice taken away from him. He is going to see more expensive hotels on Orbitz and is thus going to be left to book these more costly hotels.
The Wall Street Journal expects this type of profiling to happen more and more, according to their article. The New York Times, however, indicates that something similar is already happening. According to the Times, Digital Folio discovered that the price of items on several major websites changed depending upon what browser a person used to visit the site. For example, a television for sale on Walmart.com was priced at $199 for those using Firefox and $168 for those using Chrome and Internet explorer.
While you can try to switch your browser to find lower prices (Chrome seems to consistently reveal lower costs), it is not really practical to make a computer or browser decision solely based on trying to counteract the effect of websites tailoring their prices to certain visitors.
Another option, which may work better, is to take advantage of tools that can make it easier for you to search for alternative and lower cost options. Apps can be downloaded, for example, that alert you when you are looking at an item to the fact that there may be another website that has it for sale cheaper.
By doing a little due diligence and making sure you search for the best deal, you can still get great prices online- even as website owners take steps to try to charge certain users more.