Stores change online prices based on shoppers’ locations

Should retailers with an online presence be able to charge someone in Great Falls, Va. differently for a box of paper clips than someone in Greenbelt, Md.? Leave a comment on our Facebook page or connect with us on Twitter using #WTOPtalkback or #WTOP.

Greg Bianco,

WASHINGTON – You live in Ashburn, Va. Your friend lives in Silver Spring, Md. You both log on to and want a Swingline stapler. Despite the short difference in distance, the price for that stapler could vary.

After years of quick comparison shopping by consumers, retailers are now turning the tide and trying to target prices and products based on user data.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Staples displayed different online prices based on a customer’s distance from the company’s competitors.

The Journal’s investigation also shows that Staples tended to offer discounts to buyers in ZIP codes with higher average household incomes.

Other retailers, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, also changed prices online based on location. Home Depot uses computer IP addresses to find the location of shoppers compared to their closest store, while Office Depot uses browsing history and geolocation to determine prices customers see.

The practice is legal, save for a few rare exceptions. Bread prices are different in the District than say, Hawaii. Gas stations can charge different prices, even if the same company has two stations close to each other, based on supply and demand.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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