You may think the best way to find the lowest price is to shop around, but every time you do that online, Tech Expert Dave Hatter says, there's a lot of information about you that's given up every time you visit any website. With every visit, retailers can determine all kinds of things about you, because of computer cookies.
Cookies are little files a company leaves on your computer when you visit a website. Hatter says, of course marketing people got involved and said we can track all kinds of stuff with these cookies! They know where you've shopped, what you've bought, even if you've visited price-comparison websites.
University of Dayton Retail Marketing Professor Serdar Dermusoglu says something as simple as a ZIP code is going to tell a little bit about your household. Hatter adds that if a retailer know where you are, they might be able to determine what you are more likely to buy, as well as what's your tolerance to various prices increases.
A lot of companies are doing it and a lot more are going to do it, Dermusoglu says. It is dynamic pricing. Live in an affluent area? You may pay more than someone in another neighborhood. A Wall Street Journal investigation showed that shopping using a Mac computer could get you charged more than a Windows user.
Office Depot admitted it uses browsing history and geo-location to vary offers to its website visitors. A University of Pennsylvania study revealed about 70 percent of people have no idea a retailer can change prices based on their spending habits.
Shopper Schuyler Leukhardt doesn't think it's fair.
"I think everything should be priced evenly," she said.
Her friend Jennifer Matthews added, "I think it's creepy because they know all this information about you and you don't even know they know."
Tech Expert Dave Hatter says there are ways to beat them at their own game. First, log onto your computers' browser and click on Tools. He says you can set your browser to delete your history and cookies when you log off. Even sneakier, use two different Internet browsers when you shop online.
Hatter says if you can do all of your browsing with this one and all of your purchasing with that one, they won't talk to each other.
You can also use a virtual private network, and then the data you're sending back and forth is encrypted. Tor and Google Chrome Incognito are VPN's you can find on the web.
Deal bloggers say signing up for your favorite retailers' emails and newsletters can get you discounts, and subscribe to comparison sites like DealNews for sale alerts. Remember - don't download any software from sites you don't know!
Here are the links to virtual private networks and other websites we used for this story:
Disable 3rd Party Cookies:
Change Browser User Agent:
Price comparison sites:
Private Browser Mode: