As millions of Indians go beserk shopping online at this week’s annual binges at the likes of Amazon and Flipkart, this slightly dated yet fascinating piece by The Atlantic shows how online retailers may have regained their pricing edge over consumers who were supposed to have been empowered by the transparency of the internet. Employing an army of economists (Amazon has a dedicated jobs site for economists) combining Big Data with consumer psychology and Game theory among others, e-tailers are deploying exotic price discrimination strategies that maximise profit rather than simply offer the lowest price as popularly perceived.
“…its software engine isn’t built to match the lowest price out there. (That, Hariharan notes, would be a simple algorithm.) It’s built to manage consumers’ perception of price. The software identifies the goods that loom largest in consumers’ perception and keeps their prices carefully in line with competitors’ prices, if not lower. The price of everything else is allowed to drift upward….
…Are other companies doing this? Four researchers in Catalonia tried to answer the question with dummy computers that mimicked the web-browsing patterns of either “affluent” or “budget conscious” customers for a week. When the personae went “shopping,” they weren’t shown different prices for the same goods. They were shown different goods. The average price of the headphones suggested for the affluent personae was four times the price of those suggested for the budget-conscious personae. Another experiment demonstrated a more direct form of price discrimination: Computers with addresses in greater Boston were shown lower prices than those in more-remote parts of Massachusetts on identical goods.”
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