If you’re not getting the same hot online deals that your family and friends are, it might not be because you’re slower on the e-shopping draw; instead, it may be because of where you live.
So says the Wall Street Journal, which conducted an investigation and found that the websites of many top retailers—including Staples, the Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Rosetta Stone—offer different prices to different online customers depending on different factors, such as browsing history, what type of device you’re using to shop, and physical location.
So-called “price discrimination” is a bit unsavory, but it’s common practice both online and offline. However, the paper noticed a troubling trend in the course of its investigation: Staples offered the most discounts in ZIP codes that averaged a yearly household income of $59,900. The locations that received the fewest discount offers, on the other hand, were ZIP codes that averaged $48,700 per year. In other words, mo’ money, mo’ online discounts.
The key factors in Staples online prices were determined to be the distance to a Staples store and the distance to competing stores (like Office Max); if you’re far from a brick-and-mortar Staples location but near a competitor, you’re more likely to see steeper discounts at Staples.com. The fact that many Staples stores are located in more urban environments may—may—explain some of the gap in the income-to-discount ratios uncovered by the WSJ.
The one area that bucked the trend was New York City, where the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island all consistently saw higher sticker costs, whereas Brooklyn and Queens shoppers almost always received discount prices, despite the fact that every borough is near a Staples competitor.