WSJ: Retailers adjusting online prices based on location and perceived income

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Retailers such as Staples are modifying the prices displayed on their websites depending on the shopper’s location. In an investigation, The Wall Street Journal discovered that Staples is specifically adjusting item pricing for different people according to their distance from a rival’s store. If an Office Depot or OfficeMax is within a 20 mile radius, for example, customers will see discounted prices.

There's a link between the variation in prices and the average household income

Store location doesn't seem to be the only determining factor, as prices even fluctuated between different New York City boroughs despite the presence of competitors. The Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island all regularly saw higher pricing on Staples’ website, while Brooklyn and Queens almost always saw discounted prices. Most troublingly, the publication also discovered a link between the discounts and the weighted average of household incomes. The average income in affected ZIP codes was found to be around $59,900 areas that saw higher prices, however, had a lower average income of $48,700.

Staples isn't the only retailer engaging in the practice, though. The WSJ found that pricing for products on Lowe’s website also changed depending on location, with Home Depot determining prices based on the nearest brick-and-mortar store. When asked about the price fluctuations, Staples attributed the differences to "a variety of factors, including rent, labor, distribution and other costs of doing business," but declined to comment on the income discrepancy.

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