Personalising online prices.
How deep are your pockets?
Businesses are offered software that spots which customers will pay more.
IN MANY types of face-to-face retailing, it pays to size up your customer and tailor your offering accordingly. In a 2006 study of Fulton fish market in New York, Kathryn Graddy of Oxford University found that dealers regularly charged Asian buyers less than whites because the Asians had proved, over time, more willing to reject high prices, and readier to band together to boycott dealers who ripped them off.
The internet, by allowing anonymous browsing and rapid price-comparing, was supposed to mean low, and equal, prices for all. Now, however, online retailers are being offered software that helps them detect shoppers who can afford to pay more or are in a hurry to buy, so as to present pricier options to them or simply charge more for the same stuff.
Cookies stored in shoppers' web browsers may reveal where else they have been looking, giving some clues as to their income bracket and price-sensitivity. A shopper's internet address may be linked to his physical address, letting sellers offer, say, one price for Bel Air, another for Compton. Doug Bryan of iCrossing, a digital-marketing consultancy, explains that the most up-to-date “price customisation” software can collate such clues with profiles of individual shoppers that internet sellers buy from online-data-aggregation firms. All this is fairly cheap, he says.
存储在消费者浏览器内的小型文字档案（Cookie）可能透露了他们曾经逛过哪里，并提供了估算他们收入状况和价格敏感度的信息。一名消费者的网络地址可以跟所在地地址联系在一起，这让卖家给贝沙湾（Bel Air洛杉矶富人区）可标一个价，给康普顿（Compton肯塔基州穷人区）标另一个价。数字市场营销咨询公司iCrossing的Doug Bryan解释称，时下大多数"个性化价格"软件可以使用自身收集的数据对网络卖家从其他在线数据汇总企业的数据进行校验。而且他称这一切都十分便宜。
One of the few big online firms to admit to using such techniques is Orbitz, a travel website. Its software detects whether people browsing its site are using an Apple Mac or a Windows PC and, since it has found that Mac users tend to choose pricier hotels, that is what it recommends to them. Orbitz stresses that it does not charge people different rates for the same rooms, but some online firms are believed to be doing just that, for instance by charging full whack for those assumed to be willing and able to pay it, while offering promotional prices to the rest.
Allocating discounts with price-customisation software typically brings in two to four times as much money as offering the same discounts at random, claims Ravi Vijayaraghavan of 7, a Bangalore-based firm that develops and operates such software. One way to do this is to monitor how quickly shoppers click through towards the online seller's payment page: those who already seem set on buying need not be tempted with a special offer. Firms like 7 and RichRelevance, another price-customisation software firm, from San Francisco, are somewhat keener to talk about their software than the internet retailers who are trying it out. Mr Vijayaraghavan names United Airlines, for example, as among his big clients, but the airline declined to comment for this article.
基于班加罗尔开发和运营这种软件的公司7，该公司Ravi Vijayaraghavan称，通过个性化价格软件来分配折扣，通常可以带来比随机分配折扣多两到四倍的营业额。其中一个方法是监测消费者在网站点入付账页面的速度：那些看起来已经决定了的买家不需要通过特价来吸引。另一家来自三藩市的价格个性化软件公司RichRelevance和7公司一样，它们跟尝试软件的网上零售商相比，感觉更愿意畅谈这类软件。Vijayaraghavan称联合航空（United Airlines）便是他们其中一个大客户。然而该航空公司拒绝对此文章置评。
Andrew Fano, a consultant in Accenture's Chicago office, reckons that at least six of America's ten biggest web retailers are now customising prices in some way, but it is hard for shoppers to spot when this is going on. If they knew, many would feel that it is "pushing the boundaries" of fairness, notes Werner Reinartz, a University of Cologne marketing professor and consultant to two Fortune 500 companies that use customisation techniques.
埃森哲咨询公司（Accenture）芝加哥分部的顾问Andrew Fano称，美国最大的十家的网络零售商中，最少六家现在或多或少地在使用个性化价格，但消费者本身很难发现自己所在的处境。如果他们知道，很多人将感觉在试探公平原则的底线。这是由Cologne大学市场营销教授Werner Reinartz提出的，他同时也是财富500强里两家使用价格个性化技术公司的顾问。
Mr Reinartz preaches caution lest companies be dragged through an ordeal pioneered by Amazon in the autumn of 2000. Word broke that the internet giant was selling DVDs at differing prices, to see which web browsers happened to be favoured by shoppers least concerned about cost, former executives say. The resulting backlash prompted it to refund those who paid more, and Amazon now declines to discuss its pricing system.
Users of price-customisation software have so far been reluctant to peep at potential customers' social-media pages, for fear that this would provoke a privacy backlash. But the operators at the call centres 7 runs for its clients are beginning to scan Twitter for gen on the shoppers they are talking to—and sometimes, says Mr Vijayaraghavan, their tweets give useful hints about whether a discount is needed to clinch the sale.