It's come to light that Amazon.com is varying the prices of DVDs, using cookies installed on a customer's computer to decide what percentage discount to offer. If you are a first-time visitor (or, incidentally, have turned your cookies off) you will frequently receive a higher discount that if you are not.
What this essentially means is that registered or regular customers of Amazon will end up paying more for goods than those that aren't. This approach makes a lot of sense to Amazon as it attracts more first-time customers and is in one sense akin to the widespread practice of offering discount vouchers to attract new customers.
However, many are not liable to see it that way. Vouchers are a legitimate way of encouraging people to try out a new service, but by using this setup, Amazon is actually punishing loyal customers.
The issue of strangely varying DVD prices cropped up yesterday when people were revisiting the site twice in a short period of time to find the price of a product had changed. An official Amazon email responded: "From time to time, we test and re-evaluate various aspects of our Web site to determine which characteristics drive customer purchases and satisfaction. We've learned that certain aspects of our site resonate with customers in different ways, and we are continually fine-tuning our presentation - site design, layout, price, customer reviews - to provide our customers with the greatest value, selection, and information for their online purchasing decisions.
"These tests are conducted for a brief period during which certain sections of our web site will appear differently to randomly selected Amazon.com customers. Price is one aspect we may test, and accordingly, that means that some customers may pay a different price for select items. However, please bear in mind that the discounts we offer on items in our catalog do vary even when we are not testing our site. I have adjusted the prices on your order for the items you have listed. I apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding this has caused. Please don't hesitate to contact us again should you have any further questions or concerns, and thanks for shopping at Amazon.com. We look forward to serving you again in the near future."
An Amazon spokeswoman reiterated much the same sort of rubbish. The variable prices are part of a pricing test going on in Amazon's DVD department, apparently. The company "routinely tests different aspects of its site, including price, to see how its customers will react" - sound familiar? The odd thing is that there are no details available of the "test", such as when it started, when it will end, what it's testing, that sort of thing.
What is clear is that Amazon is trying out some fancy pricing software in the hope of squeezing more money out of the process while also attracting new customers. Unfortunately, the result is one that shakes customers' confidence in the brand. Everyone knows that companies give different prices to different people but most of us will never see it so it doesn't concern us. This, on the other hand, could be potentially very damaging to Amazon.
Guide to cheap Amazon DVDs
Don't worry if you're a regular customer, follow this guide to get the higher discounts (hence lower prices). NB. This will only work if you have a dial-up account or dynamic IP address ie it is probably no use if you are at work.
- Before you go onto Amazon's site, switch off all cookies. This is done on Explorer by going to Internet Options, Security. Then either set it high or click Custom Level and click Disable on the cookies section. On Navigator, go to Edit, Preferences, Advanced (down the bottom in the panel), Disable (cookies). In the Security panel, selecting Clear History will also remove any tie-in with the Amazon site previously.
- Delete any Amazon cookies in your Temporary Internet Files folder. Easiest way of doing this is to go to the Start menu, select Find and then search for any files called "Amazon". Any with the notepad symbol are likely to be cookies. Delete them.
- Hang up on your ISP connection (or reboot).
- Go to Amazon, select what you want, get it in the shopping basket and THEN log in into your customer account. And switch your cookies back on.
There you go then. ®