Where consumers shop online could send a message to web companies to charge them more. "Dynamic pricing" means the more consumers look at an item online, the more likely it is that the price will go up. Ana Garcia reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Dec. 18, 2012.
Online shoppers looking to save money may want to change their web browser settings to avoid "dynamic pricing," a common practice among web retailers looking to maximize revenue.
"Dynamic pricing essentially is pricing things different for different people at different times, for the same product," said John Simpson of consumerwatchdog.org. "So you start to have the ability of really discriminatory pricing."
Retailers track spending habits through "browser cookies," small files automatically downloaded from websites. Previous behavior could be an indicator of what someone is willing to spend: a consumer who shops at high-end retail websites may be willing to spend more than a discount shopper.
"You leave a trail. You might think you're anonymous on the Internet but you're really not. Your name may be private but your computer name is not," said UCLA Marketing expert Professor Dominique Hanssens.
Shoppers can avoid dynamic pricing by disabling third-party cookies. The option can be found in a web browser's settings. Consumers can also use one web browser for research, and another for purchasing.
"Use multiple computers, use multiple accounts, just don't reveal your behavior if you want to be anonymous," said Hanssens.
Dynamic pricing isn't all bad. For example, a shopper who views an item online may be notified of a price drop.