One of the senior producers here at Marketplace is known for being particularly price-conscious. And heading into this holiday season, he's been tracking the price of a pair of new hiking boots in an attempt to snatch them up at the lowest price available.
It's been documented that the price of specific products on e-commerce websites can fluctuate between weeks, days, even on the same day. We all know about the airline industry using these dynamic pricing models, but in the last few years more online retailers are employing the technology.
Which raises the question, should you buy a new flat-screen TV on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? Are Tuesdays statistically cheaper than Saturdays? Should you wait until after the holidays to buy?
"Pricing is fascinating," said Joseph Turow, a professor of marketing at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "But it would really interesting to know how much personalized pricing is now going on. We've never been able to get a handle on it. The trick is to know which products to watch."
One tech start-up is getting a handle on it by tracking the price changes of more than 8 million products on Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and other online retailers. Daniel Green is the co-founder of Cosmic Shovel Inc, which operates the price-tracking website CamelCamelCamel.com.
"Amazon will play with prices on pretty much on anything they sell," Green said. "And it's been going on for longer than we've been collecting data."
Green and his partner launched their price-tracking service in 2008 as a side project while working on data collection and analysis at a financial research firm in New York. "We were collecting lots of data from different public sources. We eventually just started collecting Amazon data as a side project," he said. "Then we quit our jobs to do it full time." In the five years Green has been tracking product price changes, he's noticed some trends emerge. DVD prices will fluctuate a lot, he said. Same with computer parts. And often price changes are the result of good-old fashioned competition. He says Amazon does its own price tracking on competitor sites and keeps tabs to stay competitive.
Other times a price change is the result of supply and demand. "We noticed hard-drive prices fluctuating after the flooding in Thailand," Green said. "That's where a lot of hard-drives are manufactured."
It's difficult to anticipate price changes ahead of time, but knowing the historical price of a product can help consumers make better buying decisions when they are ready to click that check out button.
Matt Berger is a frugal shopper and the Digital Director at Marketplace.org
LISTEN:Want a better deal when shopping online? Wait 10 minutes. Marketplace reporter Stacey Vanek Smith explores the brave new world of dynamic pricing.