Amazon Mystery: The Pricing of Books

LA Times Staffer David Streitfeld noticed something curious about Amazon.com’s shopping cart. When he put something in it, then left it there, the price changed. And it didn’t just change, often it went up.

    “On Nov. 6, seeking to boost my dubious culinary skills, I decided to buy “The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook.” I went to Amazon and placed the book in my electronic shopping cart but got distracted and never finished the transaction.
    The next day, I signed on to Amazon again. A pop-up message informed me that the price had increased from $11.02 to $11.53.
    This seemed odd.”

What’s the deal?

After replicating the effect several times, Streitfeld suspects Amazon might be using “dynamic pricing” which means the price of the book has a lot to do with recent sales, available inventory, and yes, maybe even the amount of people who’ve added a book to their shopping cart or put it on a wish list. Streitfeld contacted Amazon, but they declined to discuss their pricing strategies.

“Prices change,” spokesman Sean Sundwall said. “Prices go up, prices go down.”

Dynamic pricing is great for companies, but it tends to irritate consumers. Imagine a Coke machine that charged more when it was hot outside. Is Amazon doing this? We’ll have to add some items to our shopping cart and test it for ourselves. —MEGHANN MARCO

Amazon mystery: pricing of books [LA Times](Thanks, Jennifer)

Comments

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  1. Boo says:

    Wasn’t there an issue with this a few years ago where Amazon was charging repeat shoppers higher prices than new shoppers? If you cleared your cookies before shopping you would get a lower price.

  2. missdona says:

    Amazon totally does Dynamic Pricing. I bought a GPS from them in early December and I registered it on refundplease, the price never dropped below the price I paid, but it has changed to about $15-$20 more.

  3. gotbock says:

    I’ve had some items in my Amazon cart for months or even years. Every time I check it, almost all the prices have changed. I’d say that 90% of the prices increase. Interesting…

  4. Johann says:

    I have a number of items saved in my shopping cart at Amazon and just yesterday I logged in and several of them increased in price. I’ve seen prices go down before, but not lately.

  5. kerry says:

    I only ever notice the price changes with things like memory. I had some RAM and a compact flash card sitting in my cart forever and every time I added something new they’d alert me that the prices had changed. Sometimes up, sometimes down. I figure that’s price fluctuations are just a fact of memory, though, and I used to use RAMseeker to try and get the best RAM prices back in the day when I really cared about that stuff. It’s news to me that it happens with books, though.

  6. AcilletaM says:

    A good example is this Rammstein box set. By reading the comments you can see how the price went up over time.

  7. Demingite says:

    I’m not liking the sound of this. Is Amazon trying to encourage customers to rush into purchases? Might their game-playing with prices not reduce customer satisfaction, and ironically harm their bottom line?

    This is another argument for doing the following:
    (1) Refuse cookies whenever possible.
    (2) If a site requires cookies, delete them immediately after visiting that site. (Firefox makes this especially easy to accomplish.)

    If a company keeps a profile on a customer, it seems that that is rarely to the advantage of the profilee. I don’t have a problem if any customer gives permission to be profiled — and understands the possible consequences of that permission — but it disturbs me when companies don’t make it clear and explicit (and, no, legalistic fine print doesn’t cut it) that the customer is being profiled. And even worse is when customers have no choice but to be profiled. There is effectively no choice in, for example, grocery store club cards (e.g., Albertson’s Preferred Card, Safeway Club Card, Kroger Plus Shopper’s Card). (The “choice” is to use the card or pay a huge surcharge/penalty. The only real choice, if you’re lucky, is to be able to patronize a grocery store that doesn’t have cards.)

  8. Paul D says:

    Imagine a Coke machine that charged more when it was hot outside.

    Is this so outlandish?

    Gas prices go up in the summer when people are driving more and taking long-distance trips.

    Why shouldn’t a book’s price go up if Amazon’s numbers indicate the demand has gone up?

    I’m not saying it’s “cool”, but are we really surprised by this?

  9. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I don’t think they’re profiling. After Amazon got busted on the cookie issue, they’ve been pretty straight forward. The varying prices are to stay competitive with other retailers, while still being able to make a profit. I’ve had the Canon PowerShot G7 in my shopping cart for a while now, and the price went up and down 3 or 4 times in November. Sometimes it was just a dollar or two, sometimes more. The biggest drop was in December right around xmas. But overall, the pricing was on par or better than what other retailers were offering.

    Newegg is another retailer that has prices that constantly change. Sometimes the price changes last a few hours. One time I was checking prices late at night and found some decent deals. But the following morning, the prices would jump back up, or shipping was no longer free on some items.

    My guess is that they all use some automated process that changes prices based on market conditions. Best thing to do is be a smart shopper, check prices, and be patient.

  10. I suspect the dynamic pricing has to do with how many more units they have on hand. I purchased a DVD for Christmas and as the date to Christmas neared, I saw that the price was going up and the amount left in stock was going down (the whole “we only have 3 left, order fast fast fast! notice). Not surprising and honestly, they don’t have to charge everyone the same price, people just don’t like paying more than the next guy.

  11. Let’s not forget that this can work in the consumer’s favor– an informed shopper is a smart shopper.

    It’s annoying to a limited degree but then there are also tips and tricks like the previous consumerist post about: Hacking Amazon Price drops

  12. etinterrapax says:

    I’ve shopped Amazon for several years, and have seen prices on cart items go up and down, with no noticeable trend either way. It’s still nearly always the best everyday price on the things I buy. I do avoid certain categories (notably baby care items), but it’s hard to get a better deal on books or DVDs. By contrast, 100% of the prices in a B&M will increase over time, regardless of popularity, and they were not the best prices to start with. This strikes me as a tempest in a teapot.

  13. houseofdanie says:

    I am addicted to shopping, and yes, I am addicted to shopping on Amazon.com. I often place items in my cart and then move them over to the “saved items” area. When the prices increase or decrease, I get a large, lovely notice the next time I visit my cart.

    Having done this for a couple of years now, I can honestly report that prices decrease just about as often as they increase. And, better, if I’ve purchased an item that later decreases in price, Amazon always credits me the difference without any argument or problem.

  14. iameleveneight says:

    I’ve seen this go both ways before. I’ve seen somethings go up others go down, and some go both ways.

    The best instance though I can offer happened a few weeks a go as I did my christmas shopping. I put everything in my cart before I left work. A little over an hour later at home one of my items had dropped in price $3.

    SCORE!

  15. pestie says:

    Good – another reason to hate Amazon! As if their playing fast-and-loose with their privacy policies and their 1-click patents weren’t enough…

  16. WorldofChe says:

    I’d presume this is just automatic price updating based on their costs. This is of course believing that they aren’t trying to scam us all.

    I work with companies who update pricing MULTIPLE times a day, especially in industries where prices are volatile like piping and wiring.

    Same goes with Amazon. Perhaps they switched vendors to be able to fill orders since 20,000 people just placed item XYZ in their shopping carts. They chose a vendor that can get it to them in 2 days instead of 2 weeks (to make YOU happier), at the penalty of it being a little more expensive.

    This sounds like great customer service, not scamming.

    I’ve seen prices go up AND down in my Amazon wish list. Usually down.

  17. fishfucerk says:

    up and down here too. maybe it’s time for a quasi-scientific consumerist study?

  18. Keter says:

    I have seen the same thing happen on Overstock.com. I suspect the price changes are hit-driven.

    I asked several friends to look at a chair and give me their opinion of it, and by the time I got their responses and went to order the thing a few hours later, it had gone up $50.

    I bought a chair elsewhere. A few weeks later, I happened to be on Overstock again, and there was the chair back at the original price.

    They cost themselves a sale with that crap.

  19. snowferret says:

    at least it told him and didn’t try to pull a fast one.

  20. ValkRaider says:

    This article is a few years old, but still is pretty informative:

    http://www.fastcompany.com/online/68/pricing.html

  21. jmfc says:

    I had a very weird happen a while back. I noticed the price switched when I went into the cart (no big deal, happens quite a bit) but then I added another thing to the cart and noticed the item’s price changed again. I kept clicking my ‘cart’ button to refresh my items and noticed two of them kept changing prices on me. I thought it was so odd that I actually did a screen record to capture it. The items where in my ‘saves for later’ area to the shopping cart price wasn’t changing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pzg1acoZe48

  22. Mojosan says:

    I buy a lot from Amazon, seen up and down.

    Mrs. Mojosan and I are expecting a baby and Amazon’s prices on many baby items are really fantastic.

  23. FredTheCat says:

    I saw a lot of this going on during my xmas shopping. Here’s a few of the shenanigans I encountered that I found especially irritating:

    1) DOZENS of items in my cart changing prices over the span of about three days. C’mon, there was really a sudden run on chef’s hats that required a price increase?

    2) Many items are NOT actually sold by Amazon but instead are from third parties with their own shipping costs. This made what started out as “lots of items at reasonable shipping in a couple large boxes from a single source” into “paying individual shipping on nearly every item from each vendor” which went a long way toward Amazon no longer being a cost effective xmas shopping solution.

    3) Items marked “In Stock” that two weeks before xmas “wouldn’t arrive by the 21st” by any shipping method.

    4) The almost incomprehensible pre-checkout summary advising when things will (or won’t) arrive from the myriad of vendors. Seriously…with dozens of items in the cart from dozens of vendors this was just insanity.

    I cancelled a large percentage of my order and bought the items from other online vendors who actually DID have the items in stock AND combined shipping AND could get the items to me in plenty of time. I’ve always gone to Amazon first but if this kind of foolishness continues I’ll stop buying there. For most of my xmas shopping Amazon was nothing more than yet another middleman to pay.

  24. ord2fra says:

    As someone who prices airfares, I don’t see what the problem is. With diminishing supply and increased demand, why not charge more? Think of car dealers when a hot new model is on the lot. Or the whole Wii/PS3 ebay auctions of late.
    I think it’s brilliant.
    On the flip side, as consumers, we love it when the opposite is true: Stores have huge clearance sales to get rid of oversupply and items with a low demand.
    Also, if you own stock shares of Amazon, you absolutely expect them to maximize revenue whenever possible. If dynamic pricing does that, then you as a shareholder are rewarded.

  25. coraspartan says:

    As other commenters have stated, Amazon prices fluctuate both up and down. I figure they must go up when demand is high. For example, my son had this little (8″) Lego Star Wars jet on his Amazon Wish List. When he put in on the list in late November, it cost $14.99. By the week before Christmas, it had risen in price to $44.99. Ridiculous price, sure, but I assumed it was because their stock of the item had gotten extremely low. It just shows you that it pays to shop around. Amazon still generally has the best prices on books.

  26. methane says:

    FredTheCat nailed Amazon’s recent fall from grace with his #2 issue. No longer are we dealing with a reputable stable company. Now we are dealing with storefronts for other people/businesses. The savvy consumer might notice this, but I always worry about my mom not realizing that she’s not actually buying from Amazon, and getting double charged on shipping. Amazon also suffers because with so many different vendors represented, the reviews of products get decentralized; searches also come up with multiple instances of the same product.

    Buy.com seems to be handling business a lot better nowadays than Amazon is. For my future shopping, it’s buy.com and newegg. Amazon can keep my wishlist, but that’s about it.

  27. Papa K says:

    Amazon has my wishlist. Everyone else has my business.

  28. Papa K says:

    Of course, everyone mentions profitability – think about it if you were in the store?

    You pick up a book – say, The bible. it’s $1.00.

    You walk up front and get ready to pay – it rings $2.00 before taxes.

    You remember your wife has your wallet, she comes over, and in that time it’s now $3.00.

    You’re pissed and you argue. $4.00.

    You leave, disgusted, $0.99.

    You go back, $1.50.

    See what I mean? I’m all for the idea, but the execution needs some work. Maybe a gurantee they won’t screw you over in ten minutes.