I’m afraid that by drawing attention, I’ll fall into Amazon’s trap. Revealing their secret game could cause even technophobes wary of online transactions to flock to the site day and night—maybe not to the point of parting with money, but taking baby steps closer to keying in their credit card number.
DISCLAIMER: I take no responsibility if, on reading further, you end up obsessing, as I do, on why the price of that camera went up by one cent. And that fan, by 27 cents. Why not 28 cents? Why not 26? Why was it $3.11 lower for four hours last Thursday?
For months I kept notes. On February 9 a Microsoft 4000 keyboard was $41.38. On February 10 it was 41.39, and later in the day, $41.40. Two days later — $41.41. A disconcertingly symmetrical number. By March 19 it was $41.17 in the morning and $41.15 that afternoon. On February 5, a Honeywell 18155 air purifier was $129.98. On February 10 it was $129.97. By the 21st it was $129.99. Why? Why?
Eventually I had to delete items from my shopping cart, where Amazon taunted me by pointing out every pricing adjustment since my last visit.
I couldn’t be the only one to pick up on this. By now, hordes must have noticed how the Internet’s biggest department store has turned online shopping into a sort of commodities market, with prices hopping around like rabbits. A way to trick our brains coming back, the way we check in at TMZ to see if Lindsay’s been arrested again or if Paris beat her to it (which, of course, she did).
When stocks go down, analysts on TV blame the drop on a report that home sales for the previous quarter were lower than expected—and then in a month or two they tell us that later data show sales were actually up that quarter, or lower than first thought, and the revision sparks new trading.
Nobody explains Amazon’s prices. Their Pricing page offers a smirking, “Our prices regularly change.” My email requesting further information resulted in the same statement in longer words: “The price and availability of the items offered on our website are subject to change.”
More to the point, a 2005 CNN report confirms my not-so-paranoid suspicion that “price discrimination occurs over the Internet…” because businesses are able “to collect detailed information about a customer’s purchasing history, preferences, and financial resources — and to set prices accordingly.” Different buyers across the web are charged different amounts for the same services and goods.
Every visit, Amazon recommends products based on my purchases and searches. They know all the pages I’ve looked at and the exact time, and amount of time, I watched. It’s only a small step to coming to more subtle conclusions, like: The more the prices change, the more I (and maybe you) spend.
Or else… they’ve hired a numerologist. It’s the only other possible conclusion. In 1978, ABC Television president Fred Pierce hired psychic Beverlee Dean to choose their programming—and the network was happy he did till word leaked out about her top secret job. The same fate could befall Amazon’s numerologist, once the person’s—or persons’—identity is revealed.
Consulting numerology site The Dreamtime, I learned that prices ending in “0” mean, on the positive side, “empty yet whole” or, on the negative side, “shapeless… unorganized.” “1” suggests a “male phallus” or, looking at it another way, “obstinately proud and possibly difficult to deal with.” Combined numbers, like the $41.41 for the Microsoft keyboard (offered at $29.99 at this writing), involve algorithms too complex for a mere bargain seeker to deconstruct.
That is all my investigations allow me to say for now. Except to caution: Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.