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What you do online can determine your discounts

Online retail sales are expected to be $295 billion this year. And by 2018, it's predicted to jump to $414 billion. 

"I do about 90% of my shopping for the family online; everything from clothing to household goods to vacuum cleaners and computers and everything," said working mom Tara Dhar

Dhar says she's loyal to a handful of retailers, and she's always looking to get a good deal.  One thing that's not always on her mind though, the data some companies are collecting as she shops.

"I don't really think about it, but obviously it does happen," she admitted.

As online retail sales continue to soar, experts say the amount of consumer data online retailers collect is also taking off.  Things like previous purchases, your web browsing history, even social media activity are being tracked. And, the information could affect what you pay for a particular item.

"Everyone wants to maximize the profit potential and price sensitivities are going to vary between individuals, but having access to all this data will really help to determine what sort of discount, if any, that individual will receive," said Mark Johnson, CEO & CMO of Loyalty360.

That's because it can help companies differentiate between customers who are often willing to pay full price for new merchandise and those who will only shop if they have a coupon. So, are there times when being a loyal customer might not lead to the lowest prices?  Johnson says yes.

"Discounting, if you're a loyal customer may not be something they're going to offer," he said. "They know that they may not have to offer you that discount, so why should they?"

But, Johnson and other industry insiders point out the idea behind the data is to understand what individual consumers value and send them targeted messages and offers that are tailored to their individual priorities.

"In some instances a customer may be very price sensitive and looking for the best deal. Other customers are perfectly happy paying full price for an item if it means they can have it first," said Teradata Solutions strategist Jenne Barbour.

If you're not happy paying full price experts suggest:  

  • Always look for retailer promo codes, and not only for the reason you think. Using them will send the message you value deals and avoid impulse purchases.
  • Sometimes keeping items in your online shopping cart will encourage retailers to send you a discount to complete the purchase. 
  • If all else fails, hit the "contact us" page and just ask.


"There's still the human factor of simply asking someone if, if you can have that extra little something that might help close the deal for you," advised Barbour.

As for Dhar, she does see the benefit in getting marketing messages specific to her preferences and says she's going to continue to make getting the best price a priority.

"As a consumer you don't want people giving you a higher price because they think you'll pay a higher price," she added.

Johnson says right now, the number of companies able to do this kind of detailed data analysis is limited, but he predicts that as data becomes less expensive the unique pricing structure for individual consumers will become more and more common.

He also points out that some companies are giving out free gifts, or other special offers like VIP events to customers who value those extras in order to increase consumer loyalty.