Constant price changes affect online shoppers

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - It used to be only hotels and airlines changed their prices several times a day. But we found online retailers selling common household items are also making adjustments throughout the day, especially for appliances and electronics.

While shopping online recently, Amy Shoaff noticed prices for the same item, on the same website, changed substantially throughout the day.

"General everyday items fluctuating anywhere from 40 to 300 dollars," Amy said.

Amy discovered a growing new trend. Some retailers are changing their online prices hour by hour and sometimes even minute by minute.

The goal is to have a product priced so it pops up as the lowest priced item in shopping search engines, or Amazon's coveted "buy box." That's where most consumers look to find the best deals.

"It's more a battle of getting the right screen position as opposed to trying to sell it as quickly as possible," explains Chris Buckingham with the Professional Pricing Society.

We worked with to monitor prices of several items on a well known shopping website.

First, an iPad. At midnight the iPad was $511. At 6 a.m. it was $503. By 7 a.m. the price sunk to $475 where it remained until 2:30 pm. and then jumped to $510. At 10 p.m. the price increased to a high of $529. That's a total of a $54 price difference on the same website, all within a 24 hour period.

"The suppliers are constantly monitoring each other," says Chris Buckingham.'s tracking software found the price of colored pencils ranged from a high of $3.32 to $2.22 over a 24 hour period.

And for duct tape, the price ranged from a high of $7.83 to a low of $2.00.

"What has changed fundamentally in the past 12 months is the speed and scale at which prices are being set," explains Eric Best with Merchant.

Some retailers hire software companies, such as Merchant, to monitor the prices of its products and make changes based on its competitors.

"Because consumers now are researching their offline and online purchases in advance more than 50% of the time," Best says.

There are websites that will monitor prices for items you want and alert you when the price drops, or reaches an amount you'd be willing to pay.

What products prices fluctuate the most? says electronics, appliances, clothing, shoes, jewelry and even household staples like dust pans.

Some experts suggest if you ordered something from a retailer and the price dropped within a reasonable amount of time, contact the business and see if they'll refund the business.

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