Beware of These Online Retail Pricing Strategies

How fluctuating prices and abandoned shopping carts affect the price you pay for items online.

Retail strategies to be aware of in this game of psychological shopping warfare.
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4. Online retailers merging online and real life. While commodities like toilet paper or printer ink can be easily purchased online, it's sometimes hard to tell how a pair of boots will fit or what shade of blue a pillow really is without seeing it in person. That's long been one of the drawbacks of shopping online and a reason why some retailers like Zappos offer such generous return policies.

In recent months, online retailers such as Warby Parker, Piperlime and Bonobos have opened brick-and-mortar stores or temporary pop-up shops where consumers can actually interact with their products in person. (Zappos has had an outlet store in Kentucky for several years, but it's not widely publicized.) Although renting prime real estate can be costly for retailers, Shpanya says the trend doesn't necessarily drive up the cost to consumers. "Bargain hunters are medium-agnostic. Hence they will just want to get the best deal out there: offline or online," he says. "Sellers know that and will take into account that their online and brick-and-mortar stores' margins will be different. However, they will try to keep a consistency of the tone with their pricing."

5. Free shipping. Amazon Prime has set a new precedent in which many consumers expect free and fast shipping. Amazon, Walmart and eBay now offer same-day delivery in several cities for a small fee. These developments could pressure other retailers to follow suit if they want to remain competitive.

[See: 10 Signs You Shop Too Much.]

"Free shipping is almost a given across the board. Other competitors who are not Amazon players are now doing it. They don't care if they make money or not on shipping," says Miller, explaining that long-term, businesses will get more revenue from building customer loyalty through free shipping.

Factoring in shipping costs used to make some items more economical to buy in a store, but the rise of free shipping means that's not always the case. Do the math before you buy.