I came across an excellent deal on SlickDeals yesterday – Sennheiser HD555 headphones for $69 on Amazon. I took a look at comments and reviews and debated for about an hour before deciding to buy them. When I added them to my cart, the price had changed to something like $120 (list is around $150 I think). I was shocked, but I remembered a comment on SlickDeals saying that prices can fluctuate hourly.
Hourly? Really? I decided to check the page every few minutes over a period of a couple of hours. The price dropped from ~120 to ~85 quickly, then rose to ~92 but with a free amplifier. Then the price dropped to ~85 again. One of the things I noticed is that sometimes it would say that it’s really another company selling for Amazon. Even when it was just pure Amazon the price would fluctuate though.
If I had to guess a reason, I’d guess that they’d be using adaptive methods to choose vendors and set prices for themselves. As a vendor, you can probably see when demand increases for an item and raise the price a little to make the best of it. Normally I can imagine adaptive methods being bad in the general market, but with Amazon it probably gives informed people a pressure to buy.
I brought it up because it’s surprising and interesting. It seems like most businesses focus on converting their brick-and-mortar ideas to a digital world. Here Amazon is doing something that you can only (successfully) do in the modern world. Also note that this differs from setting prices based on browser/OS, which is a lot like my impression of car salesmen.
Also, while looking into it I realized there are many excellent Amazon price trackers out there. Although they only seem to check Amazon every few hours or so, they can send you alerts or give a custom RSS feed of deals. For example, camelcamelcamel provides graphs of price changes over time, though you can see it missed the hourly fluctuations from yesterday.