You know eating chocolate cookies isn't going to do wonders for your waistline. But did you know cookies could also be adding to your credit card balance?
The cookies we’re talking about are crumbs of information stored on your Web browser that online retailers use to identify customers. They can sometimes mean the difference between higher or lower prices on the same item. Some online shoppers have found that when they delete cookies from their browser, they get better deals.
The reason why you save is called "dynamic pricing." Retailers set prices based on a customer's purchase history and other factors.
While deleting your cookies doesn't always result in a bargain, it can happen, says Sue Perry, deputy editor of ShopSmart, a magazine by the publishers of Consumer Reports.
In 2007, ShopSmart editors did their own test and found that prices differed based on the Web browsers and computers they used. Expedia.com, for example, gave them two different prices for a plane ticket from New York to Sydney, Australia, depending on which computer they were using to book the flight. The computer without cookies gave them a price that was $200 less.
Although an Expedia spokeswoman told the editors the varying prices did not come from using different browsers or computers, the same thing happened at other travel sites.
So, is this savings move legal?
"I think a lot of people don't realize it's happening," said Weiss, who has studied online dynamic pricing.
There are many pieces of your personal information that can affect the deals you're offered, experts say. If retailers notice you're from a more affluent zip code, for example, they may up their prices, according to Weiss.
"They can get a real sense of how much pain I can endure, and how to price it," says Weiss.
What You Need to Know to Save More:
1. Go Anonymous. One way to get around dynamic pricing is to use anonymizer sites, which allow people to surf the Web without revealing their Internet Protocol, or IP, address, says Weiss.
Try deleting cookies, or comparing prices from your home and work computers. Combine this with the use of price comparison Web sites, such as Shopzilla.com or PriceGrabber.com.
2. Clear Your Cart. You also shouldn't leave stuff in your online shopping cart, because that too can cause a price hike, according to Perry. She recalls her teenage son once added some clothing to his shopping cart at JCrew.com (Stock Quote: JCG), left the computer and when he came back, the price of the item was higher.
"The seller knows you're serious about buying," Perry explains.
3. Deleting Cookies = Online Negotiating. Like all bargain hunting efforts, it takes a lot of trial and error. The cookies trick won't necessarily work all the time. Different Web browsers have different ways to delete cookies. For instructions, check out a site like AboutCookies.org.
So next time you're online shopping, go ahead and pour yourself a glass of milk—just keep the cookies out of it.
—For the best rates on CDs, mortgages, savings, credit cards and more, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.