Fully Automated Luxury Price Gouging
July 9, 2024 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Digital surveillance and customer isolation are locking us into a consumer hell of personalized prices. Companies were deterred from purely individualizing what they charge, because of publicly posted prices and consumer anger over the unfairness of being charged differently for the same product. Today, the fine-graining of data and the isolation of consumers has changed the game. The old idiom is that every man has his price. But that’s literally true now, much more than you know, and it’s certainly the plan for the future.
posted by AlSweigart (80 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was quasi true in analog, see "trying to use coupons or store credit while black" or all the loyalty club cards etc. Obviously the internet supercharged this practice. Price is about power, and while supply and demand can also confir power, they are not the only factors, as anyone who actually sets prices or engages in negotiations knows.
posted by No Climate - No Food, No Food - No Future. at 7:08 AM on July 9 [8 favorites]


I’m interested in this, but the usual archive.ph doesn’t work on this article.
posted by corb at 7:14 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


Between this and the rent algorithm, it's just the final ability to squeeze every single drop of blood out of working people. While there are lots of good humans, the shitty ones are so incredibly shitty that I'm well over into "when is the comet coming" territory. You have to be an incredible, incredible louse to perpetuate this stuff, and yet people do.
posted by Frowner at 7:16 AM on July 9 [29 favorites]




Don't worry. I'm sure someone will come along who will want to squeeze even more out of the economy. They'll arbitrage this by creating a gig economy for slightly cheaper people to sell their services as straw buyers.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:22 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


I also don't want to register for a random news website to read this, but Amanda Mull at Bloomberg recently wrote about dynamic pricing in retail stores, and was interviewed on Marketplace about the topic (with transcript!).

The end of the Marketplace interview sums this up pretty well:

Schwab: So a question you pose in your story is what if everything you bought was priced like airline tickets? Do you think that’s where we’re actually headed, that dynamic pricing is the future?

Mull: Yes, in general. I do think that unless we have some sort of, like, regulatory reins put on sellers’ ability to change prices like this, I think that it likely is where we’re headed. Because sellers, what they want to do is figure out ways to extract the maximum amount of profit from each customer. Putting buyers at a huge information disadvantage with things like dynamic pricing allows them to do that more effectively.

posted by learning from frequent failure at 7:22 AM on July 9 [18 favorites]


I have thought about actually paying for a subscription to the Atlantic. In fact I think about it basically every time I click on one of their articles and hit a paywall. Which is pretty frequently! I don't always agree with their stuff -- when I can read it -- but they sure do seem to address topics that interest me. It's expensive, though, so I have hesitated to pull the trigger.

I think I was googling something about how to get around the paywall for one particular article (maybe the thing Douglas Hofstadter wrote for them about LLMs?) that I really wanted to read, and I came across something describing their "personalized" subscription pricing. And I realized the price they'd been offering me was their top price point. No wonder it's so expensive. What do they know about me that makes them think I can/will pay that much? Just the fact that I hit their paywall so much? Or are they creeping on my Facebook data?

Anyway, now I won't subscribe out of principle, and I feel less bad about occasionally finding ways around the paywall.
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:24 AM on July 9 [25 favorites]


And while the standard justification of increasing access and value works in a lab, in the real world it plays out in ways that would probably offend people, if they knew what was happening.

And then it goes on to detail some things that I am, in fact, offended by.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:27 AM on July 9 [9 favorites]


So when I clicked on this link, it showed me the entire article without a registration wall. Sorry about that, I didn't realize it would later display one.

This article on personalized pricing seems to have applied a different price when I posted it to Metafilter.
posted by AlSweigart at 7:29 AM on July 9 [12 favorites]


If you know that the price you're seeing may be personalized, and may feel too high, you will hold off on your purchase until later. That is a dangerous dynamic for business. Airlines and landlords know there'll be someone else right behind you to buy that ticket or rent that apartment. But Vlasic will suffer if enough people put those pickles back until next time. Someplace like Old Navy which relies on tiered pricing and big seasonal sales would have customers waiting until things hit the clearance rack, just to ensure they weren't getting gouged. We already have price trackers for Amazon to show when you're getting a good deal vs a bad one, and those will go into overdrive if personalized prices become a thing. I really--as usual--am not sure the business world is really thinking things through.
posted by mittens at 7:34 AM on July 9 [26 favorites]


I am curious about the price trackers, mittens -- I imagined something like that must exist, other than the airline fare predictors, but haven't actually seen them out there. Do they work well?

I used to be a big fan of coupon code lookup sites until they all got wildly enshittified and now virtually none of the codes work and the sites barely function under the weight of the advertising.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:38 AM on July 9 [7 favorites]


Capitalism say that the thing that makes capitalism so great and efficient is that people compete to offer the best price, but what every capitalist actually wants is a monopoly. Fortunately (for them) this is what capitalism naturally produces: as wealth gets concentrated into fewer hands, it becomes easier for externalizing costs and information asymmetry to produce these effects that we are now seeing today.

That is, capitalism may sound nice on paper, but it just doesn't work in the real world.
posted by AlSweigart at 7:38 AM on July 9 [35 favorites]


I was looking for a link about the dynamic pricing model at the Atlantic, but I found this Atlantic article about dynamic pricing that doesn't mention their own practices at all... I guess they let me read it because they determined that I haven't clicked for a while, and it's time to give me another free sample as a way to tempt me to a subscription.
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:41 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


jacquilynne, the one i'm most familiar with is camelcamelcamel, and it has been okay--except for some reason there are items that change price almost constantly, so your email gets flooded with notifications for them.
posted by mittens at 7:46 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


I've sensed a very kludgy, cookie based version of this at work when trying to book flights on a local airline. “Oh, sorry! Looks like that cheap seat that came up in your search is now booked. Here's a slightly more expensive but otherwise identical seat option. Oh sorry! Looks like that one's suddenly booked too! Here's significantly more expensive but otherwise identical seat option ”…
posted by brachiopod at 7:47 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


The capitalist wants to charge high prices to people with money who don't mind paying it, but also wants to simultaneously charge low prices so you don't miss out on sales to poorer people. But it is absurd to have a multiple prices for the same product.

The entire point of clipping coupons back in the day was to offer a time sink penalty for poorer people so they could access the same product at a lower price. Rich people don't waste their time clipping, sorting, and collecting coupons.

We should have banned that shit, just like we should have banned baseball and Magic The Gathering packs with random cards because with technology they led to video game loot box casinos for children. It was mildly bad and then tech made it much much worse. But it does no societal good to tolerate socially negative practices just because they are only a little enshittified.

And have tax included in the price. I don't care about "we'd have to print different posters for different counties/cities/states tax rates" because it isn't the 1900s anymore and computers can print different posters. Show me the price.

Also, this reminds me: I've been meaning to write a browser plugin that does an automatic Ctrl-F for "$" on the page and puts it in sidebar so I can see what the damn price of a thing is.
posted by AlSweigart at 7:49 AM on July 9 [15 favorites]


"Dynamic pricing" is terrible because you really don't want to buy the product anymore if you become aware of it. During a chilly Easter, my dad was thinking about buying some sweaters. He is not an idle "I should buy some cozy sweaters" guy; it basically only occurred to him after I spent all week making fun of him for wearing his leather jacket indoors. I searched for sweaters and showed him some promising merino wool options on sale. He found one he liked and searched for it on his laptop -- only to discover it was "on sale" for $15 more on his browser. He could afford the extra $15, but the sense that he'd been targeted for price punishment was too much to bear. I offered to buy it from mine -- heck, I offered to let him buy it himself from mine -- but he didn't want to buy anything from that brand anymore!

I think the way companies are dodging this is by having "one price" for all customers but then offering various discounts to people they have decided are more price sensitive. In practice, I think that's a distinction without difference. If I get a discounter cookie because there's an online profile that says I do a lot of online window shopping (putting things in a cart without purchasing them) and my dad gets a "gouge this man" cookie because he's a boomer who basically only looks at clothes when he's about to buy something, the actual effect of that looks no different from dynamic pricing. As others have said, this has existed forever with coupons -- and promo codes -- but it feels less sneaky because you can at least share a promo code. The only way you can "share" your cookie-determined price is by letting someone else use your device.
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:05 AM on July 9 [17 favorites]


The capitalist wants to charge high prices to people with money who don't mind paying it, but also wants to simultaneously charge low prices so you don't miss out on sales to poorer people.

The capitalist wants to charge high prices to all people, and will happily charge them to people with money and don't mind paying and also to poor people who don't have the time or resources to find lower prices.

The only people who actually get things cheap seem to be people who could pay the higher prices but have the luxury of choosing not to.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:08 AM on July 9 [9 favorites]


I expect the Corporate media doesn't run this graph much:

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/CP

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=1pRz9 shows wages are up ~40% since 2020, while profits are up ~2X that.
posted by torokunai at 8:09 AM on July 9 [7 favorites]


🤑
posted by HearHere at 8:12 AM on July 9


… but he didn't want to buy anything from that brand anymore

I’m in my 50s, and this has increasingly been my response - a hard to shake sense that every aspect of the consumer economy is becoming some flavor of calculated rip off is making me regularly think about going without or trying much harder than I would have in the past to buy used. Lots of shopping, and especially online shopping just feels shittier all the time.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:30 AM on July 9 [23 favorites]


No, I won't use your app. No, I won't join your loyalty program. No, I don't use air miles. No, I won't log in for a free article. No, I won't watch ads on your website. No, I won't subscribe to your newsletter. No I don't want to supersize it, or be upsold, or extend my contract.

Who has the time to use all these apps and loyalty cards and site logins and head fucks whatever? It takes so much time! Fuck out of my face. Let me buy my shit and get on with my day. Gooddddd
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:37 AM on July 9 [46 favorites]


Anyway all the grocery stores in Toronto now have E-ink pricing labels for dynamic consumer rawdogging, but you know what, as long as they keep printing sale flyers every week, those prices on paper with effective dates printed right there (and those alone I guess) can't legally be changed underfoot.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:38 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


I don't use food apps except for Balzac's and I regularly forget I have it. I downloaded it because in my old job, it was right on my way to work, so I'd buy myself a latte as a treat. I do have a PC Optimum card but since I am trying to wean myself away from the Weston empire, I opt to not use it.

But Aeroplan or AirMiles or really anything always feels like a richer person option to me. I have become the kind of person who will keep things in my basket when ordering online for days because I am not sure I want to spend money that way.
posted by Kitteh at 8:48 AM on July 9


I’m in my 50s, and this has increasingly been my response - a hard to shake sense that every aspect of the consumer economy is becoming some flavor of calculated rip off is making me regularly think about going without or trying much harder than I would have in the past to buy used. Lots of shopping, and especially online shopping just feels shittier all the time.

Yes. I used to be a big shopper, more of a shopper than I should have been, but everything feels so scammy nowadays that I have gone right off it. It's so much work to try to figure out what the exact intersection of not-shitty and affordable is, I'd rather do without if I can. If it were just "you have to look at a lot of different websites or stores" that would be fine, I used to like doing that. But now it's "carefully research and calculate because everyone except a tiny handful of stores is basically just scamming you with lies".
posted by Frowner at 8:54 AM on July 9 [7 favorites]


“Now that we’ve extracted as much as we can out of you based on your demographics and cookie-based shopping history, please tell us how we did with this short survey!’
posted by gottabefunky at 8:59 AM on July 9 [21 favorites]


No, I won't use your app. No, I won't join your loyalty program. No, I don't use air miles. No, I won't log in for a free article. No, I won't watch ads on your website. No, I won't subscribe to your newsletter. No I don't want to supersize it, or be upsold, or extend my contract.

And yes, when I'm looking stuff up in online stores I will always sort by price and postage lowest first, regardless of whether that means I have to scroll past a bunch of stuff I don't want to find the thing I do. Let your algorithm make of that what it may.

Also, I'm super happy that my local council's landfill has set up a shop that employs people to go through the stuff people drop off there and curate items that still seem saleable. I've had a lot of good stuff from there and I doubt I'll ever need to go anywhere else for my next TV or fridge or laptop. There's a lot of good stuff in that shop.
posted by flabdablet at 9:01 AM on July 9 [9 favorites]


Safeway started doing this, with pretty valuable digital coupons, having to scan with your phone, etc, etc.

I hate the digital coupon gimmick, but I also live very close to a pretty nice suburban Safeway, so I'm not likely to actually stop shopping there. And the coupons are significant, $2.50/lb ground beef, $4/lb tri-tip, and $1/lb chicken, most recently. That's pretty cheap.

I should probably also mention that I used to play EVE Online, I live 2 blocks from the store, and I own a chest freezer.

So even though I hate them, these digital coupons have really changed how I shop. Now, instead of wandering around Safeway once or twice a week, I hit them up specifically for the deeply discounted meat (or eggs right now). I will go to the store and JUST buy 15 lbs of ground beef for $35, then split it into ziplocks for the freezer.

The overall effect is I visit my next-door Safeway to buy specific items, and spend a lot more of my time at the smaller Mexican, Asian, and Indian groceries we have in the South Bay.
posted by ryanrs at 9:03 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


Wondering if there’s a way to invert this - basically a federated price indexing community/service that allows you to see all the prices other people have, and make a purchase through them that is then rerouted to you during shipping.

Commerce platforms would of course do their best to pull API hooks but a) the entire nested hierarchy of referrals relies on that and b) at the end of the day there is a price displayed on the screen and we can scrape that.

Come to think of it I recall using a fairly scammy price drop watcher system my brother recommended during the Covid lockdown PS5 supply crunch, so in some sense the architecture exists it’s just currently in the hands of equally scammy people.
posted by Ryvar at 9:07 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


“Now that we’ve extracted as much as we can out of you based on your demographics and cookie-based shopping history, please tell us how we did with this short survey!’

On those rare occasions when I have the patience for it, the feedback I leave in surveys is that I am sick of being asked, begged and reminded to fill out surveys.
posted by Foosnark at 9:09 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]


I should point out that Safeway's system is not individualized. They advertise the digital coupon prices on the shelves, in their circular, etc.

I assume this is a step along the path, though. The genuinely-good-deal introductory period before full enshittification.
posted by ryanrs at 9:13 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


The digital coupon thing annoys me too. At my grocery store this past weekend I saw cherries on sale. The price looked good and I rarely buy cherries so I put them in my cart. I got to the register and the cashier rang them up for way more than I expected. I asked her about it and she said "Oh, that's with the digital coupon. Do you have the digital coupon?" I did not. Apparently there was a thing to scan by the cherries to get the coupon which I didn't see. I apologized for some reason and told the cashier to just remove them because that was way too expensive. The cashier then said it was OK and rang me up with the coupon code anyway which dropped the price by over 50%. So apparently I didn't actually need to download the coupon in the first place and they can just ring it up for the lower price.
posted by downtohisturtles at 9:16 AM on July 9 [15 favorites]




On those rare occasions when I have the patience for it, the feedback I leave in surveys is that I am sick of being asked, begged and reminded to fill out surveys.

If there's any kind of freeform text entry box on the first page of one of those surveys, I'll paste this bookmarked link into it; otherwise they just get closed immediately.
posted by flabdablet at 9:22 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]


No human or machine sifting through those survey results would be allowed to visit a link pasted into a free-form textbox.
posted by ryanrs at 9:27 AM on July 9 [3 favorites]


Walmart is already a pain about prices on their registers not matching what's on the shelf. The register is the source of truth; the shelf price is merely a suggestion, a vague gesture in the direction of a price.
posted by mittens at 9:33 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


I can totally understand the e-ink price displays; I did some coding work at a big orange retailer and the amount of software logic that went into the physical logistics of re-tagging things in the store was immense.

That said, I'm sure that a side effect of solving that problem will be to make things shittier for customers.
posted by Ickster at 9:34 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


No human or machine sifting through those survey results would be allowed to visit a link pasted into a free-form textbox.

If they want to put survey handling processes in place that prevent them finding out what's wrong with their surveys it's no skin off my nose.
posted by flabdablet at 9:38 AM on July 9


The survey handling is done by a third-party web survey company, so yes.

I agree they are super-annoying garbage. Most things seem to be, these days.
posted by ryanrs at 9:43 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


I'd think "paying for a subscription to the Atlantic" would raise your prices for everything else, OnceUponATime, even if you somehow find some good discount.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:45 AM on July 9 [6 favorites]


I'm also curious about the price trackers, mittens, maybe they could result in reduced overall consumption if they were designed well and promoted?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:51 AM on July 9


In Canada there is a legal scanning code of practice that gets you $10 everytime the scan price is higher than the shelf price.

Be interesting to see this interacting with dynamic pricing.

Sears, back when they had floor people in every department, would give you the cheapest price for the last or next 90 days just by asking on most items.
posted by Mitheral at 9:54 AM on July 9 [7 favorites]


AliExpress has their own app, but that's designed for selling thing. Instead, there should be some independent app that maps barcodes in stores, Amazon, Wallmert, etc. URLs, to identical and similar items in AliExpress, so then you could immediately pull up the cheaper price that includes some fraud risks. You'd be warnned about fraud risks & shipping delays when buying, but many buyers would be put off by even the very idea the item should cost the AliExpress price. lol
posted by jeffburdges at 9:57 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


TFA says that Amazon doesn't do this and I beg to differ. Last spring I decided I wanted to buy my granddaughter the same fairy tale book I loved as a child. The price, used, started out at $17 and I put it in my cart. But every day it got higher until suddenly it seemed there were only three copies in existence and they were over $100 each. Abe Books, same thing. Meanwhile, my brother and my daughter could find the original $17 ones, no problem.

So I waited two months until all the $17 ones reappeared in my devices and bought it then. I still feel mildly scammed, somehow, and I wish I'd bought it at a brick and mortar but the nearest decent bookstore is two hours away.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:03 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


Interestingly, if you're currently a big spender who gets & pays high prices, but then your income level drops for whatever reason, then these system likely continue trying to price gouge you, maybe forever.

It's therefore important that debt & bankruptcy counseling services or similar know this, and advise people to radically & immediately alter all their shopping locations, along with buying less.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:07 AM on July 9 [4 favorites]


Yes, there is a way to engineer a worker-friendly version of this. ADP has access to everyone's payroll data. It shares this data with employers today (i.e. compensation / wage benchmarks). It could also share this data with you. But it chooses not to. We all could definitely make them.
posted by web5.0 at 10:09 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


> I expect the Corporate media doesn't run this graph much:

note the dual scales, but here's corporate profits/GDP vs employee compensation/GDP, which is the lowest it's been post-WWII (peaked in 1970). the trends since 2000 are pretty stark.

dan davies' 'The Unaccountability Machine' sounds intriguing and i think gets at why: "Decisions about how to make decisions are part of the system. Hence the often-quoted principle that 'the purpose of a system is what it does' – and not what it says it does."
posted by kliuless at 10:10 AM on July 9 [7 favorites]


This just happened to me while reading the article. Two weeks ago we stayed at an airbnb here in Vermont. We liked it so we decided to go back again next week. The first price was $104. The initial search price for next week in general was $104. When It I put in the specific days we needed it was $129 a night. Just now I logged out and looked at the same dates as a guest. The rates were all $104 for the dates we wanted. Always buy as a guest whenever possible and have enough email addresses so you can use one that isn't linked to data base.
posted by Xurando at 10:59 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


In the story about Staples offering different prices for estimated geolocations, the Journal wrote: “Areas that tended to see the discounted prices had a higher average income than areas that tended to see higher prices.”

That's despicable. If there's any possible social value in individual pricing (not saying there is, practically), it's what AlSweigart said above, rich people paying more because they can. I'm not poor, and I'd happily pay more for the exact same milk or eggs or sweater or television than someone who is. It's no UBI, but maybe it'd help.

To use individual pricing to achieve the exact opposite of that is a special kind of evil.
posted by gurple at 11:04 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


I tried ordering a custom tshirt yesterday for a friend. I wanted a shirt with two words written on it, a reference to a joke this friend made last week. The base price on one site was very cheap, like $9 for a shirt and "always free shipping", but apparently the price went up steeply because I wanted custom words on it. Okay. Fine. By the time I was done customizing the fonts on the two words etc the price was up to $33 + tax. Okayyyy, fiiiiine, that's just regular price gouging, I should have known the initial deal was too good to be true.

Just before hitting purchase I realized it might be easier if I shipped it directly to my friend, because even though he only lives about 15 minutes away, we don't have a meet-up on our schedule for another three months. I put in his address. The price went up to $39 + tax, likely because he lives in a much more expensive part of our town.

I went back to my old staple Zazzle and got a shirt from them them for $17 + tax + $7 shipping (to him). Shipping from Zazzle didn't change based on location, neither did shirt price.
posted by MiraK at 11:27 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


It's absolutely true that companies are going to use personalized prices to maximize profits, but in a world of fixed prices, they were already working to maximize profits. To do so, they set the price at some middle level. People willing to pay more benefited because companies couldn't raise prices on them, but people willing to pay less suffered, because companies couldn't lower prices to make a sale.

In either scenario, the issue is lack of competition. In a world with limited competition, it's not obvious to me whether personalized pricing would be any worse, though if one company has a monopoly on personalized information, that would further reduce competition.

MiraK's experience is a great example of how competition prevents abuse of personalized pricing.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:31 AM on July 9


kliuless' graph also highlights why the early 2020s (aka Biden's first term) feels a lot suckier than Clinton's last term.

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=1pROH shows that annual rent inflation was moderated in the 1990s, while this decade people really got stuck hard with landlord greedflation.
posted by torokunai at 11:35 AM on July 9 [5 favorites]


What I would like to see is some sort of reciprocity whereby I, as the consumer, can enter a bid. You, the seller want to price it according to your algo metrics, I want to price it according to mine. I guess that is like what eBay was in its early days.

I don't think it should be a one sided negotiation. Seller can change price, I can change my bid. Even put a time limit on it. I am bidding $24 for that item. My bid expires in 15 minutes.

What makes a market fair(er) is transparency and competition.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:35 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]


i buy everything used that i can
posted by graywyvern at 12:19 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


I'm finally finishing the move away from convenience shopping online. If I need filament for the printer, that's a task for the day I'll be near Microcenter. Hobby supplies also wait till then as there's a hobby shop just across the strip mall or down the road. Clothes come from a DXL or a suitable little shop now. These aren't really stores that are going to adapt to the scampricing quickly.

Very tempted to test The Old Ways of purchasing versus online convenience shopping. If I try to call in and buy airfare (assuming this is even possible now), will it be the regular price or the database assigned price? Same for hotels. I dislike calling people but I dislike spending over what's required more.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:21 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


torokunkai: I expect the Corporate media doesn't run this graph much: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=1pRz9

Yeah, but don't you see how the growth rate between 2022 and now is much lower than it was between 2020 and 2022??? Crisis! Companies have gotten complacent! Raise prices! Fire half the staff! Invest everything in short-form-video, blockchain, augmented reality, AI ! The Street demands action and a return to 30% growth! /s
posted by Popular Ethics at 12:28 PM on July 9


kliuless' graph also highlights why the early 2020s (aka Biden's first term) feels a lot suckier than Clinton's last term.

Yeah, and individualized prices for things is also part of the problem. Things like instacart, for example- they don’t just gouge on delivery fees, they upcharge specifically on certain types of food they think certain types of people are more likely to buy. They upcharge on chicken breasts, for example, not whole chickens. Upcharge on frozen food, not on bulk produce. It’s so, so fucking hard to be a young single person right now.
posted by corb at 1:29 PM on July 9 [4 favorites]


> i buy everything used that i can

this is the right thing to do, and i find an ever-deepening satisfaction the more i act on the knowledge that used is good and new is bad. it's not just that things are cheaper if you go one step down the human centipede that is capitalism, but additionally it's much more satisfying to make a find in a pile of used stuff than it is to buy something that's good because it's new and shiny.

"does this person buy new things, or do they buy used things?" has become one of my metrics for assessing whether a person i've met is interesting and good and trustworthy. and i say this as someone who fails to buy used far more often than i should.

the method of goods acquisition that's the hallmark of a genuinely interesting, decent top-notch person is of course dumpster-diving, and if i were better at living my values i would actually start doing it instead of just thinking hard about it all the time
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 1:55 PM on July 9 [6 favorites]


Our local independent grocer recently started using a (third-party, skinned for them) digital coupon app. They still publish weekly coupon flyers in the paper, but the best coupons, printed right there in the fucking flyer alongside the normal clip these out coupons are "digital app only". I am so close to buying a shitty Android burner phone just for these stupid fucking coupon apps.
posted by xedrik at 2:03 PM on July 9


In British Columbia the Sale of Goods Act is premised on the notion of a negotiable transaction between merchant and customer. In theory, you could argue the price with a cashier, but posting a price establishes a contract proffer that is difficult to change. This has been accepted as a sales practice for decades and most consumers think it's standard. Now we're going back to individual bargaining except that the consumer cannot easily negotiate with these commercial entities. In other words, this may be legal but it runs afoul of common practice. There are anti-price fixing laws, federal and provincial, that might be adapted to fight this, but it seems to me that custom and usage are possibly more important arguments.
posted by CCBC at 4:07 PM on July 9




"does this person buy new things, or do they buy used things?" has become one of my metrics for assessing whether a person i've met is interesting and good and trustworthy. and i say this as someone who fails to buy used far more often than i should.

It's much harder to buy plus-sized secondhand clothes than to buy straight-sized secondhand clothes, so this metric is going to select more for thin people.

Also, there are other reasons people need to buy new, like

- fragrance allergies that means they can't buy secondhand clothes/towels/sheets (some laundry detergent fragrance doesn't come out no matter how often you rewash things)

- if you can get the new thing posted to your house; but you can only get the secondhand thing by physically catching the bus/train or driving to the shop. (Big issue for people with chronic illness/Disability or who are trying to limit their exposure to COVID.)
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 4:34 PM on July 9 [6 favorites]


That is, capitalism may sound nice on paper, but it just doesn't work in the real world.
Oh, no, capitalism works just fine and dandy, exactly as intended. That is, it works for those with capital. It was never intended to work for those who buy from them. We've all been sucked into the machine and spat out after having our pockets emptied, just as the machine is designed.

I think there is a theoretical way to use individual pricing ethically and in a way that benefits society, but it means turning the model on its head in a way that will only ever exist in fantasy-land. Instead of charging higher prices to those that need an item and lower prices to those that just want an item, that same intrusive and invasive data collection could be used to determine a person's capacity to pay and offer a fair price based on that.

But the lack of actual competition (as opposed to the pretend competition we have where all suppliers have the same owners or where 'competitors' conspire to fix prices) stops any pricing model from being fair. It doesn't matter whether prices are being modelled on individual data or aggregate data for fixed prices. When there's no real competition, the power balance is completely tipped toward the supplier. This is what economists mean when they say 'a rising tide floats all boats' and similar bullshit. The part they leave out is that most people aren't in the boats at all, they're floundering around in the ocean trying to keep from drowning.
posted by dg at 5:18 PM on July 9 [1 favorite]


I find the idea of the McDonalds app reading my emails funny because I don't even read my emails. Like the emails are mostly from Starbucks begging me to come back for double stars.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:29 PM on July 9 [2 favorites]


Oh, no, capitalism works just fine and dandy, exactly as intended. That is, it works for those with capital.

The purpose of a system is what it does (POSIWID)
posted by AlSweigart at 7:05 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]


I'm sure far too many companies will use e-ink ticketing for nefarious purposes but it also does have legitimate benefits. At least here in Aus where we have hundreds of specials every week, putting up and taking down tickets is 10+ hours a week of labour and a not insignificant amount of waste created in the process.

We also regularly get customer feedback that they're annoyed by not reliably being able to see the special prices on the first and last day of specials, which is due to the fact a person has to spend hours putting them up and taking them down (maybe less an issue if you have overnight staff to do it, but many businesses are not going to have this).

Also because a human is doing this work and humans are not perfect, sometimes a ticket will get missed (and then someone usually comes to yell at me because an outdated special ticket is still on display and that means we're definitely intentionally scamming them).

Ideally there would be a reasonable way for customers to access the history of price changes on the e-ink tickets in case of any disputes, but I imagine companies won't really want to share that info.
posted by lwb at 11:09 PM on July 9


TFA says that Amazon doesn't do this


Amazon absolutely does this. If I shop in incognito mode, or even not logged into my Amazon account I get one price. Put the item into my cart, log in, suddenly it's a few dollars more. Almost every single timed I've tried this.
I'd been weaning myself off Amazon for a while, but this discovery kicked it into full gear and I would say my buying from them is down about 75% from peak levels if I had to guess.

My buying stuff is down in general, maybe for the same reasons a few other commenters mentioned, but lately I can't get over the feeling that my only worth as seen by those who are in control of things is as a purchaser or consumer, and I say screw that I'm not gonna do it.
posted by newpotato at 2:26 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


but you can only get the secondhand thing by physically catching the bus/train or driving to the shop.

Worth noting that there are many 2nd hand options online, including for apparel. Most of my clothing buys in the last decade or so have been used via eBay.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:15 AM on July 10


With secondhand, several things occur to me, but mostly: With the junkification of everything, the secondhand market is worse. Also, the physical secondhand market is worse because so much is sold online or picked early in the physical sales process. I used to thrift shop all the time, probably weekly, and I haven't been in a thrift store in years.

Part of that is that I'm older and I have many durable goods now (hopefully they won't break, no fires, etc) but a lot of it is just that the goods are so poor-quality. Pre-internet sales, I bought cashmere sweaters, real vintage clothes from the eighties and earlier, solid housewares, a wide range of books, small furniture, bedding and of course virtually all my clothes. Now, between the fact that everything made after about 2005 is pure junk and the picking/internet sales of anything even remotely decent, there's no real reason to go.

This situation also drives up the prices of secondhand goods. Things that were $3 in 2000 are $20 plus shipping now, although local sales do mitigate this.

For me, I'm able to buy a lot secondhand online, but I wouldn't fault someone who bought a lot of new stuff. Certain types of secondhand shopping really are kind of a privilege right now, like brown rice or electric cars.
posted by Frowner at 6:29 AM on July 10 [6 favorites]


OnceUponATime: now I won't subscribe out of principle
These pricing systems have no channel for this signal, no capacity to record a market failure. Fortunately, the system does what it's designed to do: capture trade at elevated prices.

JohnnyGunn: What I would like to see is some sort of reciprocity whereby I, as the consumer, can enter a bid. You, the seller want to price it according to your algo metrics, I want to price it according to mine.

Here they could record a market failure and match buyers to sellers. If you have capital, you can still "make markets" by putting yourself between a seller and taking some profit out of the trading.

Note also that haggling is normal in most of the world, 'cept for places with non-conformist Protestant history whereby the Friend / Quaker traders (such as Fry's Rowntree, Cadbury) set the same prices for everyone regardless of status because it was an act of justice, not of favouritism.
posted by k3ninho at 7:51 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


i don't like regular haggling because it feels petty and mean and self-interested. the only haggling i've ever found worthwhile or satisfying is reverse haggling, where both parties are trying to get the other side to take more money.
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 10:25 AM on July 10


where do you buy secondhand brown rice
posted by mittens at 10:39 AM on July 10


i mean I’ve already said “human centipede” once in this thread so
posted by bombastic lowercase pronouncements at 12:02 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Okay, grammar fail, but I contend that the common reader - reading with and not against - would understand me to mean "it is a privilege to buy certain types of goods secondhand, just as it is a privilege to access and afford electric cars and brown rice".

Although really, I have some old uncooked brown rice sitting around in a tin - would it be secondhand if someone gave me fifty cents for it? I would be glad to sell certain aging, decanted, still usable but unlikely to be used ingredients for very modest amounts. Impulse-bought lobster better than bouillon, anyone? 90% of a giant tub of curry paste that I really don't like? Vanilla fig jam that someone gave me without realizing that weird jam additives are very much not my jam, as it were?
posted by Frowner at 12:44 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


Pre-internet sales, I bought cashmere sweaters, real vintage clothes from the eighties and earlier, solid housewares, a wide range of books, small furniture, bedding and of course virtually all my clothes. Now, between the fact that everything made after about 2005 is pure junk and the picking/internet sales of anything even remotely decent, there's no real reason to go.

I used to go to opshops [secondhand shops run by charities to raise money for the charities] regularly in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

I found it was really, really hard to find anything larger than an Australian size 10 (US size 6) that was in good condition.

For context, the average Australian woman is size 12.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 10:40 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Yes, there’s kind of a “size hole” for plus size women who want to wear things that are remotely fashionable or attractive. I used to have an easier time when I was in the larger plus sizes that are not frequented by many, but as I got down to the “competitive” plus sizes (US 14-16, “hourglass” shape) I found it nearly impossible to thrift anything nice anymore. I had to start buying new, especially for work clothes. No one is getting rid of clothing that fits me that I can use.
posted by corb at 6:51 AM on July 11


The funny thing is that back in the day - and maybe this is about being in the midwest - I did used to find pretty cool stuff up to about size 18. Not as much, I grant you, but notably I found a really nice couture blouse from Dior's then plus-size line in about a contemporary size 20, I found some plus size vintage coats and a few dresses, a LOT of nice but washable silk blouses from the eighties/nineties and a reasonable amount of regular stuff. I was a 12/14 at the time, so I was always looking for things labeled basically 12-18 since sizing is so bananas. I found this one beautiful medium pink cashmere pullover that was about a size 18/20, for instance. I admit that I did buy a few things that were oversized on me, but in general I left them on the rack.

But yeah, I think it's a lot harder now for a variety of reasons. I think any good plus size stuff gets sniped and resold at higher prices online, mostly. Also, as the country ages and the average weight goes up, there's more demand AND because very little good quality stuff is being made currently, a lot of stuff falls apart and doesn't make it to the secondhand market at all or else is unsuitable once it gets there.

I was at a Pride event and the kids had so many cute outfits, but just by looking I could tell that the majority of them would fall apart with a couple of wears. Obviously everyone is broke and it's also a special occasion, but I was once young and fun and dressed up for Pride and the cheap clothes I had access to were much better quality. Saw some super cute eighties/nineties vintage remix outfits, though - I wonder if vests are going to make a culture-wide comeback rather than a niche one?
posted by Frowner at 7:53 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Since I have been dinged on unclear referents recently, perhaps I should specify that the outfits, not the kids, would fall apart with wear. The kids will just wear into wrinkles and bitterness, like the rest of us.
posted by Frowner at 8:09 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I too used to shop almost exclusively at thrifts and now find that they are so picked over by resellers as to be useless. I thought this was a specifically Asheville issue but then I moved to the PNW and find to my sorrow that it's the same here. My take on this is that people are so poor now that many more of them are reselling, and/or doing any kind of scavenging that they can to get by, like the can people here in Oregon and the metal scavengers all over the east coast (weirdly do not see so many of them here.) Thrifting used to be a fun kind of hobby thing but now it's the domain of the desperate, like so much else. It struck me the other day how increasingly medieval we are getting; I was watching a couple older guys with a beat up truck full to the brim of strange things - old furniture! Waterlogged books! Some coats! A rug and some rebar! - that they were trying to sell and I thought, they would not really be out of place in any century if that truck was a cart.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:16 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Quality issues are also very real. I stopped into a Nordstrom Rack today to look at clothes and found only two pieces of clothing that I thought were of decent quality, in terms of stitching, fabric, etc. Both were simple skirts. Both were originally 1000$, discounted down to 250$. I am not going to pay that for a skirt, which means I am going to get more things that fall apart and will never make it to secondhand.
posted by corb at 2:14 PM on July 11


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