In the digital age where online shopping is ubiquitous, shoppers are becoming increasingly savvy about the tactics they use to secure the best deals. Among these is the use of private browsing modes, such as Google Chrome’s Incognito mode or Apple’s Safari private browsing feature. Many consumers operate under the assumption that by going incognito, they can outsmart algorithms and secure lower prices. However, this urban myth may lead to disappointment rather than discounts.
Understanding Private Browsing’s Real Benefits
Private browsing modes offer several benefits, but contrary to popular belief, affecting product pricing isn’t one of them. According to Benjamin Barrontine, Vice President of Executive Services at 360 Privacy, a company specializing in protecting clients’ digital identities, the primary function of private browsing is to remove traces of your search history from your device and to block the browser’s use of your cookies to track your browsing activity.
This means that if you’re sharing a laptop with family members and want to keep gift purchases a surprise, private modes can be useful. However, companies typically determine pricing based on a range of factors—such as timing, location, and marketing investments—that don’t rely on your browsing patterns. Therefore, using a private window won’t necessarily net you a better price.
A Google spokesperson further explains that while using Incognito mode, cookies are stored during your session but are erased once you close it. If you revisit a shopping website in Incognito mode, you’ll be seen as a new user, and any items previously left in a cart will not be remembered – a fresh slate, but not a cheaper one.
Dispelling the Myth of Anonymity in Private Mode
Under the illusion of complete anonymity, shoppers may believe they have found a way to “game the system,” but this is far from the case. Barrontine warns that the searches you make could still be visible to internet service providers and network administrators, particularly when using company devices or networks.
The Realities of Online Tracking
Major tech companies often have sophisticated methods to identify users, even in private browsing modes. Ken Carnesi, CEO and Co-Founder of DNSFilter, indicates that companies like Amazon are adept at recognizing users based on various factors, including IP addresses, ZIP codes, device settings, and more. This digital fingerprinting is so precise that even when you search for items on Amazon.com in private mode, Amazon is still likely to know it’s you.
The Implications for Online Advertising
While private browsing might obscure your immediate history, it doesn’t shield you from the broader tracking ecosystem. As Carnesi notes, even if you haven’t closed your private browsing window, targeted ads related to your searches might continue to appear later on. This is because tracking information can still be passed on to the advertisers that pay for the clicks on their promoted content.
Dynamic Pricing and Virtual Private Networks
When it comes to dynamic pricing, especially for big-ticket items like airline tickets, Kevin Williams, an associate professor at the Yale School of Management, clarifies that personal history isn’t typically a factor. His recent research into airlines’ pricing strategies found that location is a primary determinant. For those seeking better travel deals, using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) might help by concealing your geographical location, though it involves some trial and error.
The Added Value of Private Browsing and Alternative Search Engines
Aside from the myth of hidden lower prices, private browsing can still be valuable. It prevents auto-filling of previous searches, allowing for a fresh start each time you open a new private window. It ensures privacy on public or borrowed computers and can safeguard credit card information from being stored. For shoppers seeking true privacy, Carnesi recommends using a search engine like Brave.com, which commits to not tracking searches or clicks, ensuring that your online shopping habits are kept entirely confidential.
In conclusion, private browsing won’t necessarily help you snag better deals online, but by understanding its true benefits and limitations, you can browse with knowledge and purpose. By using other strategies, such as VPNs or privacy-focused search engines, you can enhance your online privacy and shopping experience. Whether it’s avoiding spoilers for gift recipients or keeping search histories out of sight on shared devices, informed shoppers can still make savvy use of the tools at their disposal.