Let’s be honest – it was a pretty cheeky move. Ruslan Kogan managed to tick off a large portion of the internet last month after he started charging Internet Explorer 7 users more for accessing his site through an outdated browser.
The argument was that it took the company a little longer to code the website for such an old program. Developers were happy, even though a few shoppers complained. All in all, it seemed like a pretty harmless move.
Flash forward three weeks later. Orbitz, a hotel booking site in the United States, confirmed that it had been discriminating between Mac and PC users – and it had been showing Mac users the higher price because, on average, they pay more.
There’s a common thread between these two companies. They’ve both taken what has been an accepted practice of identifying the type of technology used by people, and then have used that information to provide them with targeted deals.
It goes beyond what businesses have usually done – and web developers say it’s the future.
“This is becoming much bigger,” Telsyte senior research manager Sam Yip says. “The whole point is that you should never know if you’re being targeted, because if the company is good at it, it should just make it part of the experience.”
Behavioural targeting has been around for years. You probably know it best from companies like Amazon, when it provides you with recommendations on products to buy based on your previous purchases. In fact, plenty of other ecommerce websites do that as well. It’s easy to track what you’ve bought and then offer a few recommendations based on that, it’s just common practice.
But this is going even further. Kogan and Orbitz have tracked what technologies their customers have used, and then have used it to customise the web experience. It goes beyond simply tracking what customers have purchased.
To Kogan, it’s just common sense.
“The value of moving your business to this type of system is the ability to understand your customer better, and then advertise to them better,” he says.
“For instance, a customer comes to our website, and I know they’re a tech-minded person, I’ll advertise them a 42-inch, 1080p television. But if they come along and they’re not techie, I’ll just say, big screen television, great for action, sports and movies.”
“It’s just about tailoring the experience to the user.”
Analytics allow businesses to do this better than ever before. Now, they’re using the information gained from analytics as a way to discriminate based on technologies like browser, and even hardware.
Fred Schebesta, tech entrepreneur and founder of Credit Card Finder, says information use is becoming more aggressive.
“Different user experiences was just the first thing, but different prices is a bit more aggressive. I actually think that’s a bad story for Orbitz, because you don’t want to be found out for discriminating.”
“However, it’s been around forever. They’re just taking it to the next level.”