(WMC-TV) – Is there a best time to make a purchase online? Maybe so! Action News 5 Investigators watched as prices online changed dramatically over a 24-hour period, depending on the time of day.
If you are contemplating an Internet purchase, you may want to hang tight to see if the price drops throughout the day.
Online shopper Amy Shoaff noticed prices dropping for the same item, on the same website, when she checked multiple times per day.
"General everyday items fluctuating anywhere from $40 to $300," said Shoaff.
That is when she realized the new trend -- retailers changing their online prices hour by hour, sometimes, minute by minute.
The goal is to have a product priced so it pops up as the lowest priced item in the shopping search engines, or Amazon's coveted "Buy Box", where many consumers look to find the best deals.
"It's more a battle of getting the right screen position as opposed to trying to sell it as quickly as possible," said Chris Buckingham, Professional Pricing Society.
The website Decide.com showed how it monitors prices of several items on a well-known shopping website.
First, an iPad.
At midnight, the iPad was $511. By 6 a.m., it was $503. By 7 a.m., the price sunk to $475, where it stayed until 2:30 p.m. Then the price jumped back up to $510. At 10 p.m., the price of the iPad increased to a high of $529. That totals a price difference of $54 on the same site, all in one 24-hour period.
"The suppliers are constantly monitoring each other," said Buckingham.
Decide.com's tracking software found the price of some colored pencils ranged from a high of $3.32 to a low of $2.22 over a 24-hour period.
And in one day, duct tape ranged in price from a high of $7.83 to a low of $2.
"What has changed fundamentally in the past 12 months is the speed and scale at which prices are being set," said software vendor Eric Best.
Some retailers hire software companies to monitor the prices of its products and make changes based on its competitors.
"Because consumers now are researching their offline and online purchases in advance more than 50 percent of the time," explained best.
And there are websites that monitor prices for items you want and alert you when the price drops, or when it reaches the amount you are willing to pay.
If you add an item to your Amazon shopping cart and leave it there, Amazon will notify you of any prices changes.
Shoaff has a warning, though, about clicking on the least expensive deal found on search engines.
"Free shipping, returns, make sure you're using those things to your advantage because sometimes just price isn't always the cheapest," she said.
Experts say electronics, jewelry, shoes, and appliances have the most fluctuating prices.
And if you order something from a retailer online and the price drops a short time later, get in touch with the company and ask for a refund.
Copyright 2013 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.
730 North Summit Street