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Are predictive analytics preventing you from securing the best travel bargain? A recent article in the Wall Street Journal claims that owning a Mac can render different, more costly search results on Orbitz based on what the company's research deems "typical Mac consumer spending habits."
In-house research findings suggest that people who use Mac computers spend as much as 30% more a night on hotels and are 40% more likely to book a four- or five-star hotel than PC users. In response to this buying activity, Orbitz is pushing "customized" search results to Mac users that prioritize more expensive options; the site believes they are taking steps to better match the predicted preferences of their consumers.
But is this fair, or actually a convenience at all? According to Orbitz execs, the company is not showing the same room to different users at different prices; rather, it is just ranking more deluxe options higher. Users can still choose to sort their results by price. Also, other factors like locale, in-demand lodging, and specific promotions still play a role in determining content.
Online consumers are no strangers to customization of some kind on the web; for example, I emailed my friend about a potential trip to Barcelona recently, and it now mysteriously pops up in an ad on my Gmail, in true Big Brother fashion. But does this kind of marketing seem like a one-size-fits-all approach to steer diverse Mac users toward extra amenities that not all would otherwise be interested in?
As the New York Times reports, such customization is becoming more widespread. In fact, half of the largest online U.S. retailers used personalization techniques last year to spur online sales. And though travel competitors like Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline have yet to join in, success in this arena could mean it won't be long before all booking websites follow suit. While this kind of virtual, psuedo-personal shopper can be beneficial in meeting our travel needs faster, what if your desires go against your "type"?
For the "atypical," non-ritzy Mac loyalist still on the lookout for the best bang for his/her buck, remembering to price out deals from low to high may be the easiest and least time-consuming fix. CNET also suggests outfoxing your operating system by modifying the User Agent settings in your browser (which is possible in Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Firefox), or clearing your cookies to appear as a new user and receive discounted rates from the get-go.
Despite Orbitz' assumption that Mac users have more disposable income, personalized online shopping can have its own set of perks, too. What do you think? Is online customization cool or creepy? Fair or unfair? Does it sometimes feel like you have a digital stalker? And when do you pull out the restraining order? Sound off in the comments below.