Do you use store apps to “browse the racks” before actually going to the store? Or perhaps you use them to find a specific item, but opt to pick it up in-store rather than have it shipped. However you shop, a 2019 Kare11 News investigation found that through their app, Target tracks you – and they change prices based on your location. (1)
Target Tracks You And Changes Prices Based On Your Location
A Kare11 News viewer had a hunch that Target’s prices weren’t adding up, so the news station decided to do some investigating. What they found is that Target actually tracks you via the app and changes the prices of items based on whether or not you are in or outside of the store. (1)
The investigators first tested this using the price of a Samsung 55-inch smart TV. The TV was listed for $499.99 on the app, but as they pulled into their local Target’s parking lot, the price jumped a full $100. (1)
Next, they selected 10 random products to see if they would consistently see a change. Products tested included (1):
- Bottled water
- Apple watch band
- Graco child car seat
- Shark vacuum cleaner
- Dyson vacuum
- Toys and other various products.
Every single item’s price went up while they were in the store. The watch band went up to $2, the Dyson $148, the Shark $40, and the Graco car seat $72. The total cart cost was $262 more expensive inside the store than from the back of the parking lot. (1)
The app does not indicate while you are in-store that you can get the items cheaper if you shop online. Target attempted to explain themselves in a statement:
“The Target app shows in-store pricing while in-store, and online pricing while on the go. If a guest finds any item for a lower price across any of the ways they can shop Target, we’ll price match it.” (1)
Of course, you have to pay attention, and you have to have proof to price match.
University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management Marketing Professor George John says they likely change the prices because market trends show people shopping in-store or usually willing to pay more. (1)
“Somebody at Target programmed in an algorithm which says someone who is 50 feet within the store is willing to pay more,” he says. “The most reasonable explanation is that you just revealed your commitment to buying the product; you’re in the store or in the parking lot. If you are further away, you haven’t quite committed, so I’m going to give you a juicier deal. That’s why the price went up when you got closer to the store.” (1)
How Does Target Track You?
The answer is simple: Via your location settings. When you download the app, they ask you if you want to turn on your location settings. This can be handy, as it shows stores closest to you and will even help you navigate the store while you’re in it. (1)
Unfortunately, it also allows them to change the prices when you are inside the store. (1)
Not Just Inside Vs. Outside The Store
The Huffington Post also investigated this theory that Target changes prices based on location. They found that not only do prices differ depending on if you are inside the store or not but also depending on where you live. (2)
That’s right: Prices can be different depending on what city, neighborhood, or suburb you live in. (2)
A staffer at Huffington Post tested this by looking at toilet paper prices in different cities. He found (2):
- Chicago suburb: $15.39
- NYC neighborhood: $15.89
- Store in Los Angeles: $16.29
A spokesperson told the Post that it has to do with local demand.
“For online orders that are fulfilled by our stores, prices reflect the local market,” they said. “As always, we also offer guests the ability to price match through our Price Match Guarantee, providing added assurance they’re paying the lower price.” (2)
They found prices tend to be higher in more expensive neighborhoods and less expensive in lower-income areas. (2)
How To Stop It
You can change this if you know you are looking for a specific item, look at home first, and screenshot the in-app price before going inside the store. You can then show this to the cashier and do a price-match. (1)
This, of course, doesn’t help you with the random items we all like to throw in the cart while picking up the one thing we actually came in for. To solve this problem, you need to turn off your location tracking. (1)
To do this, go into your Target app and click on your name icon. From there, select “app settings” then “location.” Here, select “never.” This will disable the app from tracking your location, so they won’t know whether or not you are in the store. This will then allow you to compare app prices with the in-store prices while shopping at Target. (1)
According to Kare11, no other retailers with shopping apps track you the way that Target does. (1) One thing is for certain, I will definitely be thinking twice about allowing retail stores to know my location in the future.
Keep Reading: This Mom Teaches Her Daughters That Virginity Doesn’t Exist And Her Reasons Are So Important
- “The Target app price switch: What you need to know.” Kare11. Chris Hrapsky. January 27, 2019.
- “Target Is Tracking You And Changing Prices Based On Your Location.” Huffington Post. Casey Bond. March 3, 2021.