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Why Does Amazon.com Hide Some Prices?

Why does Amazon.com hide some of the prices on their product pages? I saw it a lot when I was putting together my home theater a few years ago. It’s remarkably easy to buy electronics online because it’s everything is a commodity. As I sought out receivers, like this Onkyo TX-SR608 Receiver [3], I saw that nearly every one of them hid their prices.

For the longest time, I thought it was a sales gimmick. I had always heard the most difficult action to get an online customer to do is put an item in their cart (the second is to get them to get their credit card to for it, hence the “convenience” of storing your credit card information). I thought the “see price in cart” idea was a way to overcome that first step.

It turns out that it goes beyond that. It goes to the idea of Minimum Advertised Price. After a 2007 Supreme Court ruling [4] in Leegin Creative Leather Products v. PSKS, manufacturers had more control in the retail pricing of their products. As a result, a retailer can’t advertise that they have something under the minimum advertised price in an attempt to undercut their competitors.

On the web, this results in these shifty games where you have to add an item to the cart to see its true price. Comparison shopping engines and aggregators scour the web, including Amazon.com product pages, to collect prices. When you visit one of those comparison shopping sites, you get a bunch of prices to compare. Those sites can’t, or choose not to, get the prices for products behind this “see price in cart” shield.

Now, whenever I see a product page with a price on it, I wonder if I’m overpaying… 🙂