One price yesterday, a different one today, and maybe another tomorrow?
If you thought supply & demand pricing fluctuations was relegated to seller sites like eBay.com, Mercari.com, or Autotrader.com, sadly, it appears as if one of the big box/online retailers is taking a page from that playbook. However, instead of price variations between different sellers, it looks as if Walmart.com is dynamically changing pricing on their own inventory.
Some of you may be familiar with Uber’s “surge pricing“, where Uber uses an algorithm to automatically adjust prices higher during times of peak demand and lower driver availability. Airlines and car dealerships have been doing the same for decades. And as mentioned, we’re used to this kind of dynamic pricing strategy when you have different sellers in a market place, physical or online; maximizing potential profit when they know the inventory and demand of a certain good or service weighs more in their favor.
That’s all very familiar in certain circumstances, but I don’t think anyone ever expected it to happen with an individual retailer like Walmart. Sure, when an item is priced, a typical retailer will set a price and stick to it. The only price fluctuation to ever occur–again, typically–is a price markdown when there’s too much inventory and the retailer needs to create more demand interest with discounts.
I recently came across a few posts on a Marvel Legends Reddit group pointing out that the price of the Marvel Legends comics style Starlord action figure, a Walmart exclusive, was fluctuating over time, some claiming daily. This is a pre-order figure due for release next Spring. The first thing that came to mind was that these folks must be confused and are looking at the prices of individual sellers who use Walmart.com as their storefront. The same goes for Amazon.com, where individuals sell similar or identical products to what Amazon stocks and sells, but the individual seller price being typically higher, especially for discontinued or hard-to-find items.
So I had to see for myself since I had successfully pre-ordered the figure on the first day it was made available. Lo and behold, the folks in the Marvel Legends Reddit group weren’t wrong. Here is a screen grab of my order confirmation on June 6th, and a screen grab of the product page on Walmart.com today:
This is not and instance of an individual seller selling their preorder to others (weird, I know) because it clearly shows on the product page that it’s sold and shipped by Walmart.com.
What’s going on here? I can’t say for sure, but it sure seems like Walmart.com is doing what Uber and the airlines do when there’s high demand and perhaps less inventory. That being said, this is a PRE ORDER, and typically when assumed inventory is met by demand (in this case, pre orders), a retailer or seller just stops taking orders. They don’t raise the price point, or least they didn’t used to.
Is this the new normal? I hope not. What happens if more inventory is acquired that surpasses demand? Will Walmart reduce the price for those who may have pre ordered this item at the higher price? Is this just something Walmart.com will be doing with their exclusive items? This whole situation isn’t very consumer friendly, to say the least.
Walmart’s slogan, “Save money. Live better.”, perhaps, might be only applicable during non-peak demand times moving forward.