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Most merchants sell products for the same price on the web as they do in stores, but in a meeting today I was caught off guard by an enquiry about regional pricing.  It struck me as odd so I had to learn more.

The issue is realted to the size of the products that the merchant sells and the vast size of Canada.  There is a good reason that a large & bulky item sells for a higher price in Prince George, BC than in Vancouver, BC.  Prior to the web, a shopper in PG would not think twice about the cost of the item.  All merchants in the market would be faced with the same landed cost of the item at local stores.  Now with the web, the retailer lists prices for items based on his landed costs at his head office and fulfillment centre in the lower mainland of BC.  When shipping is included, the cost for the shopper is roughly the same as their list prices in Prince George.  The problem is that the shopper in PG checks the price online and complains when he gets to the store and sees a higher price.

So what is a retailer to do?

1) Educate your staff so they all have the same answer when the question inevitably comes.

2) Include a disclaimer about pricing on your web site.

3) Force shoppers to enter in a postal/zip code prior to seeing prices.

While option 3 might seem heavy handed, I have seen it used at among other sites.  On they recommend choosing a local store for "up to the minute pricing and availability".  By quoting local prices, not only do you eliminate the potential for price confusion, you can also quote lower shipping prices even if you are fulfilling from a single facility.  The risk is that consumers will still see lower prices for the same products from other merchants.  Proceed with caution.

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