Orbitz has confirmed that it uses predictive analytics to show Mac users different and more expensive hotels in search results than Windows users might see. It’s still not clear how widespread the practice is, nor what its implications might be. But there are ways to avoid the hard sell.Travel site
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that “Orbitz found Mac users on average spend $20 to $30 more a night on hotels than their PC counterparts, a significant margin given the site’s average nightly hotel booking is around $100, Orbitz chief scientist Wai Gen Yee said.”
After analyzing its own site’s data and determining users' buying patterns, Orbitz now presents search results in a slightly different way, with higher-priced options floating near the top of the list for Mac users.
This sort of adaptive display of options makes a certain amount of sense. The WSJ article notes that the “average household income for adult owners of Mac computers is $98,560, compared with $74,452 for a PC owner,” according to technology analyst firm Forrester. Given the availability of more income, Orbitz is simply differentiating more granularly what the market will bear.
Is Orbitz the Only One?
An initial Expedia search for a room in Miami Beach from July 12-15 for two adults on a clean Linux machine (no cookies present) gave a result that had the first five rooms averaging $173.60. The exact same search on Expedia using a Mac in the same network gave a list of results with the first five rooms averaging $227.80.
The curious part? Every test after this showed identical results on every machine (Mac, Windows, Linux) in this network. Were the first, lower results a fluke? Or did Expedia recognize that someone inside my firewall owned a Mac and adjusted accordingly?
Either way, this kind of user positioning shouldn’t come as a surprise. Did we really expect online marketers not to use big data’s predictive analytics to boost sales? Whether we notice it or not, using everything you know about a potential customer to help sell or upsell goods and services is already happening.
How to “Opt Out”
Concerned consumers will need to start managing their online presence more closely to reveal these marketing attempts and control how they are offered.
The easiest solution is to make sure you view search results sorted by price or some other objective category, not as “Recommended” or “Best Value.” Data presented in these subjective categories can be curated the same way Orbitz handles their own results.
Specifically, Mac users can tune their browsers to hide the fact that they are using a Mac:
- In Safari, click Preferences in the Safari menu.
- In the dialog box that appears, click on Advanced and then click the Show Develop menu in the menu bar checkbox.
- This will activate the Develop menu, which has the User Agent option that enables developers to test their sites based on different browser specs.
- From the User Agent submenu, you can choose how you want your browser to report itself, including as a Windows version of Safari.
This solution won’t exempt you from every predictive analytic trick - you need to properly manage your cookies and online identity for that - but it should help mitigate the hard sell from any site that gets the idea to emulate Orbitz and try to entice Mac users to spend more.