Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Wikibuys? We'll See (But I doubt it!)

What does it profit a man corporation to provide free discounts to his fellow man?

A few years ago, Walmart had a price-checking feature on their app.   If you bought an item at Walmart, and it was available somewhere else for less, Walmart would automatically give you the lower price.   They stopped doing that.  Why?  Well, it didn't do them any good.  People weren't going out and buying the lower priced item at some other store and the app wasn't keeping them at Walmart.  Rather, people were just reaping the windfall of a lower price, simply by pressing a button on their phone for something they were already intending to buy at the higher price.

I wrote a number of Patents back in the day on Internet Couponing.  One problem with virtual coupons or e-coupons or whatever, is that instead of acting as an incentive to buy, they end up just giving windfall discounts to people who already intended to buy the product at the standard price.   The point of couponing is to get a conquest sale - to sell your brand over another's - and to get the buyer who is not willing to pay the retail price to buy your product instead of the lower-priced off-brand.

As we learned in economics, in an ideal system, each customer pays the maximum price they are willing to pay for a product.  Thus, the wealthier customer might buy a Chevy Caprice with all the options, while the poorer customer buys the Chevy Biscayne with no heater or radio.   Same damn car, of course, and the delta in price is not reflected in the delta in cost of manufacture, as I noted before.   I used the analogy of outboard engines - Johnson sold their V-4 outboard as an 85 hp, 100 hp, and 115 hp model, with the price corresponding to the horsepower.   The parts count and assembly cost was the same for all three models.   But they weren't selling buckets of outboard parts and labor, they were selling horsepower.

So ideally, the wealthy shopper just buys whatever and pays the retail price.  The poorer shopper looks for items on sale or clips coupons.   Each gets the optimum price, in an ideal world.   But we don't live in an ideal world, and often the poorest shopper buys brand-name products (e.g., Tide detergent) while the wealthier shopper (who is also smarter, which is why he is wealthier) buys the store brand, realizing that in many cases, it is the same product, and in some cases, superior - but at a lower price.  It ain't fair, but then again, no one forced the poor to seek status, or more precisely, seeking status is what makes people poor.   Profound thought, that.

Anyway, with electronic coupons, it is much easier for people to simply click on their phone for a coupon for something already in their shopping cart.  BJ's wholesale went through this with their "virtual coupons" recently (which I think they dumped using CoVid as an excuse).   Mark would buy things on his shopping list, and I would scan the bar codes and check to see if there was a virtual coupon offered by BJ's.   If there was, we would take it.  If not, we would still buy the product (in most cases, the BJ's store brand was cheaper than brand-names with coupons anyway).  By the way, the history of BJ's (a spin-ff of the ill-fated Zayre's) is nearly as fascinating as A&P's, and A&P did try a wholesale club model at one point (and failed miserably).

But again, I digress.

The point is, I get suspicious when someone tells me they are going to do me a favor by giving me free discounts and they want nothing in return.   I mean, everyone wants something, even emotional gratification, and I doubt Capital One needs emotional gratification.   So when I logged into my Captial One account and they kept pestering me to sign up for "Wikibuys" I just ignored it - another come-on like CreditKarma, where they provide you a credit score (big freaking deal - so does Capital One, Bank of America, and the homeless bum on the street corner) in exchange for "recommending" credit card deals to me.

But then I thought, "this is prime blog meat" - if it is a good deal (highly, highly unlikely) then I should write about it.  If it is not - well, I should write about it as well.  So I signed up and we'll see where it goes - I suspect nowhere.   When you sign up, they install an "app" in your browser that Chrome warns you will "change data on websties" so that doesn't sound good.   What I suspect is, it is just a marketing gimmick, to steer your purchases in one direction or another and encourage consumption.

In theory, the idea is, if you are shopping on a site and it asks for a "coupon code" the Wikibuy app will find a code for you and apply it.  Coupon codes are as problematic as virtual coupons (which they are) as Coupon codes are supposed to be used to encourage consumption and not just give random discounts to people already committed to buy.  So, for example, I get an e-mail from Murphy's Naturals, which sells bug repellents, for a labor day savings of 20% using LABORDAY20 at checkout.  Since we use a lot of bug repellent, the promotion works.   I go online and order more - I am going to use it anyway.   But if I had run out of the repellent, and wanted to buy more and simply searched online for coupon codes (which itself will steer you to all sorts of scam sites) and find that code, well, they gave me 20% off for nothing.

So, as you might imagine, the retailers who use these Coupon codes are not going to be pleased that Capital One is spoofing the deal - after all, Capital One is also making money on the credit card charges as well!   They should be a partner, not an opponent!

But as I suspected, the first thing I see when I sign up for this thing is a page of promoted products and companies that I am encouraged to "sign up" for.  It is, in a way, like the promoted deals from Bank of America, where you click on what you are interested in, and if you shop there, you get a discount.   This also results in inadvertent discounts, however.  We put a new battery in the truck (which is five years old, if you can believe that, already!) and Advanced Autoparts had the AGM Diehard battery at a pretty decent price.  If I signed up for their "app" they would give me 20% off.  OK, so I did.  But I forgot that I already signed up for the discount on Bank of America, so later on, I got another $5 off.

Or.... was I spoofed?  Maybe when I clicked on that "deal" on the Bank of America site a month before, my brain subliminally made note of that, and when the battery came up on Advanced Autoparts (after a Google search) I subconsciously made that choice.   Or maybe it was because Walmart was sold out of that battery (Surprising that Walmart doesn't carry a lot of parts for the most popular vehicle sold in America.  Go try to find a cabin filter for a late model F150 sometime!).  I just don't know anymore - I am not sure I can trust my own mind, when it comes to the cell phone, the Internet, and these "apps" and plug-ins and whatnot.  We are all being manipulated, all of the time, it seems.

So, so far, Wikibuy goes into the "meh" category - just another example of hawking products on the Internet and trying to manipulate your brain into consuming more crap you don't need.

Also, I am skeptical I am getting the best prices.  I noted before how on Wayfair the prices are irrational numbers.  You click on something and it has a great price.  The next day, you go back and it costs $5 less.  Two days later, the price nearly doubles.    They have some sort of weird algorithm that figures out whether you are interested in a product or not, and then adjusts the price to encourage you to buy.  If you don't buy, they raise the price, perhaps hoping you'll buy before it goes up further.  Or maybe they figure you're going to buy it anyway, and stopped looking at the price.  All I know is, we bought a medicine cabinet at what we thought was a reasonable price - that fluctuated downward continually - and after we bought it, the price skyrocketed, all within a matter of days.

So it is possible, I presume that this "Wikibuy" thing might telegraph to the site I am buying from that I am going to use Wikibuy, and the prices are indexed upwardly in response.   As Google Chrome warned me, the Wikibuy plug-on (or app or whatever) can "change data on websites" which sounds pretty scary to me.

Perhaps the only way to shop these days is to have four or five devices open at once, and cross-check the prices, which is sort of what we do already, with our phones, if we are seeking out a product.   Those marketing bastards are pretty damn clever, and there is no way you can assume you can "beat them" at their own game.

Because, let's face it, even with the coupon cash-back discount sale price deals, they are still making money on the transaction!  No one is giving away free money samples today.