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Watchdog to investigate if your personal details determine how much you pay

An investigation has been launched into whether online shoppers are paying different prices for the same items – depending on factors such as where they live and whether they are married.

The Government has announced it will look at 'personalised pricing', which means consumers can be charged different amounts when they buy items such as cars and holidays online. The different prices can be based on customers' personal details such as their address, birthday, marital status or travel history. 

The new study, which will be carried out by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), will investigate how widespread the practice is and whether it's stopping consumers from getting the best deals.

The announcement comes after the financial watchdog launched a study on how insurance firms charge their customers last week.

See our Cheap Online Shopping guide for more info on getting the best deals online.

What will the study look at?

The study will look into: 

  • How widespread personalised pricing is.
  • How businesses are using personalised pricing, such as via search engines and comparison tools.
  • Whether personalised pricing is stopping consumers getting the best deal.

The CMA is also part of the Consumer Forum, which met for the first time last week to discuss the best ways to protect vulnerable consumers. It includes regulators and Government ministers, and will also address the Citizens Advice super complaint about high prices for loyal customers who don't switch for better deals.

What does the Government say?

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: "UK businesses are leading the way in harnessing the power of new technologies and new ways of doing business, benefitting consumers and helping them save money.

"But we are clear that companies should not be abusing this technology and customer data to treat consumers, particularly vulnerable ones, unfairly.

"The research we are undertaking will help us better understand how we can ensure businesses work in a way that is fair to consumers."

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: "This personalised pricing research will help us stay at the forefront of emerging technology, so we can understand how best to protect people from unfair practices where they exist."