Amazon debuts Showroom, a visual shopping experience for home furnishings

Amazon just over a year ago launched its first in-home furniture brands, with private labels Rivet and Stone & Beam. This past fall, it began experimenting with a new, more visual way to shop for furniture and other merchandise with its Pinterest-like recommendation service Scout. Now, Amazon is venturing further into home furnishings with the debut of Amazon Showroom, a visual design tool that allows you to place furniture into a virtual living room, customize the décor, then shop the look.

The retailer didn’t formally announce the launch of Amazon Showroom, but a spokesperson confirmed it’s a recent test that’s now available on Amazon.com and in the Amazon mobile app.

You can access it from the “Accounts & Lists” drop-down on the web; the Home, Garden & Pets department on the web; or the Home & Kitchen department on the mobile app.

Currently, the new feature is focused on helping Amazon shoppers put together a living room. In a virtual setting, you can make adjustments to the wall color and the flooring, then swap out each item in the space with one of your own choosing — including the sofa, coffee table, chair, end table, lamp, rug and even the art on the wall.

To do so, click on the piece in question, then pick another from the right-side panel where a scrollable list of options are available, along with their prices. This selection can be filtered by a number of factors, as well, like price, style, color, material, brand and star rating.

Not surprisingly, Amazon’s own home furnishing brands are heavily featured here.

As you work on your project, you can save your room design to pull up later. And you can save more than one room design, if you’re trying to decide between different styles. When satisfied, an “Add to cart” button lets you place all into your cart for checkout with just one click.

Amazon Showroom — a name that’s almost a cruel reference to Amazon’s ability to turn brick-and-mortar stores into showrooms for online shoppers — isn’t the retailer’s first attempt at helping shoppers visualize items in their home ahead of purchase. The company also launched an AR shopping feature in its app in 2017, which allows you to place a virtual item in your camera view to see how it goes in your own room. That can be useful if shopping for a single item, but less so when designing a complete room.

Home furnishings is still an emerging category for online retail, not only because they’re hard to visualize, but also because heavy items are expensive to ship. However, major retailers see the potential in this growing market.

Walmart, for example, launched a new home shopping site for furniture and décor last year, which features its own in-house brands and more visual, editorial-style imagery. It has also snapped up other home furnishing and décor retailers, including Hayneedle and recently, Art.com, and is building its own visual search.

Amazon confirmed the launch of Showroom in a statement.

The retailer wouldn’t say when the feature debuted, exactly, but a Twitter account was tweeting links to a pre-production site earlier in December. It’s also unclear at this time if Amazon Showroom was built entirely in-house.

“Amazon Showroom is a new way for customers to visualize their home furnishing purchases when shopping online,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Amazon Showroom presents customers with a virtual living room, where they can customize the décor and furniture selection providing the ability to visually compare to scale representations of furniture items together in a room to determine how an item will fit with the style of a room and work with other complimentary pieces. The result is a photorealistic rendering of a room that answers the question: ‘How will this all look together?’,” they said.

The feature is live for all customers on the web and in the Amazon app.

Report: Amazon is planning a Whole Foods expansion to benefit Prime Now

Amazon is planning a Whole Foods expansion in the U.S., according to a report by The Wall Street Journal published this weekend. The goal is to put more customers within the range of Amazon’s two-hour Prime Now delivery service, including those in suburban areas outside cities, as well as those in regions where the grocer has yet to establish a presence.

Currently, Amazon’s Prime Now delivery service offers two-hour delivery in over 60 U.S. cities, and thirty minute-plus grocery pickup in nearly 30 cities. Amazon is planning to expand those services to almost all its 475 Whole Foods stores, the report said, citing sources.

The retailer will also continue to use perks for Prime members to acquire and retain customers, much as it does today.

Because of its lack of a brick-and-mortar footprint, many U.S. consumers living in the outskirts of cities or in more rural areas don’t have access to Amazon’s Prime Now two-hour delivery service. However, they do have access to Walmart stores, which today offering their own online grocery shopping service with pickup and delivery options in a number of markets.

Walmart says that 140 million customers shop its stores weekly, and 90 percent of Americans today live within 10 miles of one of its locations. That makes it a significant challenger to Amazon in terms of offering fast delivery and pickup options. It also doesn’t require an annual membership.

Other companies are competing with Amazon on same-day delivery, too, including Instacart and Target’s Shipt. Target is also rolling out a curbside pickup service called Drive Up, and is planning to expand Shipt’s assortment and reach in 2019.

The WSJ report didn’t confirm store locations, but did note Amazon was scouting retail spaces in parts of Idaho, southern Utah and Wyoming. Some of these were slightly larger than average Whole Foods stores, at 45,000 sq ft. – which hints at their ability to operate as a hub for delivery and pickup, in addition to being a traditional grocery store.

 

New e-commerce restrictions in India just ruined Christmas for Amazon and Walmart

The Indian government is playing the role of festive party pooper for Walmart and Amazon after it announced new regulations that look set to impede the U.S. duo’s efforts to grow their businesses in India.

Online commerce in the country is tipped to surpass $100 billion per year by 2022 up from $35 billion today as more Indians come online, according to a report co-authored by PwC. But 2019 could be a very different year after an update to the country’s policy for foreign direct investment (FDI) appeared to end the practice of discounts, exclusive sales and more.

The three main takeaways from the new policy, which will go live on February 1, are a ban on exclusive sales, the outlawing of retailers selling products on platforms they count as investors, and restrictions on discounts and cashback.

Those first two clauses are pretty clear and will have a significant impact on Amazon — which has pumped some $5 billion into India — and Walmart, which forked out $16 billion to buy India-based Flipkart.

Both online retailers have been able to make a splash by tying up with brands for exclusive online sales, particularly in the smartphone space where, for example, Amazon has worked with Xiaomi and Flipkart has collaborated with Oppo. The new guideline would appear to end that practice, while adding further restrictions to complicate relationships with vendors. From February, brands will be forbidden from selling more than 25 percent of their sales via any single e-commerce marketplace.

Walmart bought Flipkart for $16 billion, but already both founders of the Indian company have left [Photo by AFP/Getty Images]

Beyond restricting companies like Oppo — Xiaomi prioritizes its own Mi.com site for sales — that 25 percent ruling is a headache for Amazon, which operates a number of joint ventures with Indian retailers. Those JVs were designed to circumvent a 2016 ruling that prevented foreign e-commerce businesses from owning inventory, but now they seem outlawed.

Cloudtail India (a 49:51 JV between Amazon and Catamaran Ventures) is Amazon’s biggest seller while another major one is Appario Retail, a collaboration with Patni Group. Together, both sell more than 25 percent of product on Amazon, use exclusive deals and are part-owned by Amazon. That’s three strikes.

Those rules will have Amazon and Walmart-Flipkart working to find alternatives, but there’s more with restrictions on discounts and cashback offers, which could massively cramp the appeal of online commerce, which has been to undercut brick and mortar retailers with heavy subsidies.

Here’s the relevant part of the note:

E-commerce entities providing marketplace will not directly or indirectly influence the sale price of goods or services and shall maintain level playing field…

Cash back provided by group companies of marketplace entity to buyers shall be fair and non-discriminatory.

Exactly what constitutes a “level playing field” or “fair” may be open to interpretation, but clearly this update gives offline retailers a route to protest pricing on online retail sites.

The first thought is that these new updates are focused on the core business model tenants that make e-commerce what it is today.

“It will kill competition and there will be nothing for online retailers to differentiate on,” Amarjeet Singh, a partner at KPMG, href="https://qz.com/india/1508340/indias-new-e-commerce-fdi-rules-may-hurt-amazon-flipkart/"> told Quartz in a comment.

The new regulation is widely seen as a response to concerns from smaller sellers, who feel marginalized and powerless compared to larger organizations. Now, with capital-intensive policies such as discounts, exclusive sales relationships and strategic investment off the table, smaller players will gain a foothold and be able to do more from e-commerce, that’s according to Kunal Bahl, CEO of Snapdeal — a niche e-commerce firm that once competed head-to-head with Flipkart and Amazon.

It’s shaping up to be a very different year for e-commerce in India in 2019.

The limits of coworking

It feels like there’s a WeWork on every street nowadays. Take a walk through midtown Manhattan (please don’t actually) and it might even seem like there are more WeWorks than office buildings.

Consider this an ongoing discussion about Urban Tech, its intersection with regulation, issues of public service, and other complexities that people have full PHDs on. I’m just a bitter, born-and-bred New Yorker trying to figure out why I’ve been stuck in between subway stops for the last 15 minutes, so please reach out with your take on any of these thoughts: @[email protected].

Co-working has permeated cities around the world at an astronomical rate. The rise has been so remarkable that even the headline-dominating SoftBank seems willing to bet the success of its colossal Vision Fund on the shift continuing, having poured billions into WeWork – including a recent $4.4 billion top-up that saw the co-working king’s valuation spike to $45 billion.

And there are no signs of the trend slowing down. With growing frequency, new startups are popping up across cities looking to turn under-utilized brick-and-mortar or commercial space into low-cost co-working options.

It’s a strategy spreading through every type of business from retail – where companies like Workbar have helped retailers offer up portions of their stores – to more niche verticals like parking lots – where companies like Campsyte are transforming empty lots into spaces for outdoor co-working and corporate off-sites. Restaurants and bars might even prove most popular for co-working, with startups like Spacious and KettleSpace turning restaurants that are closed during the day into private co-working space during their off-hours.

Before you know it, a startup will be strapping an Aeron chair to the top of a telephone pole and calling it “WirelessWorking”.

But is there a limit to how far co-working can go? Are all of the storefronts, restaurants and open spaces that line city streets going to be filled with MacBooks, cappuccinos and Moleskine notebooks? That might be too tall a task, even for the movement taking over skyscrapers.

The co-working of everything

Photo: Vasyl Dolmatov / iStock via Getty Images

So why is everyone trying to turn your favorite neighborhood dinner spot into a part-time WeWork in the first place? Co-working offers a particularly compelling use case for under-utilized space.

First, co-working falls under the same general commercial zoning categories as most independent businesses and very little additional infrastructure – outside of a few extra power outlets and some decent WiFi – is required to turn a space into an effective replacement for the often crowded and distracting coffee shops used by price-sensitive, lean, remote, or nomadic workers that make up a growing portion of the workforce.

Thus, businesses can list their space at little-to-no cost, without having to deal with structural layout changes that are more likely to arise when dealing with pop-up solutions or event rentals.

On the supply side, these co-working networks don’t have to purchase leases or make capital improvements to convert each space, and so they’re able to offer more square footage per member at a much lower rate than traditional co-working spaces. Spacious, for example, charges a monthly membership fee of $99-$129 dollars for access to its network of vetted restaurants, which is cheap compared to a WeWork desk, which can cost anywhere from $300-$800 per month in New York City.

Customers realize more affordable co-working alternatives, while tight-margin businesses facing increasing rents for under-utilized property are able to pool resources into a network and access a completely new revenue stream at very little cost. The value proposition is proving to be seriously convincing in initial cities – Spacious told the New York Times, that so many restaurants were applying to join the network on their own volition that only five percent of total applicants were ultimately getting accepted.

Basically, the business model here checks a lot of the boxes for successful marketplaces: Acquisition and transaction friction is low for both customers and suppliers, with both seeing real value that didn’t exist previously. Unit economics seem strong, and vetting on both sides of the market creates trust and community. Finally, there’s an observable network effect whereby suppliers benefit from higher occupancy as more customers join the network, while customers benefit from added flexibility as more locations join the network.

… Or just the co-working of some things

Photo: Caiaimage / Robert Daly via Getty Images

So is this the way of the future? The strategy is really compelling, with a creative solution that offers tremendous value to businesses and workers in major cities. But concerns around the scalability of demand make it difficult to picture this phenomenon becoming ubiquitous across cities or something that reaches the scale of a WeWork or large conventional co-working player.

All these companies seem to be competing for a similar demographic, not only with one another, but also with coffee shops, free workspaces, and other flexible co-working options like Croissant, which provides members with access to unused desks and offices in traditional co-working spaces. Like Spacious and KettleSpace, the spaces on Croissant own the property leases and are already built for co-working, so Croissant can still offer comparatively attractive rates.

The offer seems most compelling for someone that is able to work without a stable location and without the amenities offered in traditional co-working or office spaces, and is also price sensitive enough where they would trade those benefits for a lower price. Yet at the same time, they can’t be too price sensitive, where they would prefer working out of free – or close to free – coffee shops instead of paying a monthly membership fee to avoid the frictions that can come with them.

And it seems unclear whether the problem or solution is as poignant outside of high-density cities – let alone outside of high-density areas of high-density cities.

Without density, is the competition for space or traffic in coffee shops and free workspaces still high enough where it’s worth paying a membership fee for? Would the desire for a private working environment, or for a working community, be enough to incentivize membership alone? And in less-dense and more-sprawl oriented cities, members could also face the risk of having to travel significant distances if space isn’t available in nearby locations.

While the emerging workforce is trending towards more remote, agile and nomadic workers that can do more with less, it’s less certain how many will actually fit the profile that opts out of both more costly but stable traditional workspaces, as well as potentially frustrating but free alternatives. And if the lack of density does prove to be an issue, how many of those workers will live in hyper-dense areas, especially if they are price-sensitive and can work and live anywhere?

To be clear, I’m not saying the companies won’t see significant growth – in fact, I think they will. But will the trend of monetizing unused space through co-working come to permeate cities everywhere and do so with meaningful occupancy? Maybe not. That said, there is still a sizable and growing demographic that need these solutions and the value proposition is significant in many major urban areas.

The companies are creating real value, creating more efficient use of wasted space, and fixing a supply-demand issue. And the cultural value of even modestly helping independent businesses keep the lights on seems to outweigh the cultural “damage” some may fear in turning them into part-time co-working spaces.

And lastly, some reading while in transit:

China’s JD.com teams up with Intel to develop ‘smart’ retail experiences

Months after it landed a major $550 million investment from Google, China’s JD.com — the country’s second highest-profile investor behind Alibaba — has teamed up with another U.S. tech giant: Intel.

JD and Intel said today that they will set up a “lab” focused on bringing internet-of-things technology into the retail process. That could include new-generation vending machines, advertising experiences, and more.

That future is mostly offline — or, in China tech speak, ‘online-to-offline’ retail — but combining the benefits of e-commerce with brick and mortar physical retail shopping. Already, for example, customers can order ahead of time and come in store for collection, buy items without a checkout, take advantage of ‘smart shelves’ or simply try products in person before they buy them.

Indeed, TechCrunch recently visited a flagship JD ‘7Fresh’ store in Beijing and reported on the hybrid approach that the company is taking.

JD is backed by Chinese internet giant Tencent and valued at nearly $30 billion. The company already works with Intel on personalized shopping experiences, but this new lab is focused on taking things further with new projects and working to “facilitate their introduction to global markets.”

“The Digitized Retail Joint Lab will develop next-generation vending machines, media and advertising solutions, and technologies to be used in the stores of the future, based on Intel architecture,” the companies said in a joint announcement.

JD currently operates three 7Fresh stores in China but it is aiming to expand that network to 30. It has also forayed overseas, stepping into Southeast Asia with the launch of cashier-less stores in Indonesia this year.

PayPal: Black Friday & Cyber Monday broke records with $1B+ in mobile payment volume

Black Friday broke records in terms of sales made from mobile devices, according to reports last week from Adobe. This week, PayPal said it saw a similar trend during the Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday shopping event. PayPal saw a record-breaking $1 billion+ in mobile payment volume for the first time ever on Black Friday – a milestone it hit again on Cyber Monday.

Mobile payment volume on Black Friday was up 42 percent over Black Friday 2017, the company said, and it even outpaced the mobile payment volume on Cyber Monday this year.

However, Cyber Monday saw more total payment volume, likely because much of the shopping that takes place that day comes from office workers back at their desktops, wrapping up a few more purchases.

Worldwide, mobile payment volume from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday accounted for a significant 43 percent of PayPal’s total payment volume. Between those days, PayPal was processing more than $25,000 per second, with more than $11,000 per second processed on mobile.

The peak hour took place on Black Friday, which shows the sales event has shifted much of its business online. It’s now coming close to topping Cyber Monday in terms of both online and mobile shopping, PayPal noted.

PayPal’s data also pointed to another trend: that of the blurring of the line as to when holiday shopping begins and ends. Many retailers these days are launching their deals on Thanksgiving or even earlier, then allowing them to run for the week of Black Friday or longer.

Amazon, for example, has decided to capitalize on its own Black Friday/Cyber Monday momentum by launching a “12 Days of Deals” event that will feature hundreds of new deals every day from Sunday December 2 through Thursday December 13.

Other times, the shopping starts early, as PayPal’s data shows. Thanksgiving has now become another major shopping day, the company said, having broken into the top 10 shopping days of the year. It also grew 41 percent over last year.

E-commerce spending wasn’t the only thing that’s up year-over-year, PayPal also found. On Giving Tuesday – the event focused on donating to charities and other worthwhile causes – PayPal said over a million customers from 180 markets donated $98 million this year. That’s a 51 percent increase from 2017, it said.

Amazon reverses tax-triggered block on US shop in Australia

Amazon has reversed a decision it made six months ago to shut off its US ecommerce site to Australian shoppers. Reuters reports that the U-turn comes after a customer backlash.

Since July shoppers in Australia trying to browse stuff to buy on Amazon.com have been redirected to the local site, Amazon.com.au.

Shipping to Australia from Amazon.com was also shut off at the same time. So shoppers were limited to buying goods sold by local sellers.

But from today the block has gone.

The geoblock on Amazon.com followed a change in Australian tax regulation requiring businesses earning more than $75,000 AUD per year to charge its 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) on low value items imported by consumers.

The so-called ‘Amazon Tax’ was drawn up in response to concerns about the impact of Amazon and other large overseas ecommerce businesses on local retailers which have to apply GST to all products they sell.

A loophole had meant GST was only applied to items purchased from overseas retailers worth $1,000 AUD or more — so local competitors argued it gave Amazon, eBay and other overseas competitors an unfair advantage.

Amazon’s response was to shutter its overseas shops. But by limiting shoppers to the inventory on its Australian site, which only launched in December 2017, the ecommerce giant seems to have shot its local business in the foot — encouraging locals to look elsewhere for their retail fix. Or just not buy as much stuff.

The Guardian notes there are only about 80 million products on the Australian store vs 500 million on the US site.

Six months later Amazon has backtracked. And seemingly decided to suck up the 10% tax after all.

We’ve reached out to the company for a comment.

An Amazon spokesman told Reuters it had changed its mind after listening to customer feedback, adding it had built the “complex infrastructure needed to enable exports of low-value goods to Australia and remain compliant with [local] laws”.

So far only products sold by Amazon itself on Amazon.com are being made available for purchase by Australians, with third-party sellers not yet covered.

Notably — on the U-turn timing front — Black Friday is tomorrow.

Aka the day when retailers attempt to kick start a holiday buying bonanza by slashing a bunch of prices and scattering digital tinsel all over their online channels. Clearly Amazon doesn’t want to miss out on more sales.

Walmart in China is now testing same-day grocery delivery from Dada via WeChat

Walmart has just begun testing same-day grocery delivery called Walmart To Go in one of its stores in China, months after the American retail titan expanded grocery delivery in its homeland.

The service is accessed through a mini-program within WeChat – the Tencent-owned messaging platform Walmart partnered with earlier this year, in order to better reach its Chinese customers. The retailer hasn’t made a formal announcement about the same-day grocery delivery because the service is being tested while Walmart collects customer feedback. However, there is signage in the store that informs customers about the option.

walmart delivery china

Customers near Walmart’s Xiangmihu store can now have groceries delivered to their doorsteps within one hour.

The test is taking place in the main Walmart WeChat mini-program, and appears when you select the store where the delivery service is enabled.

The feature allows Walmart’s WeChat customers to place orders on mobile and then receive delivery in as little as one hour. Nearly 8,000 SKUs are available on the service, Walmart says, including fresh products, condiments, snacks, baby items, personal care items, homecare items, a range of products from Walmart’s private brand Great Value, and Walmart’s Direct Import products sourced from around the world.

In addition, customers who shop in the store using Walmart’s Scan and Go for quick checkout can now easily re-order those items from home through the service.

Though the deliveries are provided by Dada, the new Walmart to Go service is not directly related to the recent investment that JD.com and Walmart jointly made to deepen JD’s “borderless retail” strategy that blends online and offline shopping, the company clarified with TechCrunch.

In August, the Alibaba archrival and Walmart poured $500 million into Dada-JD Daojia, which is part-owned by JD and offers same-hour grocery delivery across 63 Chinese cities. JD and Walmart’s tie-up dates back to 2016, when the Chinese online retailer scooped up the American firm’s Chinese e-commerce marketplace Yihaodian.

However, Walmart To Go is another of Walmart’s ominchannel  initiatives – this one, focused on personalizing the shopping experience for the customer by way of product recommendations and coupons customized to the individual user. Explained a company rep, Walmart to Go is just one more channel to serve customers shopping through the WeChat mini-programs.

At TechCrunch Shenzhen, Walmart’s Senior Director of E-commerce in China, Ted Hopkins, confirmed the test being advertised in the Walmart Xiangmihu store (or known to Shenzhen customers as 沃尔玛 香蜜湖店) is brand-new. It’s been operating for about a week, he said, and invited the event attendees to go check it out and offer feedback.

The store is located near Walmart’s offices in the city, which could be why it’s the first to launch the service. It’s also the first to test Walmart’s new mini-program that allows in-store shoppers to access a digital map that shows the location and stock status of store inventory.

walmart delivery china

The mini-program helps customers locate where these apples are in the store.

Walmart has been working on integrations with WeChat since the beginning of the year, then began scaling the programs in earnest in late March to early April 2018. It rolled out its Scan-and-Go technology, which allows Chinese shoppers to scan items in their shopping cart then pay using a program within WeChat. In a five-month period, Walmart scaled this from 10 stores to over 400 stores.

Walmart’s tie-up with WeChat appears is a logical move as its ally JD.com counts Tencent as a major shareholder. Meanwhile, Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms including Tmall and Taobao are noticeably absent within WeChat as links to these services are blocked on China’s biggest messaging app.

Since becoming an option within WeChat through the platforms mini-programs, customers are adopting this sort of digital payment method at scale. Its best performing store has over 40 percent order penetration, Hopkins noted.

Walmart passes Apple to become No. 3 online retailer in U.S.

Walmart has overtaken Apple to become the No. 3 online retailer in the U.S., according to a report this week from eMarketer. While Amazon still leads by a wide margin, accounting for 48 percent of e-commerce sales in 2018, Walmart – including also Sam’s Club and Jet.com – is poised to capture 4 percent of all online retail spending in the U.S. by year-end, totaling $20.91 billion.

The news of the shift in e-commerce rankings comes alongside Walmart’s strong earnings which saw the retailer reporting a 43 percent increase in online sales and upping its year-end forecast for both earnings and sales.

The company had beat Wall St.’s expectations in its fiscal third quarter, with $1.08 earnings per share instead of the expected $1.01. However, it fell short on revenue with $124.89 billion versus the $125.55 billion expected, due to currency complications, it said.

eMarketer had estimated in July that Walmart would capture a 3.7 percent e-commerce share in the U.S. this year, but increased that to 4 percent based on its quickly growing online sales.

This year, Walmart’s online sales will grow by 39.4 percent – just slightly behind the growth rate for online furniture and home goods retailer Wayfair, which is expected to see sales grow by 40.1 percent, the firm also noted.

Apple, meanwhile, will grow just over 18 percent in 2018 – a slowdown related to slowing domestic sales for smartphones and other devices. Its portion of the e-commerce market is relatively unchanged from 2017 to 2018, going from 3.8 percent to 3.9 percent.

Walmart, by comparison, is increasing its share from 3.3 percent to 4.0 percent.

But both are behind eBay, now at 7.2 percent. And they’re both vastly outranked by Amazon, which will account for a whopping 48 percent of the U.S. e-commerce market in 2018, up from 43.1 percent last year.

Amazon will take in more than $252.10 billion domestically this year, eMarketer said.

“Walmart’s e-commerce business has been firing on all cylinders lately,” said eMarketer principal analyst Andrew Lipsman, said in a statement. “The retail giant continues to make smart acquisitions to extend its e-commerce portfolio and attract younger and more affluent shoppers. But more than anything, Walmart has caught its stride with a fast-growing online grocery business, which is helped in large part by the massive consumer adoption of click-and-collect.”

UK to probe fairness of personalized pricing practices in online retail

The UK government has announced an investigation into personalized pricing practices in online retail following growing concerns that vulnerable consumers are at risk of price discrimination through the use of ecommerce technologies that vary prices for products such as cars, holidays and household goods via the use of personal data points.

The Competition Markets Authority (CMA) will also be involved in the research, which was announced yesterday.

The government-commissioned research is intended to investigate how widespread the practice of personalized online pricing is; how businesses are applying it through different mediums like search engines, apps or comparison tools; and the extent to which it is preventing shoppers getting the best deals, the CMA said.

Commenting in a statement, 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.”

“Ensuring markets work fairly and in the interests of consumers is a cornerstone of our modern Industrial Strategy, and I am proud to say that our consumer protection regime is among the strongest in the world,” he added.

In another supporting statement, CMA chief executive, Andrea Coscelli, added: “With more of us shopping online, it’s important that we understand how advances in technology impact consumers. 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. We will also use the results of the research as part of our ongoing efforts to help vulnerable consumers.”

In September, UK consumer advice charity Citizens Advice filed a super complaint to the CMA calling for it to tackle the loyalty penalty in essential markets such as mortgages and mobiles which it said it resulting in excessive prices being charged to disengaged consumers.

The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has also announced it will be investigating personalised pricing for car and home insurance policies — after finding hidden discrimination between customers.

At the end of last month the FCA said its initial work had identified a number of areas of potential consumer harm — announcing a market study to take a closer look at the outcomes from general insurance pricing practices and make a determination on whether and if so how it should intervene to improve the market.

That market study is focused on: the consumer outcomes from pricing practices; the fairness of outcomes from pricing practices; the impact of pricing practices on competition; and remedies to address any harm that the FCA finds.