If you’re a bargain hunter, it’s common to spend time researching prices before making purchases. After all, you wouldn’t want to buy a washing machine at your local Lowes store only to find a lower price offered on Lowes.com. However, I found in a recent study that retailers’ offline and online prices are the same more than 70% of the time.
That’s good news for consumers, who don’t need to worry about price comparisons when deciding whether to use a retailer’s website or visit a local store. They can choose instead based on other factors like convenience and product availability.
This finding is important for economists too. Online prices are increasingly being used in measurement and research applications, including studies of pricing behaviors, price stickiness, international relative prices, and exchange-rate dynamics. Many national statistical offices are even considering the use of online data in official consumer price Indexes.
For years Argentina has lied to the world about its inflation rate. INDEC, the official statistics institute, claims the country’s inflation rate stands at around 10%. But estimates by economists—myself included—show that figure is two to three times less than the real rate. According to MIT’s Billion Prices Project, which runs an index that aggregates online price information from the largest supermarkets all over the world and provides real-time inflation estimates, Argentina’s inflation rate is currently about 25%.
This vast discrepancy between reality and what the government claims has been observed since 2007. At that time the government began putting pressure on INDEC, traditionally an independent body, to change its statistical methodologies. It eventually fired workers responsible for creating the price index, and replaced them with employees who had close ties to the government. Since then the official inflation rate has been surprisingly stable—hovering around10%. Read More »