Plenty of Web services try to save you money before you buy something. There are coupon sites (I use RetailMeNot) and even browser plug-ins that make sure you’re buying from the lowest-price site you can (like Invisible Hand). And now there’s a service that can get you money back — automatically — even after you’ve made a purchase.
At the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York, I saw a new service called Paribus. It’s based on a policy many retailers have: If you buy something and the company then lowers the price on the item, it will refund the difference to you. All you have to do is ask. And know that the price has gone down.
Of course, neither knowing nor asking is easy. How do you know the price has gone down? Are you going to keep going back to the website to check? And where do you go for your refund? Paribus will take over both steps for you. It’s damned ingenious, and I hope it works. (I just signed up; I’ll report on my Twitter feed if it does or doesn’t.)
Paribus attaches itself to your email account and scans for receipts that are sent to you. When it sees a receipt, it analyzes the content, then adds the items you bought and how much you paid to its database. Then it constantly checks for price drops from the store.
Phase 3: Profit
If the price does drop in the refund time period (typically 14 days after purchase), Paribus submits a refund request for you and charges you 25 percent of the money recovered. Yes, that 25 percent commission is substantial, but a refund is found money. I’ll take it.
For comparison’s sake, some credit cards will also refund you price-change differences, but you have to find and document a change yourself and submit a claim through your credit card issuer.
The Paribus refund processing service is more relevant today than ever. Stores are aggressively using dynamic pricing now, adjusting prices algorithmically based on demand and other factors. Amazon, in particular, adjusts prices constantly. No consumer can possibly track all the price changes relevant to them; the time-spent-to-money-saved equation would never work. Furthermore, applying for a refund is also time-consuming.
But if online prices are being changed by software, it’s only fair that we put more software on the job of getting the price-back refunds. Right?
Airlines have been using dynamic pricing for longer than retail stores. Unfortunately, Paribus doesn’t work with travel purchases. “Those prices tend to go up,” the founder told me.
And there’s another thing to look out for before you sign up: You have to give Paribus a lot of access to your personal accounts for this to work. Paribus needs full access to your email account and a credit card number (so it can charge you for the refunds it finds), and if you want it to track Amazon prices, you also have to provide your Amazon login. That’s a lot of trust to put into a Web startup, and were it not for Google and Amazon and my credit card having very strong security and anti-fraud mechanisms in place even for password-authorized access, I would not be willing to test this service.
But if you want to get some of the money back that the online retailers literally promise that they will pay you, consider Paribus.