The newspaper said it found Staples.com charged $15.79 for a stapler that another customer just few miles away got for $14.29. The Journal said it found Staples appeared to factor in a customer's distance from a rival brick-and-mortar store, such as OfficeMax or Office Depot, when quoting a price.
"How can they get away with that?" asked Trude Frizzell, the Bergheim, Texas, customer who got the lower price.
"I think it's very discriminatory," said Kim Wamble, the customer in nearby Boerne, Texas, who was made to pay the higher amount.
The Journal said its investigation found areas that tended to have discounted prices had a higher average income than places that tended to get higher prices.
Staples told the newspaper its online and in-store prices vary by geography based on "a variety of factors," including "costs of doing business."
The Journal said companies such as Discover Financial Services, Rosetta Stone Inc. and Home Depot gather information about visitors to their websites and use it to develop different pitches to different people -- with prices, products and advertising shaped for specific geographic areas.
Companies that do it say online price differences are no different than those for bricks-and-mortar stores.