Most consumers, when faced with the task ofcomparison shopping for a desired item, do not havetime to run all over town looking to save a few dollars.
Still, saving money is important to most consumers, andthat’s where the Internet was supposed to fill thegap. Where real-world shoppers feel a shortage of time and energy, e-shoppers are supposed to get all of their price checks and product searches completed with a few clicks.
Not only are e-shoppers able to sign on and purchase from the comfort of their own homes, but they have access to comparison shopping sites or “shopping bots” that help them instantly peruse theWeb and find the best price for each desired item.
Unfortunately, Internet shopping bots are having a toughtime fulfilling their early promise.
No No, Mr. Botto
First of all, according to varying estimates, only 4 to 6 percent of e-shoppers have usedthe shopping bots.
Some shoppers appear to be skeptical of anythingthat could really be that easy, while others let theiregos get in the way, thinking that they canfind the best bargains on their own.
I beg to disagree. I have used comparison sites a number of times with great success, and although that may put me in aminority segment of online consumers, I’ll plan to keep on using them.
Make a Deal
For example, I recently shopped online for a Palm IIIc, usingMySimon.com. MySimon’s price-comparison feature offered me a list of about 30 retailers featuring thePalm I wanted — with prices ranging from US$252.00 to $399.00.In addition, each Internet retailer was rated according to its fulfillment and reliability record.
Within minutes, I ordered the Palm that I wanted from a West Coastretailer that I had never heard of. However, it had a highsatisfaction rating from MySimon.
The next morning the retailer called me to verify the order and three days later Ireceived my new Palm. Nothing could have been easier. And even with the shipping cost factored in, I spent less than I would have at a local retailer.
No Free Lunch
So why are comparison sites havingsuch an uphill struggle to gain customer attentionand confidence? It may have something to do with the adage, “there’sno such thing as a free lunch.”
In other words, online shoppers might think that the service that comparison sites offer is too goodto be true. People generally expect that they will have to ante up for anything that makes life easier.
That very principle — plus the high-level of name recognition — may explain the success of Consumer Reports Online. While not strictly a comparison shopping site, it is a sitethat helps consumers determine the best value fortheir money. Consumer Reports Online said that by the end of thefirst quarter of this year, it had more than half amillion subscribers paying approximately $24 a year each.
Meanwhile, for the rest of the comparison sites to survive, they will have to become even more diligent in their effort to attract moreconsumers.
Originally, some hoped to make a killingby charging a small percentage earned on each sale(about 4 percent). Other revenue comes to the sites in the form of advertising and affiliate charges for the Web retailers featured on their sites.
With sales not as brisk as expected and advertisingrevenues a bit less than desired, some comparisonsites have gone back to the drawing board toreassess their business strategy. Still, most agree they are not yet victims of thedot-com shakeout. Comparision sites probably have a future on the Net because cost is still a major factor for most e-shoppers making purchase decisions.
What may ultimately separate the comparison sitesthat thrive from those just passing through the pioneer days ofe-commerce is a variety of product offerings.
Think of the best bots or comparision sites as you would a well-managed department store. Except that in this department store, the same item is featured ina range of prices. It’s one-stop shopping with atwist. That’s an angle that may capture the interest of a larger group of online shoppers, if marketed properly.
Shopping bots, like anything else online, are in a maturation process. Those that conduct themselvesadmirably and extend themselves mightily forcustomer acquisition are likely to grow up just fine.
Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.