Dec 13

Tips on Comparison Shopping Engines

Shoponline With only 12 shopping days left before Christmas, comparison shopping sites are likely getting more traffic than ever, as shoppers race to find the best prices on holiday gifts. But, warns Tom Spring from PC World, although comparison shopping engines can make finding competing prices on different products a cinch, the services are far from perfect. Customers have reported being lured into online stores that subjected them to high-pressure sales calls and bait-and-switch techniques; delivery no-shows; and the delivery of refurbished items advertised as brand-new. To help shoppers figure out how to get the best (real) deals, save time, and avoid shifty retailers, Spring went snooping on the Web and came up with the following online shopping tips:

1. Paying for Prominence – Some shopping engines accept payment from merchants to be top-listed on product searches. Shopzilla.com, Shopping.com, and PriceGrabber.com, are among the culprits. Yet, there are some engines: like Google's Froogle, ShopWiki, TheFind, and Microsoft's Live Product Search Beta that do not do this, but instead allow merchants to submit their product catalog for free, then crawl the Web in earnest searching for the cheapest items. In general, if the product that turns up at the top of your list includes a ‘Sponsored Link’, ‘Featured Store’ or ‘Featured Merchant’ logo, chances are it has paid for the placement. To avoid the artificial emphasis, resort your search results based on price and user review rankings.

2. Legit Logos – There are some. For example, Shopzilla.com offers a ‘Smart Choice’ seal that cannot be bought by a vendor, but is instead awarded to the store that offers the lowest price, and has the highest customer ratings. Same goes for Shopping.com’s ‘Smart Buy’ seal.

3. Bogus User Reviews – Most shopping engines depend on customer ratings to make recommendations, and according to Forrester Research, 40 percent of shoppers take retail ratings into account when choosing where to buy. Alas, these reviews are oftentimes faked by interested parties, to boost their rankings. Be wary of overly positive or ‘pat’ reviews. Spring advises customers that merchant reviews should only be a research “starting point”.

4. The Real Research – Before you buy a product, check the merchant’s site for the ‘TRUSTe’ certification, which indicates that the company meets the non-profit organization’s privacy and business standards. Also check for the Better Business Bureau’s ‘BBBOnLine Reliability’ seal. Click on both. Reputable merchants link directly to their reports, for your review. If the logo doesn’t click through, check the sites and look up the company yourself. If you don’t find a report, the merchant site may be using the logos fraudulently.

5. No Guarantees – With the exception of YahooShopping.com, which offers a Buyers Protection Program with select merchants and purchases less than US$1,000, comparison sites generally don’t take responsibility for the merchants they recommend.

6. Small Potatoes – Because it often only costs merchants a nominal fee to include their wares in shopping engine searches (Shopping.com takes a $25 down payment; and Shopzilla.com takes $50) your search may turn up deals from relatively unknown (and therefore potentially less reliable) companies.

7. Multiple Aliases – Some shopping engines go by multiple aliases. For instance, Shopping.com also runs Dealtime.com and Pricetool.com; PriceGrabber.com and BottomDollar.com are owned by the same firm; NexTag.com and Calibex.com are one and the same; and Shopzilla.com owns Bizrate.com. Save time searching by knowing which ones to skip.

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