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Tips for smart price comparison shopping

I have been looking for an upgrade to my camcorder lately and I used this opportunity to test how well the comparison sites from my list do the job. So I picked a search term and tried each site.

At the end of this post I have a table with results that lists what each of these websites produced including number of products and the best price.

While these results are just one snapshot of a much bigger picture, they did help me uncover certain facts that in turn resulted in a few useful shopping tips.

Many websites share the same list of products

One might think that the more sites you use for price comparison, the better result you will get. It is certainly true to some extend. However I noticed that many websites share the same product listings in results. Please read my previous post on the subject and use the facts you find there to build your own list of sites to use.

One of the tools that you might find useful is RoboShopper which is an aggregator that combines a few comparison engines under one roof. You enter your search term once and then simply switch between multiple websites to see what results each of them gives you.

Remember to re-sort the search results

Majority of price comparison websites make their living by offering merchants prominent positions in search results. These are often marked as “Sponsored” or “Certified” but they usually mean nothing more than the fact that the merchant paid to rank high in the results. Make sure you resort the list by price to avoid getting caught by this little trick.

Watch out for scam shops

Websites who have low barriers for merchants to list their products tend to list a lot of scam shops in search results. This is not the first time I face the problem. Some price comparison websites have been attempting to limit the customer exposure to these merchants. CNET for example will only show “trusted” merchants by default and you will have to click on “Show all” to see the rest.

The most affected services are TheFind, ShopWiki, and Froogle. In my tests they produced the largest number of results, however the merchants in the list that have the lowest price are often nothing else than scam shops. Read this extended PC World research for details on the tricks that these merchants employ to get you on the hook.

Prices and merchants change every day

I didn’t finish my test within a day and had to continue next morning. What I noticed right away is that some merchants have changed prices, some merchants were removed, and others were added. The picture overall has significantly changed. This brought me to an important conclusion. If you can’t find today what you want for the price you like, wait till tomorrow. Certain sites (e.g. Nextag) publish price trend graphs that will assist you when in doubt.

Sometimes websites go down

This is exactly what happened during my tests. The message below was up during a good part of the day yesterday at MSN shopping. Now tell me Microsoft software is reliable. ;-)

MSN error

My search results

I used keyword “sony sr300” in my tests. Sony SR300 is Sony’s flagman consumer camcorder released earlier this year. Here are my results, excluding the websites that republish the content they obtain from other companies (see my previous post on this).

(*) indicates that the price doesn’t include shipping charges. This also may mean that the website doesn’t offer the functionality to show the shipping charges on products. I highlighted the best results using bold font.

Web Site Results Best Result
shopping.yahoo.com 26 $712 (*) PrestigeCamera
froogle.google.com 61 $735 FotoSprint
shopper.cnet.com 17 $749 ButterflyPhoto
shopping.com 12 $777 AbesOfMaine
nextag.com 18 $739 EnterprisePhoto
pricegrabber.com 20 $749 ButterflyPhoto
shopzilla.com 26 $766 FotoConnection
smarter.com 33 $739 EnterprisePhoto
pricerunner.com 15 $749 ButterflyPhoto
pricewatch.com 0 doesn’t list any of Sony SR line
become.com 26 $749 PrestigeCamera
ebates.com 0 doesn’t list any of Sony SR line
thefind.com 30 $731 (*) WildDigital
sortprice.com 5 $732 (*) Access2Digital
like.com 0 offers no/few technology products
pricescan.com 14 $739 EnterprisePhoto
jellyfish.com 0 only lists the previous model, SR 200
pronto.com couldn’t get search to work
activeshopper.com 6 $777 AbesOfMaine
shopwiki.com 88 $459 BestPriceCameras (scam)
streetprices.com 8 $742 BroadwayPhoto
mytriggers.com 30 $769 eBay

My overall impression, recommended websites

Looking at all the websites, I will single out a few that I liked the most and explain why. I excluded all sites that don’t calculate shipping charges. I think this is a critical piece of price comparison. Also, Shopping.com didn’t make my list. While I like the site a lot, it is hard to find a bargain taking into account how many other sites republish the content.




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