Web Informant #130, 3 November 1998
Online comparison shopping is the pits


Quote of the week: "I have no idea what you're talking about when you say 'ask.'"
-- Bill Gates' videotaped testimony, aired yesterday in Federal court.

When I first wrote about shopping online, I said that the experience was like driving to your local mall on the day after Thanksgiving, and having to look for a half-hour before you could find a parking space. Once you got inside the mall, the signage for all the stores had mysteriously been removed, so it took you a while to find the stores you desired. Once you got inside your favorite store, the items you were looking for were out of stock, and once you got to register to pay, they didn't take your particular brand of credit card.

Bill Gates isn't the only clueless one these days. Jupiter Communications predicts that this holiday shopping season, consumers will spend $2.3 billion online, more than double what they spent last year. I frankly doubt this figure: for comparison purposes, that is about a third of what Americans spend going to the movies all year, or buying and renting adult videos, or buying CDs and other music all year. Do you really think online shopping is as popular as these common industries? I don't think so.

To aid this online gold rush, as I wrote last August in WI #121, there are now a half dozen or more comparison shopping "portals" that will go forth and scour the net to find the cheapest prices or particular merchandize. The trouble is, as I found out, you can only choose one metric for many sites: prices or specific items. But I am getting ahead of my story.

As a test, let's assume I know what I want in terms of actual brand, and see how good these shopping portals are at finding the best price. I picked at random the following items to buy: