Sunday, May 3, 2009

Comparison Shopping On The Net

Recently I was shopping on the net for an ink cartridge. I realized that my travels through the various shopping comparison sites would make a useful article, so here we go.

The shopping comparison sites were chosen both at random and by suggestion from friends. Their quality covers the spectrum from useless to very good. I found none of them to be perfect, resulting in my deciding to use the top two for future shopping. But I also found that the quality of each site changes with time. Also, some sites are better than others depending upon what one is interested in buying.

The example object of interest I use for this article is the Epson T043120 High Capacity Black Ink Cartridge for the model C84 printer. The cartridge sells for $34.19 plus tax, with free shipping, from the store. This is the cost I used in my comparisons. My goal is to find a cheaper price from a reputable company. It is important to note that there are third party 'equivalent' cartridges one can purchase, which for my purposes I absolutely wanted to avoid.

My list of shopping comparison websites, in no special order:

1a) MacBuy @ (which uses PriceGrabber as its back end).

1b) There is a equivalent called PCW Shop & Compare.







My criteria for judging each site:

A) Number of product suppliers polled for results.
B) Number of price comparisons provided.
C) Whether a TAX and SHIPPING calculator is provided.
D) Accuracy of results.
E) Whether a designation of product quality/source is provided.
F) Whether a price history graph is provided.
G) The number of user product ratings provided.
H) The number of seller ratings provided.
I) Whether result lists are sortable.
J) Whether the site has a Scam Factor. For example, does it appear web shops are paying for results?
K) User-friendliness of the site interface.
L) Whether further bells and whistles are provided.

To simplify my results, when I like the results provided, a site receives a *DING* rating. When I don't like the result, a site receives a *FAIL* rating. Mixed quality sites received no rating. All the links below are search results for "T043120", the model of my object of interest.

MacBuy @

The Good: A lot of polled product providers: 41. An excellent number of comparison results. Simple tax and shipping calculator they call "BottomLinePrice". Excellent designation of OEM type versus all other product types. Excellent number of user ratings: 18. I like the ratings form they provide as well. Excellent number of seller ratings, often in the thousands. The list is sortable by Price, Seller Rating, BottomLinePrice. No scam factor evident. Featured sellers are clearly marked. Very user-friendly. Excellent product descriptions provided. Easy access to user reviews. An "Availability" listing at the seller. *DING*

The Bad: MIXED accuracy. The previous week's listing of Amazon's price was dead wrong, too low by nearly $4.00. Meanwhile, this week's listing of Tiger's price is accurate. No price history provided.

PCW Shop & Compare @

The Good & The Bad: Very similar to but with a compacted interface. Oddly missing is the "Availability" listing. It's also less intuitive which link to hit to access the seller's page. Therefore, I'd rather use the interface.

The Good: Free shipping listed. Third party products clearly marked.

The Bad: Very few sellers listed. No shipping and tax calculator. No sorting. No price history provided. No product ratings. Low number of seller ratings with no responses from the seller. Wrong pricing provided for ABCink. $28.85 shipped was listed. Actual price was $30.85 shipped. Major scam factor: Only subscribing sellers are listed, literally making this site worthless. *FAIL*

The Good:
Correct pricing at Adorama of $35.26 shipped. "Free Shipping!" listings provided.

The Bad: Amazon is listed, but no pricing is provided. Poor and wrong product descriptions. This can result in incorrect purchases. For example, an imitation cartridge was incorrectly listed as "Description: Genuine EPSON DURABrite ink cartridges are long lasting, water resistant and excellent for double-sided printing." *FAIL*

Comment: The failure of this site is odd considering that the superior MacWorld site uses it as a source of data. Stick to the version.

The Good: Lots of seller reviews (65). Long list of price comparisons (76). Accurate. Sortable by store, store rating and price. No scam factor evident. Shipping and tax calculator.

The Bad: Confusing interface. Minimal product description. Unfortunately few product reviews (2). No price history.

The Good: Hurray! An excellent price history graph! Free shipping listed. In stock listed. All list items are sortable. Long list of comparisons. In stock listing. A shipping and tax calculator called "TruePrice". Accurate. No scam factor evident. Excellent user interface. *DING*

The Bad: Inaccurate product description. The listed number of pages the cartridge can print is wrong, taken from the smaller version of the cartridge. Inconsistent listing of OEM versus third party versions of the product. Apparently it relies on the seller to provide the description and many don't bother. Very few user product ratings (3). But this varies between products. Many products have a lot of ratings. The shipping and tax calculator is not perfect. I found inaccuracies. No direct Amazon listing, even when it was the best buy.

The Good: Shipping and tax calculator.

The Bad: MASSIVE disappointment. Poor product descriptions. No price history. No list sorting. Mediocre number of comparisons (29). Confusing mess of products listed that did NOT fit my criteria. Includes eBay listings. Is that good or bad?! For me it's bad. Scam factor evident in the avoidance of many obvious sellers, such as direct Amazon. No product reviews!!! Not all sellers are reviewed. Terrible interface. *FAIL*

The Good: Shipping and tax calculator. List sorting by total price, store, store rating. Adequate product description. Good designation of OEM versus third party versions. Long list of comparisons. No scam factor, with 'featured stores' clearly designated.

The Bad: Minimal number of product reviews (2). Not accurate. SuperMediaStore had the product for $1.00 cheaper than the listing. The Tiger Direct listing was accurate.


My favorites were:
MacBuy @

Between the three of them you get a good picture of the product and sellers. 

None of the sites are optimum. All have faults. Therefore, it is wise to use at least a couple of the better sites for results.

These sites require the cooperation of the users for product and seller reviews. Ideally they should include the cooperation of the sellers as well for follow up on user complaints. Getting this to happen is a great accomplishment.

The usability of the interface helps a great deal. Some features, such as those at Bizrate, can be missed if you don't go searching around.

Accuracy is key. Inaccurate price listings are an instant FAIL.

If a site his minimal reviews of sellers and product, what is the point of the site? Sorting out bad product and sellers from the good is essential.

Equally, if a site doesn't provide an adequate product description, what is the point of the site? In my example, buying the wrong ink cartridge can damage your printer to the point where you might as well trash it and get a new one.

Tossing in useful perks is frosting on the cake. I like price histories a great deal.

The sites that most disappointed me were:


Keep in mind that the results from comparison shopping sites change weekly, if not daily, to reflect changes at seller sites. Therefore, be prepared to jump on a good deal ASAP.

Also be sure you use a reliable seller for your purchase. Some places like Amazon are just about always reliable. Some places like Tiger Direct can mess up your order or cause you hassles. Some places I won't name have niffy-kewl banners on their site showing 'approval' from various 'consumer agencies'. But if you read the customer reviews at the comparison sites you'll discover the place is actually a rat hole! So as ever, buyer beware.