The internet offers a seemingly infinite amount of products for sale, and just as many places to purchase them. The vast amount of retailers available and the constant competition between them, creates an extremely volatile marketplace where finding the best deal can be a daunting task, for even the most experienced bargain hunter. Due to this volatility, prices are in a constant state of flux; as a result, it is almost impossible to determine how good a price really is, even if it is “on sale”.
Online shoppers will find an assortment of tools that can help them find the best deal. The first type of tool that comes to mind are comparison shopping engines like Nextag.com, Shopping.com, Pricegrabber.com, and others. These sites compare prices for products sold by online retailers in an effort to show consumers which retailer has the lowest price. This is great for people that just want to “get it now”, but it says nothing about how good of a deal the price is.
The next type of shopping tool we have are what I like to call “first generation price trackers” like CamelCamelCamel.com, TheTracktor.com and MyPriceTrack.com. This type of price tracker tracks a single store’s price (most commonly Amazon), but offers no comparison between merchants. This is great if the product you are looking for is exclusively sold on Amazon, but it isn’t really all that useful for products sold by a number of online retailers. One positive note is that these first generation trackers do have price drop alerts which will send you an email when products go on sale.
Launched this year, we have two new “second generation” price trackers hitting the market: PriceMachine.com (Feb ’13) and SheepGuru.com (Mar ’13). These sites are basically a hybrid of a comparison shopping engine and a first generation price tracker, but with a twist. Both PriceMachine and SheepGuru are trying to answer a single question, “is this a good deal?”, but they have two very different approaches.
PriceMachine offers some good information: the Highest and lowest 60-day price, lowest priced seller, Amazon’s price and something called the “Fair Price.” Based on the historical pricing data they have collected, they claim that the fair price is exactly that, a fair price. Assuming the fair price is accurate (there is no way to prove it either way) it could end up being a very powerful tool. In addition to the above price observations, PriceMachine offers a comparison grid (much like the grids available on other comparison shopping sites) and price drop alerts.
SheepGuru is quite different from PriceMachine due to the amount of tools they offer, and the increased number of merchants listed within their service. SheepGuru has what they call the “Price Value Indicator”, which is a visual and textual representation of how good a price is. They claim the value is calculated based on historical pricing trends and statistical analysis, and at a glance shoppers can quickly see if they are about to get a good deal or not. Whether this works or not is still to be determined, but if it does it will make it more difficult for merchants to manipulate prices without the consumer noticing. Like PriceMachine, SheepGuru also offers a comparison between merchants and price drop alerts, but they’ve added additional tools like an interactive price chart and statistical information about each price recorded.
With the holiday shopping season right around the corner, retailers are going to be working overtime to sell as many products as possible. This means prices will be frequently changing as retailers compete for your business. Luckily, this new generation of price trackers will embolden holiday shoppers by providing valuable pricing intelligence, and a way for people to know when the best time to make a purchase is. By January, I’m sure we’ll all be reading about how much money people saved on their holiday shopping by using these new price tracking services.