|They also strip away many advertising
and marketing elements by listing only summary information from both well-known,
and lesser-known retailers. ShopBots therefore make it easier for consumers
to locate and evaluate unbranded retailers, which makes it a great equalizer
for Internet markets, putting small retailers on a more equal footing with
their larger and more well known competitors. They are agents of economic
change. ShopBots improve the process of obtaining information and they increase
competition among sellers, therefore reducing the price of products and services.
They create a future in which autonomous agents profoundly influence
How do you use a shopbot?
Online shopping is easy. Just click a couple times, type in basic information,
and before you know it, your order is at your door. If you understand how
to use a search engine, you can use a ShopBot. You type the name of a product
that you are interested in, then the ShopBot seeks out merchants and prices,
and returns a list. Most Bots are accessed by going to a website, and others
are accessed through software that you need to download on your computer.
But, not all shopping Bots are created equal. A ShopBot's specific technology
is usually invisible to the user, who is simply presented with a list of
online stores and prices. Some sites provide a more comprehensive set of
services, including reviews of online stores, form-filling services, and
buyer-feedback forums. Others, let you negotiate with participating merchants
for a better price.
How does it work?
ShopBot technology currently utilizes two different approaches for collecting
data. The first approach periodically polls web sites and indexes their findings
inside databases. When you access the ShopBot information is delivered quickly
and presented as search results. A negative outcome of this method, however,
is that the polled information may become dated.
The second approach uses technology that scans the Web in real time. Prices
and in-stock information are more likely to reflect timely, accurate data.
However, because the search is being undertaken in real time, search performance
suffers. Without a third-party filter, the information returned also may
be less reliable.
There are several types of ShopBot sites:
Branded ShopBots are identified through a
ShopBot website. A user goes directly to the ShopBot site, which has an easy,
non-technical interface, and from there they launch a search (example:
Portal ShopBots conduct searches under the
disguise of a comparative shopper service for the major portals. They are
found within the shopping channels of large portals (Yahoo Shopping, Excite).
Retailer ShopBots conduct product searches
on behalf of a user of a particular retailer web site, and they are marketed
as a means to increase product offerings in their site, thereby attracting
and satisfying more consumers.
And these can be sub-categorized by function:
Product ShopBots recommend products based
on past selections or constraints specified.
Merchant ShopBots collect price and availability
Negotiator Shopbots buy, sell, and bargain
with other Bots based on user parameters.
Many auction sites function as Negotiators. Users can automate their bidding
by (secretly) setting the highest price they're willing to pay within a certain
time frame, then letting the software handle the interaction with other bidders.
Users can either place each of their bids manually, or they can set up a
bidding Bot to place their bids for them. Some sites encourage bidders to
not only place an initial bid but also to set up "proxy bidding" in which
any competing bid immediately will be met with a response up to the user's
Bidding services invite customers to send a price they would be willing to
pay for a commodity service or good. The price competition is, however,
constrained. There is no obvious way for consumers to learn what deals others
have been able to secure, and the bidding services appear designed to discourage
experimentation designed to find out the market-clearing price.
Some require the consumer to commit to pay if the offer is accepted, and
others do not, but they track the user's behavior with a "reputation" number
that goes up when a merchant's acceptance of a bid results in a purchase
and goes down when an accepted bid does not lead to a purchase. In this case,
sellers will be more likely to respond to your requests if you have a high
rating. The auction style creates an additional problem when you're ready
to commit to the purchase. We clicked on a link, only to find the auction
By examining current online usage patterns, it is evident that ShopBots represent
added value for consumers and online merchants. Consumers are using the Internet
for finding products and services, and ShopBots currently provide an efficient
and informative way to search for these items. ShopBots also reduce the amount
of search time for the consumer. Rather than searching three to five sites
prior to making a purchase, consumers can simply insert their purchase
specifications and let the ShopBot do the searching for them. When a buyer
knows what they want, they value a ShopBot, because it provides a fast and
efficient alternative to offline shopping. As time becomes more precious,
ShopBots will become even more valuable.