Tech Industry

Commentary: Shopping bots--spoiling for a good deal

While businesses need to come to terms with the buyer-centric world created by inventions like the shopping bot, consumers still need to be savvy.

By Geri Spieler, Gartner Analyst

Shopping bots belong to what Gartner calls Internet market spoilers, but bots have the potential to spoil the consumer's holiday shopping experience, too.

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As consumers increasingly go to the Web for information and support in making purchasing decisions, they use Web aggregator services that answer their questions and help with decisions in a supplier-neutral fashion. Vendors that directly sell nonimpulse and nonstaple consumer and commercial goods and services--e.g., financial services, real estate, automobile, health care, consumer electronics, travel, commercial equipment, goods and services, and business information--will be absorbed into aggregator Web services, which Gartner calls Internet market spoilers.

Many vendors operating as market spoilers have created comparison-shopping services using "bot" technology. Shopping bots automatically search competitive Web sites or databases to compare prices. The results of the search are delivered back and organized for side-by-side comparison.

In general, consumer e-commerce vendors must adjust to shopping bots and other market spoilers. Enterprises that fail to plan for this buyer-centric revolution face dramatically reduced revenue. Internet market spoilers drive new revenue opportunities for participating enterprises but also have the potential to deplete the revenue of vendors pursuing Internet strategies that merely seek to extend a channel.

Consumers should judge shopping bots less by their general utility than for the specific purpose for which they will be used. For holiday shopping, when time is a concern, shopping bots could let consumers in for headaches.

It is difficult enough to get good customer service from the largest, most established vendors on the Web. In past years, consumers who ordered Christmas gifts from big-name Web retailers ran into problems with orders that went unrecorded, double orders, and goods not delivered on time.

Based on lower price or availability of goods, shopping bots will often direct consumers to lesser-known Web sites. Those sites could represent inefficient Internet retailers, distributors or even fake sites. The poor service that those sites give could far outweigh the money consumers might save.

That doesn't mean consumers shouldn't use bots. But using them successfully requires more savvy, not less.

(For related commentary on on shopping over the Web, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)

Entire contents, Copyright ? 2000 Gartner Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.