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