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Shopping Bots No Bargain


Holiday consumers who are cruising the Internet for Christmas deals should know that using shopping bots to find the lowest prices for presents does not always guarantee a good deal, according to a Fordham University study. Shopping “bots,” short for robots, are software tools that sift through the enormous amount of pricing data available on the web to find the best bargains. “Finding the cheapest price on the Internet is not as simple as you might think. It takes effort because no one bot will consistently find you the lowest price,” said Sarah Maxwell, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing and co-director of Fordham’s Pricing Center.

Maxwell and graduate business student Karen Aviles investigated prices generated by 54 shopping bots and found that no one bot provided the lowest price for all types of products. For example, the prices of books and computer equipment varied from bot to bot. Three bots —, and — all found the same cheap price of $29 for The Beatles Anthology, a book that sells for $60 in book stores.

However, the same shopping bots found various prices for a second book titled, Vanity Fair’s Hollywood, which also sells in stores for $60. The lowest price found among the bots was $36, the highest was $41. The price differences quoted by shopping bots for computer equipment were more dramatic. The lowest prices found for the HP Deskjet 970CXI printer varied by more than $170 on the various computer shopping bots, and by $130 for the Palm V. Although surfing the web for the best bot can be frustrating at times, there is good news.

The shipping and handling charges for shopping bot products were not inflated to compensate for the cheaper price, as many consumers suspect, Maxwell said. Even with the additional shipping and handling costs, the cheapest goods still have the lowest total prices. The Fordham University Pricing Center, established in 1996 by the Graduate School of Business Administration, conducts academic research and industry seminars, and acts as an advocate for pricing education in business school curricula. Fordham’s Graduate School of Business Administration was established in 1969 and has been recognized nationally for the quality, innovation and comprehensiveness of its programs, which prepare graduates for global competition. The school’s part-time MBA program is ranked 14th by U.S. News & World Report.


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