In an attempt to get a hands-on read of the efficiency and credibility of comparison search engines, I embarked on a buying experiment for an HP Media Vault mv2020 server — specifically a Windows-based PC tower with two 500 GB Internal Drives, three USB ports for expansion, room for an additional 3.5-inch internal drive, built-in Gigabit Ethernet and a dual processor configuration.
For a simpler comparison check, I added aLinksys WRT54G Wireless-G Router to my search.
The Linksys router was a no-brainer. Each of my test sites delivered straightforward lists and plenty of availability — but not much of a price advantage compared to what the other comparison sites delivered. Essentially, I would get roughly the same deal regardless of which shopping engine I used. There were other differences, however.
Shopzilla.com gave me a 60-store spread with prices ranging from US$50 to $130. With that kind of price spread, the list obviously included bundle deals and upgrades.
Cnet’s Shopper.com served up a shorter list but offered links to articles and videos, plus a great list of user tips and tricks.
Pricegrabber.com gave a decent store spread with very brief product descriptions and star ratings, but not much else.
Tigerdirect.com gave me lots of security reassurance with five different and respected certifications ranging from VeriSign to Secure-eBill. It also offered larger product photos and better descriptions.
When it came to shopping for the server, however, the scenario completely changed. My search was for a highly customized piece of equipment — HP Media Vault mv2020 server, a Windows-based PC tower with two 500 GB Internal Drives, three USB ports for expansion, room for an additional 3.5-inch internal drive, built-in Gigabit Ethernet and dual processor configuration — and none of the sites could offer the hardware with those precise specs.
Tigerdirect.com didn’t even turn up the basic server unit. Pricegrabber.com didn’t list it either but provided additional search resources, which included a link to Amazon.com for the basic server unit.
Shopzilla.com offered me the basic unit from nine stores. Surprisingly, Circuit City was one of the nine, and the link did take me to the product on that site. That was weird, because a direct search for the basic server unit on the Circuit City site returned no results.
Shopper.com named only three stores, but its product videos were very informative, and the tips and tricks section guided me through the upgrade process.
In the end, I called HP and asked for the price of the server customized to my specs and then priced that against buying the parts to upgrade the basic unit on my own.
For me, it was cheaper and faster to buy the basic unit throughWalmart.com (the free site-to-store shipping saved me a bundle) and the upgrade parts fromNewegg.com. Bottom line? I didn’t find comparison shopping search engines to be much of an advantage.
Familiarity Breeds Fondness
If I ever shop for a router again, or some other simple piece of hardware — and if Newegg.com were off-line for some reason — then I would immediately go to Shopper.com, as I found it to be the best comparison site overall, particularly with its videos, tips and tricks, and article links. It is also incredibly easy to use and requires fewer clicks to move through the site.
I doubt that I will ever return to Pricegrabber.com, as I found it the least helpful and the hardest to use.
Tigerdirect.com feels like an old friend, since I have shopped it for as long as I can remember, so I’ll probably return to the site for light shopping soon.
Shopzilla.com now has me intrigued, since it found the Circuit City server offering that a direct search of the Circuit City site didn’t produce. That makes me wonder what else I might miss if I only search stores on my own.
So, I’ll be back to see what Shopzilla.com knows that I don’t on a fairly regular basis.