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 toolchest.gif (339 bytes)   Low-Price Robots Let robots find you the lowest prices

Despite the claims, no one store has all the lowest prices. For one product, one store wins; for another product, another store wins. How can you tell where the low prices are, today?

Use a robot.  Or, more accurately, look at the results of a robot's search through various stores, looking for the lowest prices. The product names and prices get dropped into a database, sorted from lowest to highest, and offered to you when you ask, at one of the sites dedicated to bargains and deals.

Of course, the robots might get worn out if they really looked at every site on the Web.  So their owners point them to a handful of stores known to sell low.

You type in a product, and the site responds with a list of all the stores (in their group) that sell the item, with the current prices.

On any given product, you’ll find quite a range of prices, even though all are lower than retail. For instance, a music CD may be quoted as $11 from the least expensive store, and $18 by the most expensive in such a table. If price is all you care about, though, you can find today’s lowest price at these sites:

Bottom Dollar at

Bottom Dollar offers quite a few prepared searches, for low prices on popular products in the stores they visit most frequently.

You can switch the order of the results to show all the items from one site together, or in order by price from lowest to highest.

Of course, some problems occur. The same word may be used in dozens of very different products, all of which appear on the list. Also, each store uses a slightly different term to describe similar (or are they the same?) products. And the same product comes in two-pack, three-pack, six-pack, and ten-pack, in combination with other products, so you have to use a calculator to figure out which store has the best price per unit.

But we found some good deals, and a good variety of stores.

You can search for French and British versions of some products, too, for the local flavor.

Caution: Their search mechanism is a bit flakey. When you click one of their prepared searches, you may get the results of a search you ran a few minutes ago instead, or something completely different.

Oddness: If you go back to a page that held results, the system redoes the search, and, after a delay, redisplays those results. Evidently reopening the page has the same effect as clicking Go!


Compare Net at

CompareNet claims it is an interactive buyers' guide, with categories such as automotive, baby care, computing, electronics, home appliances, home office, sports and leisure. New features focus on digital imaging and ergonomics. They provide product information, product comparisons with side-by-side charts, some reviews, discussion groups, classifieds, and shopping links.

You can search by price and features, brand, model number, and you can compare two items, or ask the system to show similar items. They also come out with their own recommendations.

Bad news: they report manufacturers' suggested retail prices, which are, of course, far higher than street prices.


Killer App at

Now owned by C|Net, this low-price robot runs after computer gear in stores and auctions, so you can get what they call Quick Klicks on processors, motherboards, monitors, hard drives, memory, printers, and so on.

They list results by brand, which means places like Brother take up pages and pages, before you get to, say, Canon.

C|Net certifies some, but not all of these merchants, which is reassuring. You click the lowest price, and get a list of all the merchants selling a product, including the folks who offer the best deal, and plenty more. With the Canon MultiPass 55000 multifnction printer, we found a spectacular bargain at for $311.95, and two other stores offering it at $319.95 (Onsale and Hardware Street). Half a dozen more clustered around $327-$330. Highest in their list was $399.99 at PCMall, no bargain.

Searching: you can name a brand, operating system, interface, capacity, media type, price range for any category, select models to compare. When you look up a particular product, like a Zip 100 External Drive with SCSI connection, they report the lowest street price, offer comparison prices from multiple merchants and reviews.


My Simon at

PC Magazine calls this the bot to beat. You start out with a dozen departments, such as apparel, flowers and gifts, hobby and leisure, and dig down, down, down.

Because they include auctions, you have to recognize that many of the lowest prices are just early bids in an auction. Good news: they also include outlets handling reconditioned equipment, so you may get a bargain on a refurbished product. Also, because there are manufacturer's rebates on some products, you are looking at the price you end up with after rebate, not the price you pay before you send in the coupon and wait six weeks.

Great feature: their buyer guides help you define exactly what features you want in a complex product, then find it. For instance, for digital copiers, you see a list of a dozen features, and indicate how important each is, in a seven-slot scale. If you wonder what the feature does, you can click for more information. Once you have spelled out what you want, the system offers you tradeoffs. For instance, in one option, you get a lot of copies per minutes, but the first copy comes out a little slower. You can say which option you prefer, and by how much. Finally, at the end, you get a list of merchants who stock the products that best meet your preferences.  This is like having a consultant walk you through the choices.  Excellent!


Price Scan at

They boast that they are unbiased because they do not charge stores to be listed, and they make their money by renting out banner ads and reselling their information. They cover Web and offline stores. They let you define a product by its features or specs, and then locate products from various vendors, even if they show up under different brand names. They call these functionally equivalent products.

They found some super bargains, in many areas.  They cover books, computers, electronics, movies, music, office equipment, sporting goods, and video games.

Nice touch: With some stores you get a direct link to the product on the store's site, not just their home page.


Price Watch at

Pricewatch concentrates on computer hardware such as complete systems, or parts such as central processing units, chunks of memory, storage gear, and networking gear. They also handle consumer electronics.

Their lists are higgledy piggledy. For example, toner cartridges show up along with the fax machines they work in, plus the paper for the machine, oh, and the machine. In fact, anything that happens to have the brand name and the word fax in the description shows up.

Here is their stik: they let retailers advertise their prices in real time. The dealers input the data directly to the Pricewatch site, and, we gather from various messages, the dealers sometimes forget to update their own sites, so there may be a gap between the prices on the two sites.  PriceWatch takes no responsibility for correct pricing, arguing that it is just an ad medium.

Retailers tend to limit what they advertise, so you see hot stuff, but not a complete selection.


The View at

The View: uses their robot to find the lowest prices on hardware, software, motherboards, books, music, movies, magazines, sports, electronics, video and PC games--a good range of products.

You get a lot of products in answer to a search, arranged by store, which makes it hard to compare one product at one store with the same product elsewhere.

You can sort by site or price, and there are some good companies listed, and good prices, but not all the products you might want.

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