Online Price Comparison Engines and How They Work


Some of the most successful websites on the internet today are the online price comparison engines. Type in a request to any search engine to try and find out the price of just about anything - and price comparison websites will always be at or near the top of the list returned to you. Subsequently most of us instinctively use them on the basis that it will save us an awful lot of time, trying to first of all find a particular companies website and then the product that we want information on.

When did price comparison engines start being used?

With the development and acceptance of graphical interfaces by home computer users in the 1990s many developments followed on. Although initially not reliant of graphical interfaces at the same time what we now know as the internet was born in the 1990s. The development of the internet into an essentially graphical interface led to many plug-ins, or add-ons, being downloaded and added to users internet browsers; one such group of plug-ins allowed internet browsers to compare the returns of search engines and organize them. However, this system had a drawback in that the plug-in had to be added to every computer’s internet browser separately. So, whilst you might have a ‘comparison’ plug-in on your home computer, your friend or neighbor might not have had it.

How online price comparison engines work now.

The plug-ins mentioned above are technically referred to as ‘client side’, being on your/an individual computer. As the internet grew and developed it became obvious that something which was accessible from any computer anywhere was needed; and web developers produced the first versions of ‘server-side’ price comparison engine software, resident on a remote internet server. The result of this is that we can now be at any computer anywhere in the world and access price comparison engines through a general internet search. Today’s price comparison engines are alternatively known as shopping portals. Retailers, realizing the commercial power and potential sales behind using online price comparison engines, will pay the price comparison website a fee to be included in their lists. Some retailers have also set up their own price comparison websites, which will return prices that compare their own price to that of their competitors. However, you would be quite right to be wary as to how impartial those price comparison websites might be.

Do online price comparison website always get the best results?

So, following from the last statement in the section above just how good are price comparison websites? The first inevitable thought that will go through most people’s minds is “are whatever the online price comparison engine returns to me always the very best deals I can get”?  In reality the answer is probably yes, but as with most things in life you can’t say that the returns will be the absolute 100% best possible offers. The main reason for saying this is that whilst a price comparison engine could return 10s, 100s even 1000s of price options for you to consider, it can’t search through every possible company that might be offering the product you’re after for sale. The reason for this is that the website is paid for by subscriptions from the retailers. If a retailer doesn’t subscribe to a particular price comparison website - its products may well not be listed. A classic example here would be say a college student looking for insurance. An insurance price comparison engine will search through all the major insurance companies to find the best matches and prices for the insurance you’re after. However, what it probably won’t do is search the smaller local insurance companies or an insurance broker associated with your college. This means that potentially, yes there could be an even better deal for you out there - but finding it will be rather like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack!

So, should I continue to use price comparison engines?

On balance - yes. However, what is recommended is that you don’t just accept the offers/prices that one price comparison engine or website gives you. It might take a little more time but put the same question to another price comparison website and see what that returns. If it gives you the same very best deals - then chances are that is just what they are, the very best deals you can get.  Finally, as we all know search engine marketers are very astute when it comes to viral marketing and subliminal messages. Be particularly wary of subliminal messages in price comparison websites, as there will often indicate ones that are ‘owned’ by a particular retailer. This can quite often be something as simple as the colors and wording that they use for the price comparison website. If you think that colors used are very similar to a particular retailers corporate colors or a word associated with a company keeps re-appearing - these can be strong indicators of a price comparison search engine that’s not entirely unbiased.