Buying a DVD edition of, say, Doug Liman’s thrill-seeking teen comedy Go on the Web couldn’t be easier. Just go to DVD Express, DVD Empire, Amazon.com, DVD Wave…or one of dozens of other online retail shops competing for your credit card numbers. Finding the best price on that DVD, however, would land most bargain hunters in the repetitive-strain injury ward. Luckily, comparison-shopping sites, also known as shopping robots, will search the Web for you.
In a recent search, entering Go into the DealPilot (www.dealpilot.com) comparison engine — specializing in books, movies, and music — retrieved 23 stores, 18 of which carried the DVD (including CDnow, which had it for $14.97, about half the list sale price), and automatically added the shipping fee. By contrast, MySimon (www.mysimon.com), spanning 1,500 merchants that offer everything from clothing to electronics to toys, searched 33 sites and returned 10 hits, finding a copy for the same price.
In fact, only two other shopping search sites, BottomDollar (www.bottomdollar.com) and Excite’s Jango (www.jango. com), offer anywhere near the number of vendors that MySimon does. BottomDollar, which can also comb auction sites, conducts each comparison search in real time—meaning that if barnesandnoble.com and Amazon are having a price war, BottomDollar will reflect the price of a book as it changes during the day. Jango found the same low price on the Go DVD, but since it tends to search those merchants that are part of Excite’s online shopping mall, it’s less reliable than the others. Jango had one listing for Apple’s new flat-panel studio display monitor, for instance, while MySimon had two vendors carrying it.
Specialty bot sites have their uses, though. Bookworms looking for Melissa Bank’s The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing can try searching 25 online bookshops at E-Compare (www.ecom pare.com) or scouring 41 booksellers at AddALL (www. addall.com). And tech-heads have two price-comparison robots geared to their needs: CNET Shopper (www.shopper.com) and Computer Shopper (www. computershopper. com). While CNET is the only one that offers an approximate shipping cost, Computer Shopper accompanies its searches with links to editorial consumer guides from Ziff-Davis. That is especially useful, since not even the smartest robot can save you from buying a lemon.