It’s time for our second test of how well Google Shopping and other shopping search engines find the best prices on products. For this installment, what’s the lowest price from a major retailer for a copy of “Red 2″ in the Blu-ray, DVD and digital download combo pack?
In this test, as with our last one, we’re trying to see if the “featured price” is better than the low price that can be found on each service, plus who finds the lowest price overall. Here’s the summary chart of our findings, where PriceGrabber did best, with Google just barely behind by only $0.03:
It may sound odd, but shopping search engines don’t always feature the best price. Sometimes this is down to the search engine choosing to feature a merchant with a better overall trust rating rather going with the cheapest. It can also be due to some search engines allowing merchants to buy their way into a featured position. Sometimes it happens because the search engines just do a poor job of showing results.
Deciding which is the “featured” listing for each shopping search engine can be tricky, but we’ll make the best choice we can and explain why we did. We’re also only going with prices from major, known retailers. There might be better deals listed, but sticking with prices from major retailers helps normalize across the board and reflects how online shoppers actually purchase, as our recent survey shows: Brand Bias: 70% Of Consumers Look For Known Retailers When Doing Product Searches
For more background, also be sure to see the first in this series: The Test Begins: Do Google Shopping & Other Shopping Search Engines Give You The Best Deals?
Searches were conducted yesterday, December 11, between 5pm to 6pm ET. As product listings often change, what’s presented in this article differ from what you see now.
Usually, the shopping results box on Google looks as shown below, where several merchants are listed, with an image associated with each merchant’s listing:
However, a search for “red 2 blu ray” brought up a less-commonly seen box. This one was focused around the product, providing more details about it (you can click to enlarge the image below and several others in this story):
In fact, only one merchant was directly listed in the box as selling the product, Barnes & Noble, at $19.99. That’s the featured price, but there might be a lower price for those who know how to explore Google Shopping more deeply. To do that, they have to click on the ”View all stores and prices” link under the Barnes & Noble offer. Those who do get this page:
Now, it gets confusing. The top listing on that page is from Barnes & Noble, but the base price is $27.99, not $19.99. Under it is another Barnes & Noble listing with a $19.99 price. What’s happening? Barnes & Noble sells direct to consumers, but it also allows other merchants to sell through its Barnes & Noble Marketplace.
Should the marketplace price be counted as coming from a major retailer? That can be argued both ways. But as Barnes & Noble seems to stand behind marketplace sellers, that’s one reason why we chose to count it as the B&N price. Also, in our previous test, we counted a similar Amazon product as a low-price for search engine Nextag, even though that product was being sold by a third-party through Amazon, rather than by Amazon directly.
Are there any lower prices from a major retailer for this product available through Google Shopping? Not that we could spot, after resorting the list by price.
In summary, the featured price was $19.99, and that matched the low price.
Next up, PriceGrabber, where a search for “red 2 blu ray” brought up a listing for the product and promised a low price of $19.96:
Going in to learn more brought up this page:
In this case, we get the product offered by Amazon and WalMart, both major retailers and neither of which were represented at Google. That’s because they probably chose not to advertise in Google’s shopping listings for this product while they did choose to advertise at PriceGrabber. In both places, as with all major shopping search engines, only merchants who pay appear in listings.
So what’s PriceGrabber’s featured price? There’s a strong argument that it should be the one from Amazon, which is $22.99, because it’s first on the list. However, because the list is so small (only two merchants), it seems reasonable that a consumer would evaluate both. PriceGrabber also featured a $19.96 price before the drill-down into listings, which makes it further likely a consumer would seek that out. These factors, along with having counted the lower Barnes & Noble marketplace price in Google’s favor, tipped the balance toward considering $19.96 to be the featured price.
It’s also noteworthy that PriceGrabber, unlike Google, found a low price that’s unlikely to cause any consumer second-guessing. Some might still wonder if they can trust a Barnes & Noble “marketplace” merchant, but few likely would have that same concern over Walmart.
We didn’t test shopping search engine The Find last time, because it hadn’t been cited in another test we were comparing to. But the company got in touch after our first article, asked to be included in the future, so we added it this time. How did it do? Lots of results, some we wanted, some not:
By default, the sort is “Best Results,” with the first match being the film “Red Tails” rather than “Red 2,” which isn’t really a “best” match. The first match for Red 2 on the list is from Amazon, with a $20 price. That turned out to be $22.99 when we actually went to the Amazon page.
Changing the sorting to “Lowest Price” wasn’t very helpful, because that caused all the copies of Red 2 originally shown to be buried behind other movies like Red Heat or Legally Blonde 2:
To find the lowest price, we had to carefully scan the first page of results with the “Best Results” sort to see if there was anything better than Amazon. Walmart was listed at $20 — which turned out to be the rounded-up price of $19.96 offered on the Walmart site.
Since Amazon was the first on the list, that was considered to be the featured price for The Find, though the $22.99 Amazon was actually charging was used, rather than the $20 that The Find had displayed.
As for Bing, it had promised when it killed its dedicated Bing Shopping search engine that its new product ads or non-ad product listings with “rich captions” would do the job of showing product results better. I still find that unconvincing:
None of the ads (that the arrow at the top points to) appear with prices or images, in the way that shopping ads appear at the other services.
“Rich captions” do appear with pricing information next to two listings in the main results, Best Buy first at $22.99 and Walmart at $19.96. Amazon lacks them, perhaps because Amazon hasn’t implemented them.
I think the rich captions are easy to miss. There also remains no way to sort through only shopping results to see if these are the best deals of all that Bing knows about.
Still, for this test, we do have some prices to count, unlike the last test. In this case, the Best Buy price that comes first will be counted as the “featured” price while the Walmart price further down will be the low price.
Next to … Nextag. Where, it turns out, the product isn’t apparently offered at all:
The product didn’t appear anywhere on the first page of results. Nor did it appear for a search on “red 2 blu ray” or “red 2 dvd.” Either Nextag doesn’t carry listings for it, or Nextag’s relevancy is so terrible that it can’t ferret out the product. Either way, it fails this test.
The exact same situation happens with Shopzilla:
Two tests aren’t enough to draw conclusions about overall performance. Twenty tests might not be enough, nor will we be doing that many, as these are so time consuming to perform. That’s why there’s no headline on this story, or on our previous one, declaring any service to be the best.
Having said that, from our limited testing, for those who are looking for the best prices on products from major merchants, Google is doing the best so far. Here’s the summary chart:
You can see for each search engine whether it found the lowest price for a particular product, not just within its own listings but across those from major merchants overall. You can also see the difference between the featured price shown and the lowest price, for those who spend time digging further into the listings.
Since Google has come under fire with accusations that it features prices that are above the lowest prices it knows about, it seemed fair to rate these search engines as having a “win” if they found the lowest price AND that matched the featured price.
On the second test, Google found the second lowest price — but that was so close to the lowest price (a $0.03 difference) that it seemed reasonable to also count this as a win, along with PriceGrabber’s win. On the first test, Google was the clear winner.
Will Google continue to do well? Tune in next week for our third test.