October 16, 2013 by wizeblogmin

We’ve been talking a lot over the past few months about Price Machine and how it fulfills important customer needs that other CSEs and online retailers had previously failed to address – most notably, that it allows users to search for the best prices without the bias towards favored advertisers or merchants that is par for the course with other sites.

This sounds great in theory, but what about in practice? Well, like any CEO worth his or her salt, I need to put my money where my mouth is – so when my old microwave oven died a few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to do just that.

The Mission

I thought it would be both fun and instructive to compare our sites and apps against those of our competitors to help guide my purchasing process. At Wize Commerce, we have conducted significant research into how the average shopper looks for products before committing to make a purchase online, and we wanted to follow this process to learn firsthand how it works and how it might be improved.

I wanted the replacement microwave to fit on my countertop space, have a capacity of 1.5-2.2 cubic feet, and come with a look and finish that matched my preference for contemporary styling – and I was open to any brand name at a reasonable price point.

So, I enlisted my assistant Diana Tejo to help, and with that, we started our mission.

The Methodology

Like most shoppers, we decided to use a mix of sites. First, we searched the obvious “Big Two” – Amazon and Google – and we decided to explore a number of other retailer sites, including Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, and Home Depot, just as our research suggests most shoppers do. Finally, we used our CSE competitors’ sites like Pricegrabber and Shopzilla, as well as our own offerings like Nextag and Price Machine.  

The Competition

Many people in the e-commerce industry don’t realize that the bulk of our direct competitors aren’t actually comparison shopping sites. Rather, shoppers go to brand name retailer sites, as well as Google, to seek information and to accumulate price comparison factoids.

Amazon is by far the best-known site. We all know and love it. It has very satisfying capabilities, but it has a clear merchandising strategy that is not truly about comparison shopping. So while it’s easy to find and purchase a great product, it’s difficult to know if it’s actually the right product (or the right price) for you. 

I found shopping on Google an illuminating experience: It has big images and an easy-to-navigate layout, and it’s the largest and arguably best search engine in the world. But it’s also not a comparison shopping site, and its ad-driven business model is evident in all searches. In other words, if you want to find the lowest price on Google it’s at least two extra clicks away, with some scrolling in between.

So how did retailers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Target fare? While they all offer different experiences, they were all equally frustrating. Wal-Mart defaults to a view for the Wal-Mart customer in which low price and generic brands often ranked near the top of the results (a $38 microwave? Really?). Home Depot features a very orange-colored design with a page layout that compresses the results so that more scrolling is required to really understand your options. And, Target puts a priority on their merchandising strategy – i.e. promoting “temporary price cuts” rather than overall user experience.

In other words, none of these sites distinguished themselves for online comparison shoppers. Sure, they’re functional and they fit with their retail brand approach, but after searching multiple sites I was not much smarter – just much more tired.

Using Wize Commerce Sites

For the next step in our Microwave Mission, we used Nextag (and its App), Wize, Appliance Shopping, and Price Machine. We found that in terms of functionality and comprehensiveness, Nextag was very useful if you’re a serious shopper and want to learn about various products, prices, and merchants.

But Price Machine was the real standout. We found it to be very strong relative to Amazon, Google, and without exception strong relative to retailer sites (and our competitor CSE’s).

The Fair Price reference is a simple way to help you grasp a vast assortment of options and understand if the product is selling at a good price. It is the only site that is not de-normalized, and its six column format allows you to view multiple products at a single glance. Furthermore, its neutrality towards merchants makes it simple to see all the products and prices – not just those that paid for the visibility.

The best part is, this site will get substantially better in the months ahead as we continue to make improvements.

And the winner is…

So which site reigned supreme? How did CSEs compare to traditional online retailers? Well, you’ll have to check back next week for the second and final installment of our Microwave Mission. I’ll discuss how Wize Commerce sites stacked up against the competition (and the in-store experience), what lessons we learned, and – most importantly – declare a winner.

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