In an effort to provide the consumer the best price, online retailers are employing software to monitor rival websites to know their pricing. Known as ‘scraping’, it helps retailers adjust their own prices.
By: FE Bureau | New Delhi | Published: July 29, 2018 12:17 AM
In the world of cut-throat competition, every commercial enterprise is trying to outdo each other. Firms are running an invisible data war online that involves your phone as an unaware worker in the whole enterprise. Reports indicate that from giant retailers to tiny start-ups selling niche products, everyone wants to gather data that will tell them what their competitors charge. Big and small firms alike are employing software to monitor rival websites to know the prices of products they sell. This is a process known as ‘scraping’ with the help of which companies can adjust their prices. Scraping is done by online mystery shoppers who roam from one website to another and collect data.
In its simplest form, web scraping is about making requests and extracting data from the response. Large companies have internal teams dedicated to scraping, while smaller ones turn to companies that carry out scraping and figure out pricing data from across the web. These companies use machine-learning algorithms to help their client companies decide how much to charge for different products.
Any online store will swear by conversion (turning a visitor into a buyer). It’s the lifeblood of the online business, but it’s not easy to achieve. There’s a lot that goes into improving conversion rates like website design, checkout process, prices, website speed and a plethora of other things that will really turn website visitors into customers. But the biggest impediment is always the price. Comparative prices on different sites help eventually seal the deal.
In the web world, scraping isn’t something new. It’s part of how the web works. Search engines scrape web pages to index them for their search engines. Data analysts, journalists, academics and researchers use scraping software to gather data. By gathering such data, you are able to gather what works for the market and what doesn’t. Internet shopping now accounts for over 20% of the UK’s market.
Online prices change quicker than those in stores. So for retailers, scraping is usually a two-way street. Retailers surely want to see what their rivals are doing, but they do not want their rivals snooping on their products and pricing.
Companies would also have to keep in mind things like intellectual property rights because product photos and descriptions can be subject to infringement. This is a path that retailers have to tread with caution. The most common technique to employ is showing different prices to people and to bots. A site may show the price as astronomically high or zero to throw off bots collecting data.
The way scraping has evolved over the years tells a lot about the extent to which companies can go to ward off competition. What started as a one-way tool to extract web data so that consumers got the best deal soon became an unchecked race in which target websites try to sabotage data collection in order to achieve a competitive advantage. With it, third-party services, too, have emerged, which help target websites identify and block competitors scraping their data.
Data is the new oil and it is true for retailers as well. They need to know what their competition is doing and be informed about the best decisions that need to be taken to ward off competition. You also need to understand how your own site and products are performing.
Unfortunately, there are thousands of other marketplaces out there, which means thousands of potential competitors, thousands of user-generated reviews and millions of products you need to be aware of.
Besides price comparisons, retailers also use reviews and ratings to set product prices, determine which items to sell or shelf and gauge how well their brand is doing as a whole. Though social media reviews are imperative and tell you significantly about a product, yet tracking down every single mention manually would be nearly impossible. And reading each review on different platforms is another task that is manually exhausting. That’s where web scraping comes across as a valuable tool, as it helps companies collect this data. Web scraping allows them to capture statistically relevant reviews from social media and other review sites. Retailers can also scrape product reviews and ratings from thousands of sites at once without much effort on their part.
The key to using web scraping for e-commerce is to make sure the tool is able to do things quickly and accurately. Web scraping allows companies to save an enormous amount of time and resources. The data that is gathered can be used to help make inventory and marketing decisions, which can, in turn, affect the overall profitability of a retailer.