Want to spend less when shopping online? Do some research

Want to spend less when shopping online? Do some research

A new survey, seemingly compiled by the Institute for the Study of the Bleedin’ Obvious, has concluded that the more research you do when shopping online, the more money you’re likely to save.

The new research, from economists working at eBay and two US universities, analysed the behaviour of eBay users. It concluded that more searching yields lower prices. It probably also found that polar bears get angry when you push them.




The study began on 27 July 2014, focusing on 500,000 eBay users for 30 days. It looks like people do lots of searching before they buy – on average, 36 times per transaction, in fact. But variability was big, though – some searched much less and some more. (Isn’t this what an average is for? Ed.)

Astonishingly, 5% of those searching at the start of the study were still hard at it 30 days later when it ended. It was, though, hard to get much sense out of these folk, as they rocked gently backwards and forwards in their dirty pyjamas while frothing at the mouth. The authorities then took them to a place of safety.

The study defined a single search as one phrase (e.g. ‘Logitech wireless keyboard’) entered in the eBay search field, followed by the searcher hitting enter. (Yep, that’s how people search.) But if they then entered ‘Logitech Bluetooth keyboard’ and hit enter, that was another search.

As you’d expect, these searches occur and add up pretty quickly, although endlessly wading through eBay’s search results can take time (and result in a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that can see you attempting to teach hiphop to your cat).

What about time? Indeed. The researchers couldn’t work out how long users searched, but one of them, presumably using the time-honoured method of pure guesswork, reckoned an average transaction might take between ten minutes and an hour. When pressed to be more specific, he claimed asylum in an old suitcase.

So how much does searching pay off? Our intrepid economists worked backwards six weeks to trace 14,331 purchases and the related searches. They used the difference between what heavy searchers paid and the average item price to come up with an estimate of the value of searching.

Their conclusion? ‘Consumers save, on average, 25 cents per search page,’ they wrote. Which isn’t even enough to cover postage.

The boffins also compared the search behaviour of users who chose expedited shipping (a sign of impatience) with eBay users who weren’t in a rush. They concluded that the impatient ones search less and pay more. But no doubt have a social life that doesn’t involve 48 consecutive hours on Grand Theft Auto.

Let that be a lesson to us all.

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Author Chris Painter

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