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Where Did All The Online Bargains Go? 337

cornflux writes: "There's something I've wondered recently -- 'Where did all the good deals go?' It seems I'm not the only one -- Business 2.0 has an article about the noticable lack of bargains available online, today. The author covers obvious reasons (dried up VC, need for real profit) and some others (pseudo-price fixing). The one thing that was missed is the ever-increasing number of morons who will pay full-retail price + 20% for things on eBay." Note that the piece is largely theoretical -- I've found consistently better prices on the web, even recently, than I have in-store for electronic goods, as well as obscure DVDs which I couldn't find locally anyhow.
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Where Did All The Online Bargains Go?

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  • by Tuxinatorium ( 463682 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:36PM (#2872432) Homepage
    That explains everything. There are too many idiots on Ebay, and people too lazy to comparison shop.
    • The problem with eBay is that the morons get into these insane bidding wars days before the auction closes, which invariably raises the price to ridiculous levels. I stopped buying from eBay for that very reason. The only time I'd ever bid on something was a minute before the auction closed. It should be obvious that only bidding in the closing minutes of the auction and only raising your bid the minimum amount would be the sensible thing to do and would get you a much better price than consistantly bidding and raising the price for several days. I wish that they'd figure this out for themselves, but I guess it'll be tough getting anyone to spread the word because everyone that knows this is probably smart enough to take advantage of it and sell their junk on eBay.
      • It should be obvious that only bidding in the closing minutes of the auction and only raising your bid the minimum amount would be the sensible thing to do and would get you a much better price than consistantly bidding and raising the price for several days.

        Actually, there's an easier way than that to avoid paying outrageous prices for stuff on ebay.. When bidding simply figure out what the item is worth to YOU and put that in as your bid. Ebay will automatically raise your bid in the minimum increment as other people bid until they outbid what you're willing to pay. If that happens just move on to another auction... One thing I've found that helps is pick an odd amount for your maximum bid.. For example, if you're willing to pay $100 for something, enter your bid as $102. Most people will have $100 as their "too high" line and bow out of the bidding. I've won several auctions that way.


    • by Anonymous Coward
      GREG'S 10 (because-it's-always-ten) LAWS OF EBAY

      This is not a parody. I am, unfortunately, serious.

      (1) A well maintained second-hand item is more valuable than the same
      item brand new.

      (2) 10% off list price is a deal--no matter that shipping costs
      20% more.

      (3) A picture is worth a thousand pennies.

      (4) Feedback is more important than profit.

      (5) Any item may be rented for the price of shipping one-way, but
      BEWARE! Sometimes this may garner profit.

      (6) It is better to pay 30% more and win a six-way bidding war than to
      be the only bidder on another listing of an identical item.

      (7) An item listed for $1 sells at $15. An item listed at $10
      sells at $10.

      (8) An unsorted collection "found in my attic" is more valuable than
      one professionally appraised.

      (9) Categories are for weenies.

      (10) 90% of all items sold on eBay were previously sold on eBay.
    • That explains everything. There are too many idiots on Ebay, and people too lazy to comparison shop.

      Most of it is people getting caught up in a bidding frenzy, as if an eBay auction is some sort of game. People seem to forget that the idea behind eBay was to uncover good deals on stuff, not to let the price spiral out of control because "I've just gotta win this."

      I think people's unwillingness to keep this in mind has worked to my favor in some circumstances, though, so I'm not complaining too much about other people's stupidity. :-) A few years ago, I sold a Mustek flatbed scanner. I had had it for about a year and had just replaced it with an HP ScanJet 4p. I bought the scanner new for about $270 and would've been happy to get $100 for it...it got the job done, but it was slow as hell (despite the SCSI interface). IIRC, it got bid up to over $200. I wouldn't have paid that much for it at that time (hell, the HP only cost me $100 as a demo item), but someone was crazy enough to do so. (Maybe it got bid up like that because it was in the original box, but selling a scanner in its original box isn't exactly like selling (for instance) an Enterprise Christmas tree ornament ("NCC-1701...no bloody A, B, C, or D") in its original box.)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Too many folks havre found out (as I did) that selling on the net is a good way to waste time and lose money. You run into nut cases, bozos and all the rest who think that because you sold them something (at around cost) that you now owe them the sun the world and the stars in support. The net was and is a good place to sell or buy a commodity item with no support included.. It is also a good place to find the obscure (as you have noted), but for bargains on things that need support, this guy isn't going to be the seller.
  • I disagree (Score:2, Interesting)

    by abrink ( 153323 )
    I disagree with this, if you shop around, you can still get great deals on tons of electronics/computer equipment...more so then you can in your local Best Buy or Circuit City. You also don't have to mess with annoying salesmen trying to sell you things you do not want.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • like when at Xmas time Best Buy had blocked off access to one side of each isle (I assume for two reasons; block access routes for shop lifters, and to trap your ass in the isle w/annoying motherfuckers trying to sell you shit).

      That's the one great thing about shopping online. I don't have to put up w/Jeff Cerullo telling me the 300 greatest things about the 300mhz Celeron Compaq 6788.

      I go in, I search for what I want and I buy it. I usually still save about $20 to $50 from what I would pay in Best Buy.

      www.pricewatch.com is what I normally use for most computer shit. I use Amazon.com to get most of my obscure books, and I shop at Meijer for my DVDs. They beat Amazon's prices before shipping and usually have a decent selection of movies the day they come out.
  • by s20451 ( 410424 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:41PM (#2872463) Journal

    I've found consistently better prices on the web, even recently, than I have in-store for electronic goods

    There was a related article [nytimes.com] in the NY times this week about electronics manufacturers who inflate their list prices so that retailers can easily offer their goods at a "bargain".

    • After reading the times article in the parent post, I had an epiphany. What if the retailer was straight up honest about their pricing?

      Here is my axample, First they tell you their price (par for the course) then they tell you their markup from *their cost* (perhaps a note about cost of running the business, with a reference to their standard markup).

      Then the markup would not be based on some artificial standard, but on a real hard dollar value of the product and the cost of getting it to the consumer. Then you would really know if your were getting a bargain or just their regular sale price. No hype, no sales pitch, just a smart business with informed customers.

      With this kind of honesty, a business would have my loyalty.
      • Here is my axample, First they tell you their price (par for the course) then they tell you their markup from *their cost* (perhaps a note about cost of running the business, with a reference to their standard markup).

        Then the markup would not be based on some artificial standard, but on a real hard dollar value of the product and the cost of getting it to the consumer. Then you would really know if your were getting a bargain or just their regular sale price. No hype, no sales pitch, just a smart business with informed customers.
        That would then be followed by a larger business selling the same product at a loss to undercut the competition.

        The lemminglike masses would throng to the cheaper product because money is money and lemmings, as a population, have no loyalty.

        Be honest now, how many of you signed up for the eService to only get the $2 DVD then canned the account and never bought from there again?

        There are examples where loyalty can be depended on, (Harley Davidson and Chevy Corvette have a very loyal following.) but there are very few businesses that can operate that way.
      • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @04:00PM (#2873089)
        Here is my axample, First they tell you their price (par for the course) then they tell you their markup from *their cost* (perhaps a note about cost of running the business, with a reference to their standard markup).

        Then the markup would not be based on some artificial standard, but on a real hard dollar value of the product and the cost of getting it to the consumer. Then you would really know if your were getting a bargain or just their regular sale price. No hype, no sales pitch, just a smart business with informed customers.

        The problems are:

        1. There is no real direct link with price to cost, other than companies want the maximum margin possible. Pricing depends on what someone is willing to pay, not how much it costs to produce a product.

        2. There is a point where the cost (time and money) of price shopping outweighs the savings. As a result, there is no real reason for companies to cut prices to the lowest possible point, since the chance taht they'l get an extra sale doesn't provide more additional revenue than a slightly higher price (and fewer sales).

        A stores goal is to maximize their profit - not give you the best possible price.
      • Many large retailers are public companies, and as such they have to release financial information about their business. In this information is their revenue, their Cost of Goods Sold, sometimes abreviated as COGS, which is their cost, Selling General & Administrative, abriviated as SG&A which will usually contain most of their costs in the markup this usually leaves operating profit, which they subtract their interest and other expenses from leaving net profit. So while this does not show the markup of the item you are buying, but it does give an average. Some will also break their revenue and costs out by there segments, search for segment in the 10-Q. All of these are available here [sec.gov].
  • Travel Deals (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kninja ( 121603 )
    There are a lot of good hotel rates to be found, and some flights are offered cheaper online too. I think this article is talking more about material goods, and not as much about services.
  • by bstadil ( 7110 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:41PM (#2872467) Homepage
    Try and pick any electronics in your local CompUSA or Fry then go to PriceGrabber [pricegrabber.com] or my favorite Pricewatch [pricewatch.com] and you will see there is plenty of good deals on the net.
    Often you have to go thru a special Netpage or input a comment for getting the PriceWatch price. I find it a bit annoying but understand the reasoning.
    • After going to Pricewatch, make sure you look up the business on ResellerRatings.com [resellerratings.com].

      With few exceptions, the price is proportional to rating. The lowest prices on Pricewatch are almost always from disreputable resellers.

  • Perhaps you have never been to Fatwallet.com or Anandtech's hot deals forum?

    I think if you walked away with an Empeg car unit for $199 rather than the original $1k++ pricetag, you might feel otherwise.
  • Computer hardware is still priced much better online than it is in local stores. That might be because I live in a smaller city, with no large cities nearby, I don't know. Not only is it cheaper, but I can find any parts I need, unlike the local stores, which carry only pre-assembled crap from Compaq and the like. I don't know what I'd do without NewEgg. [newegg.com]
  • Ebay rules (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Yeah, I just recently sold a Western Digital HD 80 GB (7200 rpm) for $179. The cost to me through a "HOT DEAL" was only $80 (after rebates).

    As the saying goes, if you take a dump in a box and charge $5 on ebay for it, is it really worth $5?
  • by aquarian ( 134728 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:43PM (#2872485)
    That's the heart of the matter. Though a typical Slashdot user's online shopping probably consists of hunting down deals on RAM through Priceline, the average shopper is simply looking for convenience and selection. They're willing to pay a little more for it, too. This mirrors the rest of the catalog shopping world- which the online shopping world is just another part of. And surprise, the online winners, with very few exceptions, are the same companies who have been doing mail order successfully for the last 20 years- Lands End, LLBean, etc.
    • Step outside your perspective and you'll see a nation of $35k earners who are religious WalMart shoppers. Why? Because its almost always the cheapest place to buy things. The stores are dumpy and the clientele dishevelled, but if were about something other than saving money, Amazon and Walmart would have changed places a long time ago.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Conveninece is an understatement. Most people aren't going to buy things online yet for several reasons:

      * You can't touch them. Would you buy a mattress online, for instance?
      * You don't necessarily get enough information.
      * It's harder to return.
      * It's not necessarily cheaper, either.
      * Searching for a product all to often yields too many results, not to few, most of which aren't relevant.

      E-Commerce, ebusiness, e-whatever... It's a really fancy, sophistacted modern day catalog ordering system.
    • You're overgeneralizing in your subject line there. People shop online for a number of reasons.

      I spent just over $24k online in the last year, and price was always the first thing I looked at. I do still buy things locally, but if I can save a buck by buying online, I'll do it.

      Convenience probably ranks 3rd or 4th. Some things are so esoteric that you can't find them locally, but that may be part of convenience. My big number two is that I'll always go with a smaller merchant, or a merchant known for providing good service. Part of me constantly roots for the underdog, so if I can pass on the big online and local retailers and still get a price within a few bucks of what I'd have paid, I'll do it every time.

  • by Pinball Wizard ( 161942 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:43PM (#2872486) Homepage Journal
    The online bargains were another symptom of the dot-coms that are mostly gone now. They were there because these people would do just about anything to bring people to their web sites. In other words, they lost money on every sale but made up for it in volume.

    The death of these businesses has been a good thing for my online bookstore [page1book.com], which is an addition to a business that has been around for twenty years. Now we can reasonably compete with fair prices, whereas before it was hard because of all the damn giveaways and businesses selling merchandise at a loss.

    Its not a good thing for the economy in general if you have a bunch of businesses blowing through venture capital by selling their merchandise at a loss or giving it away. But that was the business plan for a great many merchants trying to establish themselves online. Good riddance, I say.

    • In other words, they lost money on every sale but made up for it in volume.

      What you meant to say was that they lost money on every sale and compounded it with volume.
  • by Rayonic ( 462789 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:44PM (#2872489) Homepage Journal
    To JCPenny this Saturday and Sunday!

    Everything in the store is marked down 0.05%!

    (no, that is not a typo)
  • by xonker ( 29382 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:45PM (#2872493) Homepage Journal
    You can still get some decent deals on line (Computergeeks.com [computergeeks.com], anyone?) but overall you're not going to save a great deal on the MSRP online -- unless you're bargain hunting or the site is running a promotion.

    Companies finally realized that they can't survive on razor-thin and non-existant margins. The stores that thrive on the 'Net will be ones that offer things that can't be easily found locally -- like the stuff at PCMods, ThinkGeek and all kinds of collector goods. It's also easier to set up a distribution system online for products that don't have a wide appeal, so only producing and shipping a small number makes sense. (Computer badges come to mind...)

    Playing the pricing game doesn't really help in the long run -- the stores don't make enough to survive, and it hurts the companies who make the products. If people get used to the idea, for example, that they can buy Red Hat at cost they'll be reluctant to pay full price -- ever. If online stores run enough promotions, people simply learn to wait for the next deep discount instead of buying when they want the product.

    I still prefer to do my shopping for many things online (books, computer parts) but I'd rather browse when looking for CDs or clothing.
  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:46PM (#2872498) Journal
    In other words, the market of potential buyers is growing, but prices are leveling off. Wood postulates that the market "depth" is increasing, meaning the Internet is attracting more -- and more sophisticated -- buyers and sellers. The result is that prices quickly reach the optimal market level, and items rarely go for much above or below that price point.

    I can remember a lady at a coffee shop who started selling more cakes of a specific kind when she raised the price. Same product. The perception of the product was that it must not be any good if it was being sold cheaply, but it was alright if it came close to the expected price point.

    Of course, with databases, etc, you can quickly find the optimal price point for almost any product online, from a sellers point of view.

    Of course, experts know how to do better.

    • I know of a study that researchers went to a shopping mall with two jars. One was full of cookies, and the other had only one or two.

      They were the same cookie, but people answered that the ones that came from the jar with less cookies were more delicious.

      That's a classic for anyone who went to college and studied Advertisement (like I did for 2 years), but it's always worth to remember.

      And of course, you can enlarge this 'rule' to several other areas. Diamonds/gold are expensive because they are rare. And brunnete women are hotter in Sweden because the predominant feminine type there is blond.

      Anyway, the article is temporal. Sophisticated customers is, if true, at maximum, a temporary effect. More and more 'common' people are using the internet, and this trend will only continue to rise in the future.

      And you know, despite what many people think, most rich people do NOT spend a lot of money. On contrary, they SAVE a lot. There are a lot of more millionaries in the world than the guy from your school that got a expensive car from his daddy. And the tip Nr. 1 from these abundant but hidden rich people is: "Save every penny".

      I think the study made by Charles Wood had such fallacy on it, and what in fact happened is that he justified the higher prices with a limited cause, and not the contrary. That's usually not how decent social researchs are done.
      • Diamonds/gold are expensive because they are rare

        Actually, gold isn't rare, it just costs more to extract it from seawater than it's worth. Aluminium used to be more valuable than gold, but once a way was discovered (by two people, independently, at about the same time) to cheaply extract it from bauxite, its value dropped.

        Diamond supply is similarly well controlled - primarily because the suppliers have more to gain by higher prices than by flooding the market.

        Oil producers, however, stand to gain more by cheating on qoutas, which is why it's hard to maintain cartel prices.

        And brunnete women are hotter in Sweden because the predominant feminine type there is blond.

        Sounds like an arbitrage opportunitty - we ship you brunettes, you ship us blondes.

  • www.pricewatch.com
    and sometimes amazon.com

    I buy books at amazon and it's cheaper than the bookstore, even with shipping. The others have the cheapest computer stuff around.

    The only reason to buy something on ebay is if you can't get it anywhere else. Like collector's items, or imported goods. And in those cases it's ok to pay over retail price.

    There have always been idiots who would pay twice as much to get the newest video game system the first day it came out. But now there is a place in which they can actually get it.

    The internet still has bargains, you just have to know where to look.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:47PM (#2872506)
    How about paying $30 for shipping a dimm? Maybe people got fed up with that shit. Lots of places have 'low prices' until you get to the checkout, and there's an ass-reaming shipping and handling charge. It's usually easy to tell: they won't quote shipping "until you finalize your order" because they know you won't bother. They hope to catch the "oops, I didn't read that" crowd.
  • Market stabalization (Score:3, Interesting)

    by standards ( 461431 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:47PM (#2872507)
    Retailers just can't sell at a lost. Their is a lot of competition. In addition, product manufacturers can't sell items at a loss.

    But when the market is in flux, all rules are off. Retailers may sell at a loss, and manufacturers might "dump" product onto the marketplace (in lieu of sending it to a landfill, as they often do).

    With the Internet economy what it is, retailers aren't willing to sell at a loss for market share, and the tech economy is in a somewhat conservative state (for now).

    So no agressive price cuts, but no outrageous prices.

    Except for MS Office, of course.
  • I get about a buyer every two weeks in eBay that buys one of my items for twice retail. However, judging by the high number page views (but not bids) in those auctions, it is clear that most people comparison-shop agressively and don't blindly bid on the first search result.

    I also agree about finding less bargains around, as it's been hard to find new sources of eBay resellable items on the web.
  • by BlindSpot ( 512363 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @01:55PM (#2872547)
    I see this as a sign that online shopping is starting to become less of a novelty and more of an everyday thing.

    Lots of those online price breaks were to encourage people to try online shopping. As more and more people start to buy online, the need to offer incentives goes down and the need to actually profit from online business goes up. It's a classic ploy that even Homer Simpson recognized: "Get us addicted then jack up the price!"

    As for the auction sites, it shows to me that sellers are starting to take them seriously. In the past people might have put up a bit of old junk to see how the auction site worked. If it sold for next to nothing, that was okay - chock it up to research. Now, sellers know there are people out there willing to pay for hard-to-find, high demand items, and they set their minimum bids accordingly.

    Of course this quasi-recession we're in isn't helping matters, but I think that's only a small part of it. To me this is just the natural evolution of doing business online.
  • ebay (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I have found many good things on ebay for cheap like
    30 port 10/100 Rackmount switch = 30 bucks
    complete HP Jornada still in box = 100 bucks
    it takes alot of looking around but if you spend enough time waiting and watching you can find a heck of alot for nothing near the retail price.
  • The truth of the matter is, more people are willing to pay extra to get quality. Case in point: my first online purchase (2 years ago) was a CD burner, and I bought it from the retailer who had the cheapest price. Three months later, still without my CD burner, the company (TheBigStore.com) was out of business, and my $200 was gone.

    Now when I buy online, I don't even bother looking for the cheapest price, because I want to know I will recieve my product. I order from reputable big-name companies such as Amazon and WalMart.
    • The truth of the matter is, more people are willing to pay extra to get quality. Case in point: my first online purchase (2 years ago) was a CD burner, and I bought it from the retailer who had the cheapest price. Three months later, still without my CD burner, the company (TheBigStore.com) was out of business, and my $200 was gone.

      You never just buy from whoever has the cheapest Pricewatch entry. I've bought plenty of stuff from vendors who list their prices with Pricewatch, but I always cross-reference a vendor with its score at ResellerRatings [resellerratings.com] to get a feel for whether the company in question is on the up-and-up. Since I've started checking prices this way, I've gotten reasonable prices and I've never been burned.

      I had a set of scripts that would search Pricewatch for an item and ResellerRatings for vendor scores, and then merge the two together so that you'd get scores alongside prices. I'm not sure if it'd still work, since it relies on screen-scraping (HTML parsing, really) to extract data from the two websites. (A quick check indicated that the sites have changed enough that the scripts would need to be fixed.)

  • Market Trends (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Afreet1 ( 224290 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @02:04PM (#2872583)
    From what I have seen, the trends of online retailers seems to mimic their brick and mortar counterparts.

    What I mean by this is that for high turnover items (moves fast into and off of the virtual shelves in terms of sales volume), like new software, DVDs, PS2 games and CD-R blanks, will be almost identically priced. In fact the real storefront is sometimes cheaper when you take taxes/shipping into account. (note: this doesn't take into account rebates)

    For items that aren't as fast to sell like older computer hardware or even new hardware that has a fast obsolescence track, online stores have the advantage for their own savings since it doesn't cost them as much to store the old inventory. In some cases the retail environment will be in such a rush to get rid of the equipment they will drop prices a lot lower than they should, just to clear space. Couple this with the fact that as a full chain of stores they have better bargaining power with the manufacturers and can get lower initial prices.

    What this means is that for normal transactions an online store can sell older stuff for cheaper and sustain that price, but when new product lines come out, the physical storefront may or may not have a greater discount, depending on how well they manager their warehouses.

    Basically we are in a situation where all of the discounts of online business are lost on the items that we buy the most, and they no longer have a nest egg of excess cash to pay for significant price differences.

  • Impact of RIAA? (Score:2, Informative)

    by AndyMan! ( 31066 )
    One thing the author didn't touch on is the power of the RIAA. I wonder what kind of leway the RIAA gives distributers in pricing CD's? Rather then looking at CD's, the author should've discussed home electronics. Bizrate [bizrate.com] is a great example of bargains available online. I once bought a Sony camcorder that retails at the Sony Store for $1,800 - I bought it through Bizrate for $800 - a whole $1000 cheaper!
  • by Malc ( 1751 )
    I've been looking for a Philips Pronto remote control recently. I've participated in several eBay.ca auctions, but everytime people have bidded the item up to US$190... why bother considering there is a "buy it now" option for $199 with a bonus leather case, or it can be purchased from the seller's web side for $189?! Some people really need to be hit around the head with a clue stick. I guess the bidder's are more interested in participating in an auction than actually get a good bargain.
    • I've seen both sides of this.

      On one hand, when I sold my 1st Edition AD&D DragonLance Campaign hardcover, I got *triple* the cover price (I can't imagine this was collectible, folks). On the other hand, I just participated in an auction for a new set of taillights for my car (don't let the neighborhood kids ride their bikes near your car) and had it bid up well over the MSRP for replacement parts from your local Ford dealer.

      People on eBay ain't so bright. Moral of the story? Sell on eBay, don't buy.

  • by fleener ( 140714 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @02:16PM (#2872622)
    The one thing that was missed is the ever-increasing number of morons who will pay full-retail price + 20% for things on eBay."

    Bypassing the obvious trollish nature of the word "morons," allow me to educate you. People who live in rural areas cannot walk down to the corner Wal*Mart, Kmart or Target to buy cheap crap. Contrary to popular believe, box stores have not infiltrated every city and town yet. Some people have to drive 100 miles or 6 hours, whichever is more inconvenient.

    Much of this cheap crap is not sold online, so these people must use sites like Ebay to buy products that are otherwise unavailable to them. Paying more on Ebay is cheaper than the alternative.
    • by elmegil ( 12001 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @04:20PM (#2873161) Homepage Journal
      You mean the alternative of buying the product at full list (instead of full list + 20%) from an ONLINE RETAILER?

      Who's the moron again?

  • by studboy ( 64792 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @02:18PM (#2872633) Homepage
    There was a spate of people posting "XBox box"es on ebay -- the description clearly said "this is the box the XBox came in, the console is sold seperately." Now, I can see one or two people bidding or something, but these auctions, and there were quite a few, got over a *dozen* bids each! Into the several hundred dollar range! For an empty box!

    This got a lot of press at fark.com, so people started posting spam auctions. One was for a normal carboard box with an X posted on it [theregister.co.uk], saying "this is not an XBox". It went to $130 until ebay pulled it!
    • Stupid bidders is not a new phenomina. Last live action I went to to pick up a bicycle, a cheap "Norco" ended up going for about 3/4's of it's retail price. The more expensive (new) "Specialized" bike that I bought went for about the same price as the Norco - about 1/3rd of the new price.

      The difference on eBay is you have a huge bidding population, so there are more stupid bidders out there that will pay more than an item is worth.

      Items like Xbox have a lot more stupid bidders than say, Cisco Routers, IMHO. I don't think the empty Cisco Router box auction would work. Then again, someone could be desparate for an original box to ship it in...

  • The State of DVD (Score:3, Informative)

    by Murdock037 ( 469526 ) <tristranthorn@nOspAm.hotmail.com> on Sunday January 20, 2002 @02:28PM (#2872662)
    The one thing for which I ever shopped online was DVDs, and the market has simply DRIED UP.

    I used to be particularly fond of reel.com and dvdexpress.com. The former offered some really spectacular deals-- mostly "loss leaders" on major titles (I remember getting "The Matrix" for $12.49) so they could attract the unsure, never-shopped-online buyer, particularly on pre-orders. (It was the equivalent of CompUSA offering a $500 computer on the front page of their flyer, so that the casual customer might be tempted to wander in.) The latter site had generally better prices on the everyday titles. Comparison shop and you'd find great deals, typically better than with retail stores (even with shipping factored in).

    The situation these days is terrible. Reel went bust and became a front for buy.com. Buy offered less impressive prices, but it was still sometimes better than shopping in the "real" world. That fell through, or something, and now Reel is a front for 800.com. It's not even worth the time to look.

    DVDexpress is even worse. Like most of the rest of express.com, they just sort of stopped shipping product for a good long while as they figured out their financial situations, then reopened their store some time later-- with the kind of prices you'd expect to pay at Suncoast.

    These days, if I'm looking to buy a new DVD, I'll most likely drive to Best Buy. They're not always the cheapest sticker price, but shipping isn't a factor, and except in particularly rare cases, this means the final cost is less. I've found that the websites attached to retail stores-- bestbuy.com, circuitcity.com, and so on-- always sync their prices with their real-world counterparts, so they're only useful if you're wondering how much you're going to pay when you get to the store.

    The only beacon of hope? I'm in love with deepdiscountdvd.com. They have some screwy prices at first glance, sometimes even a buck, buck and a half more than the other sites, but this is because they also offer "free shipping:" you're going to pay exactly what you see. The site is particularly nice when it comes to, surprise surprise, pre-orders. My hope is that they don't sell out to one of the larger online retailers, because then shopping online would become exactly what we're all afraid of for the net: it'd be nothing more than a counterpart to a small assortment of large real-world corporations.

    I really miss the old days, when those of us willing to brave online shopping were treated to unreal deals just because the sites needed to get attention. This is what ate the sites alive, I'm sure, but damn if I don't love the idea of getting cheaper movies because of some sucker venture capitalist.

    And don't even get me started on shopping for books online.
    • $12.49 for The Matrix? I think I paid $5 shipped! If you have time to waste (hell, you're posting here, you do) visit dvdtalk.com's DVD Bargains [dvdtalk.com] forum. All the hot stuff is gone like you say but I'm sure you'll find some sweet deals... The key is to check it every couple days or read back in the forum to see what kind of deals have come up in the last couple weeks/months.
  • It will only take one well-placed cover story in Time or Newsweek to blow the cover off of the ongoing scam that is web auctions, and with the number of Americans testing the waters of these services, its going to happen soon.

    As is obvious now, more often than not, unsuspecting consumers will end up paying more than retail for a used product. Who knows, maybe they are paying a premium for the excitement of bidding...but thats a stretch. More likely they simply aren't aware that the product is available for less, brand new.

    Also, many sellers are no longer individuals or hobbyists, but professional middle men. I personally know of people who buy in bulk at Fry's and then move the merchandies on EBay, once again, for a profit. This trend has taken the fun out of web auctions and has turned it into a volume operation.

    • Also, many sellers are no longer individuals or hobbyists, but professional middle men. I personally know of people who buy in bulk at Fry's and then move the merchandies on EBay, once again, for a profit.

      I don't like profiteers that don't add value any more than it looks like you do, but if the seller buying stuff at Fry's and turning it for a profit is making it available to people who don't have access to the temple that is Fry's (me, for example), why shouldn't he be entitled to make money doing it?

      • if the seller buying stuff at Fry's and turning it for a profit is making it available to people who don't have access to the temple that is Fry's (me, for example), why shouldn't he be entitled to make money doing it?

        Didn't you just describe a distributor? This isn't profiteering, it's just normal business. Profiteering would be those Coke machines that tied the price to the temperature.

    • Nothing wrong with buying at Frys and selling on ebay. Just the same as playing elite in real life without the Thargon attacks.
  • by JojoLinkyBob ( 110971 ) <joeycato@noSPam.gmail.com> on Sunday January 20, 2002 @02:32PM (#2872678) Homepage
    Yes, finding a good bargain online nowadays is like finding a piece of hay in a stack of needles.

    Here are links I always use when Pay Day comes around. Some of them aren't rock-bottom deals, but they are quite reasonable (i.e. better than Best Buy):

    Computer Stuff
    Video Games
    www.bookpool.com (they have more used i think) Price Comparison

    I'd love to hear from others on this, I wouldn't mind saving more! :)

    • Re: Books

      Bookpool [bookpool.com] is invariably the cheapest source for Computer books (I recently bought Effective STL by Scott Myers for 20% off list, and Modern C++ Design by Andrei Alexandrescu, also for 20% off list.

      You might also check out MyCheapBook.com [mycheapbook.com] for effective price comparison (although it doesn't examine bookpool).

  • Arbitrage (Score:3, Informative)

    by rlp ( 11898 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @02:40PM (#2872718)
    arbitrage Attempting to profit by exploiting price differences of identical or similar financial instruments, on different markets or in different forms.

    When buyers have limited information on pricing, sellers can charge a wide range of prices in different locales. As better communications and hence better pricing information becomes available, prices become more uniform. This is initially due to arbitrage (buying a commodity where it is priced low, and reselling somewhere else at a higher price). Later sellers are forced to make their prices more uniform to compete effectively.

    A similar effect happened over a hundred and fifty years ago with the invention of the telegraph (see The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage). The Internet initially allowed consumers to a) gain pricing information instantly across the world and b) order goods priced far lower than those available locally. Anecdotally, I've noticed local prices of computer parts at local retailers used to be consistently higher than on-line prices. This is no longer true, frequently I can get better buys from local retailers.

  • The reason is that despite what Amazon.com and the others want to tell you, the web is a less efficient way to shop than in a major store.

    Why is this? Shipping. It makes a lot more sense to ship 1000 items to the store and have individuals pick them up than it does to have 1000 items shipped to 800 different locations in 900 different packages.

    Once real-world stores start having online shopping and real-world pick-up, the prices will fall again.

  • I both buy and sell first edition science fiction, fantasy, horror and slipstream [eff.org] on both www.abebooks.com [abebooks.com] (as Lame Excuse Books) and occasionally on eBay (as lawrenceperson). With something like 8,500 other dealers on ABE, it's quite easy to find bargins, since you can compare by price. For reading copies of bestsellers, you can find many things at quarter-price or less. For really desirable first editions, the price of course will be higher, but 99% of the time you can usually find a rare book in nice condition for less than it would cost you at a local bookshop, assuming you can find it at all. (For a couple of random examples, there are currently five copies of H. P. Lovecraft's The Outsider and Others (the first Arkham House book) listed there, as well as eight hardback copies of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash.)

    eBay, on the other hand, is an entirely different can of worms. Buyers (and, alas, sellers) range from the very knowledgeable to the completely ignorant. For science fiction first editions, most of the people I know on there will open another window and search for a particularly interesting item on ABE before bidding on eBay. But there are many people who will bid several times what an item is listed for on ABE just because they don't know about the latter.

    This is not to say that ABE has completely replaced the local speciality bookseller. For example, I still buy quite a few things at Adventures in Crime and Space [crimeandspace.com], Austin's local SF shop, because I know the owners, its convienant, and many times you see things browsing that you wouldn't know to look for. But many speciality shops are themselves on ABE, especially given the tough post 9/11 business climate.

    A free bookbuying tip: Many times, the exact same copy of a used book listed on ABE will show up on Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com, but at 2-5 times the price listed on ABE. That's because ABE has "affiliate" programs that allow such books to be listed on those services, but B&N and Amazon always jack the price up to give themselves a hefty profit margin.

    As for conclusions beyond the world of books: Whenever possible, use search engines that give you listings from many different dealers. (It also helps if you have a service like ABE that kicks dealers off if they receive too many complaints.)

  • I've been reading the sunday paper this morning in front of my computer with my digital convergence CueCat:, and I keep swiping the ads- no deals! What's up with that?

    Oh well, at least I can still check the price of transistors at radio shack with my free barcode rea^H^H^H CueCat:!

    I tried running my cuecat: across a printout of slashdot's website, and it took me to some weird goat site, not sure what's up with that...
  • Especially for the digital cameras, I mean, I know Ebay is a cool experience, bidding, winning and all that, but paying MORE than what it's worth, I wonder if these people are the same that are suffering from the gambling problems (like those who get ruined in casinos or with videopoker machines).

    Anything that is video/digital but light (shipping) is really crazy on ebay. I was looking for a DLP projector instead of buying a huge ass tv, the amount of video projectors that I saw completed or some of the reserve prices were so crazy, the thing is USED and I could get a refurb unit from the manufacturer CHEAPER with a warranty and a new light bulb! This is just too "x-file" for my understanding, I can understand for a 50$ joycam digital camera, no hassles and you get it, but when it's in the 4 digits, usually, unless you're rich or not spending your own money, you'd tend to shop a bit to see the prices and compare... if you're rich enough to buy something in the 4 digits without even shopping for it first usually you can afford a new unit... this is why I'm wondering if these people are actually morons or it goes deeper than this (like gambling problems), ah anyways, the only thing I can say is: good for the sellers :)
    • I can think of a couple good examples right now, related directly to photography equipment, where you're not quite correct.

      1. I've been researching a good DV capable camcorder to purchase. (Got a kid on the way, and I think it makes sense to get something to film the baby.) I limited myself to camcorders in the "under $1000" range, because I simply can't afford more than that. Basically, I concluded that Sony makes some of the best DV camcorders, but current models are $1200+ each. The PRC-730 happens to be a last year's model that's in my price range (when you can find one), and meets all of my qualifications. I keep seeing them on eBay with starting bids in the $400 range, but bid to around $700-800 by the close of the auction. I thought maybe eBayers were just over-paying for this thing, until I checked pricewatch.com and called around. The camera stores advertising clearance pricing on this camcorder want around $690-790 which sounds better *until* you find out they're typically selling the Japanese version. It's "grey market" in the U.S. so has no warranty, and the manuals are in Japanese! All of them I've seen on eBay have been the real U.S. version with 1 year factory warranty, so score one for eBay being superior!

      2. I have a Sony Mavica FD-81 digital camera I'm ready to sell. It's in like-new condition with real light use. Paid about $700 for it when it was new, only a year or so ago. I can see letting it go for about half what I paid, new. On eBay, nobody's bidding over $130 or so for these things right now! What the h*ll?? I'd be really pissed if someone bought my FD-81 for less than the cheapest of the clearance megapixel cameras sells for at the store! For under $200, I'd rather just hang onto it. I sure don't see these "dumb eBay bidders" bidding 20% over retail on the FD-81!
  • There are plenty of sites with deals, I am surpised no one mentioned any of the great coupon sites like dealcatcher.com [dealcatcher.com]
  • There are a ton of "Hot Deals" and "Bargain" sites on the net that can help you get some sweet, sweet deals. Of course they also turn you into compulsive shoppers ...

    The following sites offer deals usually involving coupons/rebates/price mistakes on websites. Some of the cooler deals I've gotten:

    Free HP Deskjet 930C via Estamps rebates.
    5 Belkin PCI 100mbit NICs for 81 cents each
    $30 16X CD-RW
    And more... go forth... and spend!


    or if you like to go right to the source, most of the above sites patrol these forums and post the good ones:
    http://www.fatwallet.com/forums/categories.cfm?c at id=18
    http://forums.anandtech.com/categories.cfm?catid =4 0
  • Always check out the vendor's Reseller Ratings [resellerratings.com] and take a look at the comments. If you find a good price, make sure you know other people's issues (or praises). Anytime I hit a new vendor, I always check them out first...
  • A lot of people have the misconception that things online are "a little bit cheaper" but that the shipping cost out-weighs that discount. While this is often true for things like books and CD's, it is not the case for bigger ticket items, espcially if things can be bought online out-of-state so that you don't have to pay sales tax. You forfeit the immediate gratification of buying your product and bringing it home, but sometimes the money you save in not paying sales tax can save you enough that you can get next day delivery and still save money. Plus you don't have to drive your car to the store, find parking, fight through the crowds, wait in line, etc.
  • Gotapex.com (Score:2, Interesting)

    One of my favorite sites for finding deals is Got Apex [gotapex.com]. He scours the net every day for bargains, usually on computer and A/V equipment. I have found some incredible deals from this page. It is updated frequently and worth checking out daily.

    (I'm not associated in any way with the site, blah blah...)

  • by Darth_Burrito ( 227272 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @04:41PM (#2873254)
    I don't know about anyone else, but I've never trusted online bargains. Once I was trying to order some parts off of pricewatch and came across a series of companies that were lowering their prices at night when the store was closed and raising them when the stores opened. The only way to get the pricewatch price was to call and mention the current price. However there was no way to place an order over the phone when the store was closed. When I asked about getting last midnight's price, they refused and would not comment on their pricing scheme.

    Another time, I tried ordering a computer kit online (pricewatch), I was about to give him my credit card number when he suggested I upgrade to their special CPU cooler which was "better" than the one that came with their product. I asked him if there was something wrong with the cpu cooler that came with it and he said that while the cpu cooler that came with it was perfectly good, it only consisted of a fan. I spoke with him a few minutes to try and figure out exactly what he meant and determined the actual cpu cooler included in his 1.33GHz Athlon kit was somehow without a heatsink. Click.

    Yet another time, in a fit of insanity, I decided to order a new video card online saving about $60. Everything went smoothly, I ordered from a company in California for about $270 (US). A week and a half later, it arrived with a return address somewhere in Brazil. I have no idea what I would of had to do had the product been defective (thank god it wasn't), but I'm sure it would have been hell.

    Perhaps, bad experiences online have driven consumers away from these vendors and forced the online retailers to raise prices. Maybe most of the bargains out there never really existed anyway. As a kid scrounging for money to buy stuff, it sometimes makes sense. As a professional with a decent salary, buying online often isn't worth the risk.
    • I don't know about anyone else, but I've never trusted online bargains

      I, too, rarely trust online bargains. When I want a deal to go down well, I'll spend some time getting the best price and then take that price to CDW. They've never turned down a price match I've brought to them.

      I learned to do that when I was 14, and buying a Commodore 1571 drive. When everyone was selling it for $160, I found a magazine ad that I swear had to be a typo.. $45 instead of what should've been $145. I brought it to a local store that did price matching, and they honored it! I always view online buying as "first find the best price, and then find the best retailer".

      I just recently started trying out eCost. So far, so good, but I haven't tried any price matching on them.
  • Where did all the good /. threads go?
  • I was just wondering if anyone agrees that a big reason web technologies haven't really taken off yet in the b2b and auction markets are the pricing pressures those technologies put on the retailers. By now, businesses weren't supposed to be sending paper invoices anymore -- they were supposed to be autodiscovering each other in some global PKI directory and using XML and SOAP for billing and payments.

    Technology companies have been pushing the cost savings in the new way to do business, and the new ease in finding the lowest prices available. But it seems the retailers are slow to adopt because it would mean making life much easier for consumers to find the best prices.

    Imagine a Pricewatch that had fully automated pricing and one-click buying. We were supposed to be there a couple years ago.
  • perhaps meatspace prices just dropped a bit to equal online prices?

    I can't see a clear reason why online sales should be cheaper than in-store sales. Where does the cost saving come into play?

    If the net has done anything, it's helped globalizes prices. You don't get as much region to region fluctuation in retail items anymore. (I didn't say NO fluctuation, just less. There is still plenty)

    As for people paying retail +20%, absolutely.
    I saw a guy selling silver maple leafs (1 troy oz silver bullion, Canadian Mint) for market price + 50%. And people were buying.. because it was a 'collectors item'(It's not, it's silver bullion that you can pick up at a bazillion outlets at spot price)
  • I think one of the big trends, in this economy, is to discount only through mail-in rebates. That way, the store gets the full price for the product they sell, and the manufacturer can defer taking the hit of selling at discount. (Think of all the extra interest they earn on their money if they stall sending out all those rebate checks, instead of selling at a loss to the stores, up-front.)

    Furthermore, it seems to be popular to "hide" the rebate notices and forms, so only the truly savvy shopper can take advantage of them. I just bought an Epson Stylus Photo printer, only to discover there was a $50 mail-in rebate on it when I looked around on Epson's web site. The Officemax store I bought the printer at had no knowledge of the rebate. Then, I got a new cellphone last week, and found out from a message forum on the Inet that Kyocera was doing a $50 rebate on it, too. Unfortunately, the only known place to get this rebate form was in the back of a particular issue of a mobile computing magazine! I had to run to CompUSA and buy the magazine to get the form.

    I guess my point is this: Bargains are still out there, expecially on computers and electronics. It's just that now, you have to use the net as more of a research tool to find out where and how to get the discounts. It's not so much that a web-based store will sell you something dirt cheap, outright.
  • In fact, they're in my tagline. Updated 3-5+ times a day. Check it out and consider a bookmark.
  • half.com [half.com]. Go to your college bookstore, look at book prices, and then go to half.com. Then go and tell me that there's no deals out there. What a way for a college student to save cash!
  • As with any "real-world" store, you just have to know where to look and how to shop around. Say, for example, that I want to buy a new DVD. My first stop would be BizRate.com. There I get not only price comparisons, but store ratings as well. (I'm willing to pay a buck or two more to get the DVD from a reputable place.) I then shop online at a few other places (Half.com, BestBuy.com) and even drive to a few real stores (BJ's Wholesale club for example). I factor in tax and/or shipping and figure out who has the best price. When I've found the best place to buy it, be it website or normal store, I buy it there. By doing this, I can save some pretty good cash. For example, I bought 3 used music CDs -- which were as good as new except for one which had a cracked case -- for less than $40 on Half.com. Retail these would have cost me over $55. (And I'm sure the RIAA would have fits if they knew I was buying used CDs instead of giving them more money by buying new ones. ;-) )
  • www.ebaystores.com/ibm [ebaystores.com] - IBM's brand new equipment with warranty where they sell for 1/2 the price sometimes.

    www.overstock.com [overstock.com] - Overstock.com... lots of good stuff for cheap with a flat rate on shipping of $3.95 no matter how much you put in the box

    flamingoworld.com [flamingoworld.com] - Great place to find coupons and such

  • People who pay over retail are usually people with bad credit or teenagers who do not have a credit card. I sell PS2 games after I get tired of them, and I always get near or more than full retail for them. They will get a money order at a convenience store because they have no other way to pay.
  • Pricewatch [pricewatch.com], of course.

    Also, Nextag [nextag.com]. Similar to Pricewatch, but has more than just computer related items.
  • I recently ran across MWave Direct [mwave.com] while searching for goods via Bizrate [bizrate.com]. MWave seems to have very competitive prices and reasonable shipping (I purchased a 21" monitor and a SCSI Card). I've paid less to them with shipping than I could find online or at local hardware retailers.


  • by slaker ( 53818 ) on Sunday January 20, 2002 @08:51PM (#2874160)
    Last month I was in the market for a new stereo receiver. I looked on Ebay - found what I wanted (an Onkyo TX-DS696) at a decent price ($600 - it retails for around $800). Put in my max bid... and watched it close $200 above retail, with 75% of the bidding in the last two minutes of the auction.
    Rather than paying $800 or $1000 for what I wanted, I emailed the guy selling the receiver I had just lost. He offered to sell me the receiever for his shop's actual retail price of $650 + actual shipping. Sweet. I got it two days later, double boxed and in perfect shape.
    I've since bought an SACD player the same way.

    WAY better than dealing with the morons on Ebay.

At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens that person is carrying.