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From non-existence to ubiquity: comparison websites

Since the mid-1990s, the trend as been to move industry and shops online.Who remembers that eBay, Amazon and Pizza Hut launched their sites in 1995?The biggest challenge of shopping online at that time was to find an online presence of a company one wanted to buy something from, as it was unthinkably uncommon for quite some time.

A great many of the most successful sites then, like eBay, initially put private people in touch with one another, surpassing companies entirely not dissimilar to the way Airbnb or Uber are doing nowadays. But after businesses saw the opportunities for online commerce, the internet suddenly became the biggest conceivable bazaar in human history. Flooded with choice and paralysed by opportunity, the goal of the new online economy was no longer putting people in touch, nor even visiting a digital shop. With so many companies online it was becoming more important to compare services—a new online industry in its own right. By 2010 Consumer Reports was already comparing comparison sites, as it has become such a prominent part of how people shop online.

Nowadays, it’s seemingly automatic for most online customers to use comparison sites and tips traded among friends include what airfare comparison sites are yielding the most savings (or flying to the most desirable holiday locations). Beyond “there being an app for that”—whatever “that” happens to be!—there’s a comparison site for that it seems, whose soleraison d’être is to provide quality products and services or bargain basement prices to their users.

For nearly everything there seems to be a tool to help one get what one whats. One of the top comparison sites for auto sales in Canada, for example, is Unhaggle. The user simply enters all their specific requirements and desire regarding their desired car into the site, the average price for that product in their area is shown, and then dealers make competing offers.

It’s not just thebig-ticket items such as cars that have caused digital entrepreneurs to turn to comparison sites. A quick visit to shows that even the entertainment industry is keen on people getting the most out of their money. They mark online casinos on criteria like the quality of the games, the various banking possibilities as well as the frequency and quality of promotions and bonuses offered to players. 

The trend isn’t by any stretch of the imagination unique to North America though, which has often been at the forefront of e-commerce. The UK’s Parcel2Go for example provides people with the various options for posting parcels round the UK and the world.

The unpredictability of new markets such as the internet is always interesting to watch not for their development themselves but for the effects they have on other industries. In 1995 it might have sounded insane to think that websites whose sole function was product and service comparison would become such a stable of our shopping habits and online economy.


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