Science of Search: Finding Bargains Online
By Bill Tancer, Time

Thursday, Sep. 06, 2007

If you've been asking yourself why you aren't rich or don't have more disposable income, perhaps the answer isn't about how much money you're making. Internet behavior appears to indicate that it may have more to do with how much you're saving.

The Web, with its wealth of information on almost any conceivable topic, has also become a resource for finding the best possible price on products ranging from high-end LCD televisions to cans of tuna. As pricing data becomes more prevalent on the net, Internet users get ever closer to perfect information. That information in turn reduces almost any consumer good to a commodity. Why wouldn't everyone search for the absolute lowest price on every purchase?

The visitors to sites that deal in bargains, deals and discussions on how to get the most from in-store rebates, sites such as and, reveal a very interesting statistic. These sites are not populated by lower-income Internet users that need to stretch their dollars to the max; it's actually the opposite. Visitors to these two sites hail from some of the wealthiest segments of Internet users. Of Fat Wallet users for example, 32% earn between $60,000 and $100,000 per year while 13.9% earn between $100,000 and $150,000. The same thing is happening at, a site that provides you money back for all purchases with affiliated retailers; over 23% of visitors to that site earn over $100,000 per year.

Comparison shopping engines show the same trend; their most popular visitor segments tend to be young wealthy urbanites, not the middle- to lower-income Internet users that could benefit the most from savings on high-consideration purchases.

Search term data provides more insight into where affluent users are looking for savings. Their searches (those containing "cheap," "discount," or "bargain") are dominated by travel-related terms such as "cheap airline tickets," "cheap hotels," "cheap cruises" and car rentals. Searches for electronics, autos and other expensive items are less likely to be preceded by a deal "qualifier." This focus on travel may be due to the fact that consumers expect the greatest room for price fluctuations when booking flights, hotels and rental cars.

So what sites are lower income Internet users visiting? Again, you might be a little surprised. Browsing the top shopping sites visited by Internet users in the lowest income groups include sites that trade in exotic cars, expensive apparel brands and high-end electronics. Perhaps these searches are aspirational. But what about what is considered by most to be a necessity today — a simple, basic cell phone?

One site that appears on the list is the Apple iPhone site. The iPhone, an amazing device in its own right, is also one of the most expensive cell phones on the market; its 8GB model topped the scales at $599 when the iPhone was released in June. Yet as of last week, the income segment with the highest percentage of visitors to the iPhone site was 18 to 24 years of age, earning less than $30,000 per year. Could Steve Jobs have been aware of that when he lowered the price of the 8GB iPhone to $399 on Wednesday? We can only guess. But in this case, he has certainly made more than a few bargain-hunters happy.

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