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Study Finds Cut-Price Merchants Less Reliable

Remember that scene in “Guys and Dolls” where the band girl’s grandfather gets a screaming deal on a street watch? And then it turns out to be fake? Well, online merchants who use dollar signs and advertise low prices in search engine results may be the equivalent of that street vendor. Loud voice, low price, but if it breaks, you’re on your own.

Researchers in a recent University of Iowa study performed 243 internet searches on Google, Yahoo and Microsoft for digital cameras made by major manufacturers and sold online. They looked at how search engine results on the first few pages correlated to merchants’ BBB business reviews.

The study found that merchants who used dollar signs in their Google results earned markedly lower grades from the BBB. In addition, many of the merchants who appeared only in the paid results received low marks from the BBB. Iowa’s Professor Gautam Pant stresses that this doesn’t mean all retailers in the paid results are less reliable. But it does mean that merchants who can’t compete on reliability can get more visibility by paying for results.

Pant also found a correlation between lower price and lower reliability. “Merchants who can’t compete on service attract customers using the lure of a good deal,” he says.

Remember, reliability is an important consideration when making a major purchase. You can always Start With Trust by checking the company’s track record at www.bbb.org. Selecting a purchase on price alone can lead to trouble.

The study “Can visible cues in search results indicate vendors’ reliability?” was published recently in the journal Decision Support Systems.


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