November 9, 2007, 12:00 AM

No comparison: web sites easily beat store prices on cameras and TVs

Consumers can save up to 87% by buying popular digital cameras and high-definition TVs online versus in stores, according to a survey by Digital Advisor LLC, which operates electronics comparison sites.

Consumers can save between 10% and 87% by buying digital cameras and high-definition televisions online versus in stores, according to a recent survey by Digital Advisor LLC, which operates four consumer electronics research web sites. And that includes the cost of shipping.

Digital Advisor conducted a similar survey on cameras four years ago when it launched its first site, digitalcamerahq.com, and found online prices typically 30% less than the best deal available in stores, says David Parker, CEO. After the launch six months ago of digitaladvisor.com, which provides information on TVs, the company decided to repeat the test, Parker says.

From focus groups the company has conducted, Parker says it is clear that consumers, even if they do research online, want to go into stores to see products like TVs. He has posted the results of the latest study on the company’s web sites in hopes of sending a message to consumers, namely, “We know you’re going to go into a store and look at the product, but try to restrain yourself from slapping that credit card down because there’s so much saving online.”

While Digital Advisor’s business is operating comparison shopping web sites, editor Mike Brady says he and two assistants made every effort to be fair in their comparison of offline and online prices. For the comparison of cameras, they chose products that are popular and widely available, and visited Best Buy, Circuit City, Target and Wal-Mart stores in Massachusetts, California and Michigan. Because some models of high-definition TVs are sold only in certain stores, the researchers selected products available at Best Buy, Circuit City and Target that are also available online.

To make sure the web prices were legitimate, Digital Advisor checked the ratings of the online merchants used in the survey from Shopping.com, which provides product data to Digital Advisor. Further checks were conducted at sites like Reseller Ratings where consumers can rate their online shopping experiences, and the Digital Advisor crew also checked the electronics sites themselves for signs of shady tactics, Brady says.

Brady says he is confident the survey results “accurately reflect the price differences between in-store and online sellers.”

In the survey of five digital camera models, the smallest price difference was for the Sony W55, which was available in stores for as little as $199 and online for $179, a price difference of 11%. For three other cameras the price difference ranged from 25% to 33% and for one camera the online price was as much as 87% lower than a store price.

Among the 14 TV models surveyed, the online price saving ranged from 9% to 74%, including the cost of shipping.

“It seems pretty clear to us,” Brady says, “there were major discrepancies between what a consumer can find in a store and what they could find online if they put some effort into it.”

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