Applying The Hunter-Gatherer Method To Online Shopping

A friend was complaining about how slow her online sales were. She asked me to why I thought she was struggling to make her store profitable. I then shared with her how I buy goods and services online. She sells an item that people know, they just don’t know her or her brand. I told her that the way I shop online the same way her customers may be looking to find her store.

For my last purchase I knew what it was that I wanted – a knife sharperner (mother-in-law coming to visit and I wanted to be ready for her, in more ways than one), but I didn’t know what brand or model to buy. Each Thanksgiving reminded me that we haven’t had a sharp knife in our kitchen for a decade, or so, so I just decided to go out and buy a very good knife sharpener, not knowing anything about them.

I quickly found that knife sharpeners can range from $15 to $500 and have more brands than I could imagine. She asked what did I do to begin my online search.I told her that I used the typical “hunter/gatherer” method, but the lys-dexic version where I gather the information first, then hunt down the price.

Amazon Knife Sharpener Results
Amazon Knife Sharpener Results
Mike Heywood Hunter-Gatherer Photo

Mike Heywood Hunter-Gatherer Photo

Gather The Shopping Information First.1) I start with because they have the best user reviews. I rely heavily on these reviews, looking at the top, then the lowest rated customer comments. I also look at the distribution of comments, i.e., what percent are 5 star vs 1 star. More on that in a bit…

I enter my generic keyword phrase of knife sharpener and see which models and brands USERS have ranked the highest (just look for the stars in the results listing).

2) As I start to click on the top user brands I use the Amazon feature that shows what visitors either bought or looked at after visiting that page.

3) Next as I start to narrow down the model/brand I glance at the professional reviews but I focus on reading the user comments. As I was narrowing in on one model that was around $70-80, I then went and clicked on what visitors also looked at, which was two models up.



The first thing I noticed was that compared to other models, it had a lot of reviews (215) and 95%+ were 5 star reviews rather than a typical bell distribution of some good reviews and some bad.

Amazon Reviews Knife Sharpeners

Amazon Reviews Knife Sharpeners

4) The users reviews were very interesting – they were talking about knives that were higher end than I use, but I knew nothing about:

“When I bought my Henckels (not the el cheapo Henckels International, mind you), I was doubtful… but this sharpener works.”

“I am an Executive Chef and have worked in a kitchen for over 25 years. I purchased this sharpener about a month ago and so far I am very satisfied. ”

“I bought this knife sharpener because it is Cooking Illustrated’s highest rated power sharpener.”

“My 10 year old Henckel Knives are now the way there were the first day I bought them”

One person even wrote that while most people test for sharpness on a tomato, he always tests on an arm hair, to see if he can cut the hair without touching the skin, because if the edge is sharp enough, you don’t have to push down to the skin. He did include a disclaimer “don’t try this at home.”

The gathering phase was over.

Hunt For The Best Price

I was sold on this higher brand/model so I next go to a couple of the price comparison sites and eBay.

The comparison sites had prices similar to Amazon. At ebay I sort and quickly glance at the buy-it-now pricing and compare that to the Amazon and price comparison sites. I found about a $40 savings.

Next I went to the ebay feature that shows CLOSED auctions (read how to analyze closed eBay auctions as market research) and looked at the buy-it-now and auction final bids to decide if it is worth it to set up my ebay snipe program for this model or just buy it on the spot. I found that most of the final auction prices were within $5-10 of the lowest buy-it-now price, so I just found the lowest buy-it-now including shipping cost and bought from that supplier.

At eBay I always buy from someone who has over 100 feedbacks. This seller had about 900 sales and I received an email and tracking number a couple of hours later.

Was this the absolute correct buy for me and my household – probably, but possibly not. I am sure many people would know a better or cheaper option. But for my limited knowledge, and for the 15 minutes of research at my computer, it was probably a very good choice.

So, I told my friend, this is one type of strategy that customers are using to try and find “her store.” If you have a product that can be easily price compared and price is the main decision, you need recognize that people are shopping you this way. If you have a unique product (Christmas ornaments with pictures of your kids) you still need to be found by being listed in Amazon and ebay.

As an aside, over the years, I notice many “regular price” retailers also sell the exact same item on ebay for less. I am sure they do it just for the incremental income, but it is interesting that they will discount their item 10-30% on ebay versus their site price.

Yeah, yeah, I hear all those “but we have (pick one) service, history, competency, overhead” at our store people. That is surely important, but for many commodity type items (4GB flash drive, the latest DVD movie release) that isn’t enough to beat sheer price.

So, my question is to her was – how does your site compete against this strategy? I told her I did all that in less time that it took me to drive to her store. It actually took me longer to write this than to find and buy the sharpener…

I suggested that for her products she utilize both eBay and Amazon. And that even after selling fees and the like, additional sales would be a welcomed outcome.

Of course this method works for finding cheap helmets, low cost hiking boots, discount volleyball equipment or anything else you want to buy.

I now sling my “great price” over my shoulder and march back to my cave.