Price Scraping Exposed: Who is at Risk and How to Prevent it?

March 28, 2024
5 min read

In the competitive e-commerce landscape, businesses face an ongoing threat known as price scraping. As the global online marketplace expands, so does this nefarious practice, which involves harvesting pricing data from websites. Opinions on the ethics of price scraping vary. While it may seem innocuous at first, there's a sinister intent behind this process. Competitors can exploit scraped prices to manipulate the market and undermine legitimate businesses. Explore our article to delve deeper into what price scraping entails, its detrimental effects, how it can impact your business, and most importantly – what you can do to prevent it.   

What is price scraping? 

Price scraping involves extracting pricing data from websites and online platforms using sneaky software bots. These bots crawl through websites, collecting product prices, promotions, and other valuable data to uncover overall pricing information. Competitors can then leverage this data to undercut prices, adjust their pricing strategies, and gain an unfair advantage.

How does price scraping operate?

Fraudsters utilise scraper bots to extract price details from targeted websites. These bots automate the scraping process, gathering price information for specific products. The scope of these attacks extends beyond individual websites or products; competitors often aim to gather insights into all their rivals' pricing strategies.

For instance, a new online store specialising in winter boots might seek to understand the pricing strategies of numerous competitors. This information allows them to compare prices for similar boot models, track price fluctuations, assess discounts, and more.

It’s essential to recognize that these malicious bots not only collect current prices but also delve into historical price changes. This provides insights into competitors’ pricing strategies, special offers, discounts for returning customers, sales frequency, referral schemes, and affiliate codes.

The price-scraping process typically involves two primary steps:

  1. Targeting:
  • Scraper bots target websites.
  • They access pricing catalogues.
  1. Data Extraction:
  • Real-time data extraction or access to historical pricing data.
  • Creation and maintenance of databases to ensure updated information.

The risks of unauthorised price monitoring

With the rise of new online ventures, competition in the online marketplace intensifies, heightening the risk of price scraping.

For fledgling businesses, this underhanded tactic offers a shortcut to market penetration. Yet, for established players, it poses a significant threat.

As a seasoned player, your website becomes a prime target for price-scraping bots. They infiltrate, scouring every page to snatch pricing details for each product. And rest assured, they’re doing the same to your competitors. Armed with this intel, they devise compelling pricing strategies – slashing prices, offering hefty discounts, throwing in freebies – all in a bid to lure more customers.

The outcome? Your loyal clientele may defect in pursuit of better deals. Suddenly, you’re grappling with abandoned carts, dwindling revenues, and customer attrition. Moreover, the influx of bot traffic slows down your website, creating a subpar user experience that further alienates customers.

Yet, the risks of price scraping extend beyond immediate impacts. This deceitful practice can disrupt normal business operations, leading to additional operational expenses to mitigate and rectify the ensuing challenges.

But the nightmare doesn’t end there. Price scraping also opens the floodgates to unauthorised access, potentially resulting in data breaches and compromising sensitive information. It’s not just your business at risk; it also jeopardises the privacy and security of your loyal customers.

Primary Targets

Online retailers face a significant threat from price scraping, especially as their success grows, making them prime targets for competitors' attacks. Price scraping spans various sectors, driven by the competitive landscape of online commerce and the necessity for businesses to monitor their rivals. Common sectors include:

E-commerce: Price scraping is prevalent among online retailers, who use it to monitor competitor prices and adjust their own accordingly. While it may benefit consumers initially, it can lead to price wars and squeeze profit margins, risking financial losses for businesses.

Travel and hospitality: Airlines, hotels, and travel booking sites adjust prices based on demand and competitor rates. Price scraping here fosters fair competition by comparing offerings from different providers.

Real estate: Property listing sites may face scraping attempts as competitors seek data on property prices and rental rates.

Technology and electronics: Competitive pricing in electronics prompts businesses to scrape competitors' data to set lower prices.

Automotive: Businesses monitor competitors' prices for vehicles, parts, and services through price scraping.

Retail and consumer goods: Traditional retail businesses engage in scraping to maintain competitiveness.

Healthcare and pharmaceuticals: Intense competition in this sector makes pricing data for pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and healthcare services prime targets for scraping.

The Dual Nature of Price Scraping: Fair Competition or Unfair Advantage?

Questions arise regarding the ethics of price scraping and its potential for market research. While concerns exist, certain forms, like those used by product aggregators or for legitimate market analysis, may be deemed acceptable.

Ethical scraping involves respecting website directives, avoiding excessive requests, and fostering a healthy competitive environment. Websites such as Expedia and Skyscanner exemplify this by promoting price transparency and benefiting consumers.

Conversely, malicious scraping for predatory pricing or market manipulation distorts competition and harms stakeholders.

Strategies for Risk Mitigation and Prevention of Price Scraping

Addressing price scraping necessitates a comprehensive approach, balancing legal and technical solutions to thwart malicious competitors.

Legal measures: Clearly delineating in your terms of service and privacy policy that unauthorised price scraping is prohibited establishes a legal basis for action against violators. However, enforcement may be limited due to the anonymity of some violators.

Bot mitigation with Tapper: Combatting price scraping demands proactive measures to block scraper bots from accessing your website. Tapper provides advanced bot detection and mitigation capabilities, identifying scraping bots in real-time based on user behaviour and safeguarding your data against unauthorised access.

See for yourself and sign up for a free 14-day trial.

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