There are so many buzzwords involved with marketing and running a business that it can be hard to keep up. The latest has to do with price scraping. You’ve probably heard the term “price scraper service” a time or two, but you might not know what it is. You need to educate yourself on this service so you can use it to your advantage. It can help you a great deal if you want to be competitive in the ecommerce industry.
Let’s start by looking at exactly what it is and then how it can help you. Then, you will be ready to use this service for your own website.
What Is a Price Scraper Service?
A price scraper is a type of web scraper that goes out and scrapes ecommerce sites for pricing data. Along with the pricing data, these scrapers can also get product catalog information and more. The scraper gets this information by using bots. Basically, these scrapers deploy bots to go out and get the information quickly.
Price scrapers have five main functions, and each function plays a vital role in providing you with the information that you want. Let’s take a closer look at each function.
When you use a web scraper, you set the parameters so it knows what information you want. Then, it crawls websites to look for information and links that contain the data you need. You can compare this to browsing the internet. You tend to look around and click on links when browsing online. Your data scraper will do the same thing. It will crawl around to find all the information that you need. It does this much faster than you can, so you don’t have to wait long to get your data.
Next, your price scraper service scrapes data. During this process, it gathers up the data that you need. It lifts it right off the website quickly and efficiently.
Data extraction is the next step in the process. The scraper basically takes all the data that it scraped and extracts the meaningful elements out of it. In the case of price scraping, it will extract the pricing data from all of the information it scraped. You also might have it extract product descriptions and other relevant information. You can choose to extract as much or as little data as you want, but keep in mind that you should only take what you need. Otherwise, you will end up with a bunch of useless data, and that will slow the entire process down.
Formatting the Data
You won’t be able to read the data unless it is properly formatted. Data scrapers use a variety of formats, including CSV and XML. Each format has its own set of pros and cons. Let’s look at the three most common options.
CSV is the most common of all the formats. You can open this up in an Excel file. The data is separated into columns, making it easy to analyze data.
You should go with this format if you are analyzing data that are structured in rows and columns. However, if you are analyzing data that are structured in multiple dimensions, a two-dimensional spreadsheet will limit your ability to analyze the data. This will make it impossible to get the most out of the data.
XML is another popular format. It is flexible, but it can add to the size of the data, which can make storage a nightmare. If you are going to scrape a lot of data, you do not want to use this format. You will end up with a serious storage situation on your hands.
Exporting the Data
Exporting the data is the final step. During this step, the scraper exports the data to the end user. Many people choose to export the file into a third-party storage system, such as Dropbox. This is a good idea if you are exporting a large amount of data. Otherwise, it will clog up your system. Plus, when you use a cloud service like Dropbox, you can access the data anywhere you go. That makes it easy to work from anywhere.
Do Web Scrapers Work by Themselves?
Many people assume that once they get a web scraper, they are ready to start scraping data, but that isn’t the case. You should never start scraping without getting a proxy to hide behind.
First, you need to understand that ecommerce sites guard their data as much as they can. They don’t want people to scrape, so they have security systems in place to stop scrapers. One of the easiest ways to do this is to look at IP addresses. When the same IP address accesses the site repeatedly, it becomes clear that the site is being scraped. The website then bans the IP address to stop the scraping. If your IP address gets banned, you won’t be able to access the site anymore. That means you can’t scrape data, and you can’t shop on the site. That can cause a real headache.
A proxy will give you a new IP address. You can get a handful of proxies and rotate them out so your IP address will constantly change. This will put you a step ahead of the security systems.
You must be smart when you choose a proxy, though. If you choose poorly, you could end up with a slow proxy that doesn’t work, or worse, you could end up with a virus or a hacked computer.
Pros of Dedicated Proxies
To avoid any problems, begin the process by going with dedicated proxies. As enticing as public proxies might be, they are often loaded down with viruses. Sometimes, hackers use them as a front to get into people’s computers. Even if they are run by a legitimate company, they are often terribly slow. To make matters even worse, you must share IP addresses with people when you use shared proxies, so if someone else gets banned, you will be banned, too.
As you can imagine, that is a huge pain.
On the other hand, dedicated proxies are yours and yours alone. You won’t share IP addresses with anyone else, so you will only be responsible for yourself. That is a huge relief when you are trying to scrape a ton of data.
You can’t just go and buy a bunch of dedicated proxies and expect everything to run perfectly, though. You must choose wisely, or you will end up with some other problems.
For starters, choose proxies from a company with data centers that are in your country of origin. This cuts down on the distance the proxy must travel to connect with your system. That, in turn, reduces lag time.
You also need to make sure the proxy is compatible with the websites that you want to access. In this case, you will likely be accessing tons of ecommerce sites. Check the proxy’s compatibility to make sure that it is compatible with those sites. Otherwise, you won’t be able to scrape the sites that you want.
In addition, you need to think about software compatibility. Some proxies aren’t compatible with third-party software. That means that you won’t be able to run your scraper. Choose a proxy that works with various types of software so you won’t have any compatibility issues.
Finally, it is a good idea to go with a proxy company that offers support. While it is relatively easy to set everything up, each piece of software is different, so you might run into a roadblock or two along the way. Scraping companies don’t always have support teams onsite, so you are going to be much better off by going with a proxy company that offers support. That will ensure that you get the support you need, when you need it.
What About Other Software?
While many people just go with proxies and web scrapers, you can protect yourself even more by also getting a spoofing agent. Every time you visit a website, your system shows the other system your user-agent header. Unless you do something, this header will never change. Some advanced security programs can identify users based on their user-agents. That means if you access a site repeatedly, the site might realize you are scraping data based on your user agent.
That sounds like a headache, but there is a simple fix. You can get the User-Agent Switcher for Chrome or Firefox. You just need to install it and enable it. Then, it will switch out your user-agent header every so often. That will make it harder for websites to identify you.
Now let’s look at configuring your price scraper service.
Configuring Your Scraper
You have all the tools you need, so what is next?
This is when you need to configure your scraper.
If you just go with the defaults, there is a good chance that you will get banned, even if you do everything else right. That is because the default settings often make the scraper move much too quickly.
If your scraper makes tons of parallel requests in a short period of time, it will be obvious that a bot is accessing the site. After all, humans can only move so quickly. If you’re moving a lot faster than a human can, the site owner will either think The Flash is accessing the site or it will be obvious that a scraper is at work.
So how do you fix this? You just need to limit the parallel requests that the scraper makes. Put a few seconds in between requests so it won’t look like you are scraping the data.
In addition, make sure the scraper varies its actions. If it always does the exact same thing, it won’t take long for the site to realize you are using a price scraper. On the other hand, if the actions are varied, it will look like a person accessing the site.
Now that you know what a price scraper is and how to use it, it’s time to look at what it isn’t.
What a Price Scraper Isn’t
You’ve learned quite a bit about price scrapers, but the most important lesson is yet to come. You need to learn what these scrapers aren’t.
A price scraper isn’t a business plan. In other words, you cannot build your entire business around what you get from the scraper. As much as you might want to take the scraped data and use them to build your business, that will set you up to get in trouble. Websites will come after you if you use their data to make money. Yes, you can indirectly use the data in a ton of ways and not get caught, but if you boldly put it on your website and try to steal customers, you are going to be in trouble.
Instead of stealing the data and building your business plan around it, use it for educational purposes. Get a better idea of price points so you can be more competitive. Search for keywords in the product descriptions so you can get out in front your customers. These are good ways to use the data.
Are You Ready to Scrape?
You have the information you need, and now it is time to start scraping. It might seem a little overwhelming at first, but scraping price data is easy when you have the right tools. Begin by finding your scraper, and then look for some proxies and a user-agent switcher. Then, set everything up and start scraping.