The Goods on Black Friday and Cyber Monday
December 1, 2011 8:41 PM   Subscribe

Oren Etzioni is a renowned data mining expert who sold Farecast, his airline-ticket price predictor to Microsoft for $115 million. Now he's turned his focus to the general problem of finding when the best shopping bargains occur. Punch in a consumer electronics item and his website will tell you whether to buy now or to wait. Over time he'll be adding more product categories. In any case, he can tell you right now the best prices for most things aren't on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
posted by storybored (14 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Does it work for people who want to know whether they should immediately buy an iPhone, or wait for the next version?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:43 PM on December 1, 2011

More on Professor Oren Etzioni here.
posted by storybored at 8:43 PM on December 1, 2011

@ Choco Pickle:

"Following the approach of Farecast, now part of Microsoft’s Bing search engine, the professor’s start-up company,, studies current and historical prices, information about new models and rumors about new product introductions to figure out the best time to buy."
posted by storybored at 8:46 PM on December 1, 2011

This is very cool. Given how much difficulty many people have with differentiating probability -vs- prediction, I wish them luck. Although luck may be the secret sauce, users could gamble by buying a product today with the intent of selling it tomorrow at a higher price. Since Etzioni has all the data, he could easily data mine it for price inefficiencies.

Say the Kindle DX shows a long flat price history, then suddenly drops in price, and the algorithms says there is a 90% chance it will increase in price soon. Buy the Kindle at the cheaper price and immediately post it for re-sale (like new condition) at a marked up price, wait for list price to rise, and your suddenly underselling the list price but still making a profit.
posted by stbalbach at 9:07 PM on December 1, 2011

Oren was my husband's PhD adviser, back in the day. This is a great new project, and it will be interesting to watch it grow and see where it goes.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 9:25 PM on December 1, 2011

Cool idea, but my first test (Nikon 5100) says to wait on the kit with lens (price will drop with 70% likelihood to about $700) and says to buy on the body without lens (price will rise with 71% likelihood to about $715). So, obviously products like this that are sold with many optional accessories are currently giving it some fits.

Likewise, I suspect that the way many retailers tweak some small feature in products so that they can get a unique product number will be tough for it to correlate.
posted by meinvt at 9:39 PM on December 1, 2011

Canucks have known about the post-Christmas "toy" (whether for kids or adults) slump for years... too bad it's turned into our own version of Black Friday(x7 days) and is no longer the dealathon it used to be.
posted by Yowser at 10:05 PM on December 1, 2011

Efficient market hypothesis wha?
posted by 7segment at 2:04 AM on December 2, 2011

How long before marketers use the predictions as a way to optimize pricing? SEO taken to the next level, anyone?
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:20 AM on December 2, 2011

Efficient market hypothesis wha?

You're not adjusting for "utility." Try convincing your kids that they'll get their Tickle-Me-Elmo (or whatever's hot this decade) in the 3rd week of January, after prices have gone down, and retailers stocks have replenished. People don't want more Christmas sweets after having them for nearly a month, and easily a week of over-eating due to Christmas and New Year's parties.

Basically, the market's supposed to tend toward efficiency, and consumers are supposed to be rational in their economic decisions, but economics doesn't need to explain why consumers derive utility.
posted by explosion at 5:19 AM on December 2, 2011

He also just had a messy divorce where his ex sued him for cyberstalking.
posted by dw at 6:59 AM on December 2, 2011

This is pretty darn amazing. I seldom purchase new electronics, but will definitely remember to check this out in the future.
I find it especially interesting for hard drives.
Tangentially related, I'd like to take a moment to plug my Amazon Used Deals Finder for those of us that make most of their purchases 2nd-hand.
posted by Theta States at 7:39 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oren Etzioni, the inventor of pioneering Internet search engines NetBot and Farecast and director of the University of Washington's Turing Center on computer sciences, has been sued by a Seattle attorney and her law firm for alleged cyber-stalking.

How does she know it was him and not a program he wrote?
posted by euphorb at 8:45 AM on December 2, 2011

Never buy a game during a big Steam sale until the last day unless it's one of the daily specials.
posted by straight at 11:25 AM on December 2, 2011

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