There is an invisible real-time data war taking place in the e-commerce world. Made up of numerous battles fought by soldiers, it is waged by major players competing for dominance in the highly competitive e-commerce environment.
The purpose is clear: to post the lowest price and make the sale.
While people don’t realize that this war is taking place, it’s still there and is getting more brutal as time goes on. My company – Oxylabs – provides the proxies or “soldiers,” plus the strategic tools that help businesses win the war. This article will give you an inside view of the battles taking place and techniques to overcome some of the common challenges.
Web Scraping: The Battle for Data
Spies are valuable players in any war as they provide inside information on the opponent’s activities.
When it comes to e-commerce, the “spies” are in the form of bots that aim to obtain data on an opponent’s prices and inventory. This intelligence is critical to forming an overall successful sales strategy.
That data extraction through web scraping activities aims to obtain as much quality data as possible from all opponents. However, data is valuable intelligence, and most sites do not want to give it up easily. Below are some of the most common major challenges web scrapers encounter in the battle for high-quality data:
Challenge 1: IP Blocking (Defense Wall)
Since ancient times, walls were built around cities to block out invaders. Websites use the same tactic today by blocking out web scrapers through IP “blocks.”
Many online stores that use web scraping attempt to extract pricing and additional product information from hundreds (if not thousands) of products at once. Sometimes these information requests are often recognized by the server as an “attack.” This can result in bans on the IP addresses (unique identification numbers assigned to each device) as a defense measure. This is a type of “wall” a target site can put up to block scraping activity.
Another battle tactic is to allow the IP address access to the site but to display inaccurate data.
The solution for all scenarios is to prevent the target site from seeing the IP address in the first place. This requires the use of proxies – or “soldiers” – that mimic “human” behavior. Each proxy has its own IP address. Thus, the server cannot track them to the source organization doing the public data extraction.
There are two types of proxies – residential and data center proxies. The choice of proxy type depends on the complexity of the website and the strategy.
Challenge 2: Complex/Changing Website Structure (Foreign Battle Terrain)
Fighting on enemy territory is not an easy task due to the home advantage leveraged by the defensive army. The challenges faced by an invading army are especially difficult because they are simultaneously discovering the territory while engaged in the battle.
This is analogous to the terrain faced by web scrapers. Each website has a different terrain in the form of its HTML structure. Every script must adapt itself to each new site to find and extract the information required.
For the physical wars of the past, the wisdom of the generals has proven invaluable when advancing on enemy territory. Similarly, the skills and knowledge of scripting experts are invaluable when targeting sites for data extraction.
Digital terrain, unlike physical terrain on earth, can also change at a moment’s notice. Oxylabs adaptive parser, currently in beta phase, is one of the newest features of our Next-Gen Residential Proxies solution. Soon to become a weapon of choice, this AI and ML-enhanced HTML parser can extract intelligence from rapidly-changing dynamic layouts that include the title, regular price, sale price, description, image URLs, product IDs, page URLs, and much more.
Challenge 3: Extracting Data in Real-Time (Battle Timing)
Quick timing is essential to many types of battle strategy, and often waiting too long may result in defeat. This holds true in the lighting fast e-commerce world where timing makes a big difference in winning or losing a sale.
The fastest mover most often wins. Since prices can change on a minute-by-minute basis, businesses must stay on top of their competitors’ moves.
An effective strategy involves strategic maneuvers using tools and scraping logic to extract data in real-time. Also, the use of multiple proxy solutions so data requests appear organic. While it is possible to construct an in-house real-time data extraction mechanism, anticipate many hassles for it to work as expected. Instead, leading brands tend to outsource ready-to-use tools, allowing them to instantly draw insights instead of focusing on challenging real-time data extraction.
Ethical Web Scraping
It is crucial to understand that web scraping can be used positively. There are transparent ways to gather the required public data and drive businesses forward.
Here are some guidelines to follow to keep the playing field fair for those who gather data and the websites that provide it:
- Only scrape publicly-available web pages.
- Ensure that the data is requested at a fair rate and doesn’t compromise the webserver.
- Respect the data obtained and any privacy issues relevant to the source website.
- Study the target website’s legal documents to determine whether you will legally accept their terms of service and if you will do so – whether you will not breach these terms.
A Final Word
Few people realize the war taking place behind the low price they see on their screen. That war is composed of multiple scraping battles for product intelligence fought by proxies circumventing server security measures for access to information.
Strategies for winning the battles come in sophisticated data extraction techniques that use proxies and scraping tools. As the invisible war for data continues to accelerate, it appears that the biggest winners of all are the consumers that benefit from the low prices they see on their screens.
Image Credit: photomix-company; pexels