Perhaps the most straightforward example of a business using web scraping in the way that most people think about it is a price comparison site. Sites like these rely on being able to retrieve and report data in a clear and simple way for their customers - this sounds straightforward enough until you begin to think about the crazy amount of different sites they need to cover. Each site operates differently, uses different tools and interacts with users in different ways, making it a practical impossibility to catalogue using conventional methods. This is where scraping is key - giving comparison sites the capability to essentially real time monitor thousands of products on hundreds of sites simultaneously means that users can make informed choices.
In the world of Ecommerce every sale is precious. If you have a handle on who is buying what, where they are buying it and for how much you will have a much easier time moving in and building a customer base in an otherwise busy market. Offering a superior product or a lower price is almost entirely dependant on knowing and understanding these factors beforehand so you can make that better offer at exactly the right time to convince someone to try you instead. While this sounds like an obvious point to make, the important take-home here is that in order to make those calls you need data, and a lot of it.
This is where web scraping comes in. With fairly simple tools you can harvest in depth information about product pricing, variation and availability allowing you to make product and pricing decisions with much more confidence. Scraping product reviews is a great idea too as it can help you understand what products paying customers like so you can market directly to them.
No matter the timescale or level of detail you prefer to operate on, this kind of information can really be make or break in a market as competitive as online retail where even the slightest advantage makes a huge difference. This is also why large online retailers put so much effort into blocking scrapers: the information on these sites is incredibly valuable to smaller sites who might be able to attract unhappy customers away.
In the online service business world lead generation is the key factor to a healthy business. Because they rely on a much smaller potential pool of clients, service businesses want to try and be as efficient with their time as possible, dealing with clients that are going to spend money and aren’t going to waste their time. Web scraping can be an invaluable tool to achieve this - if they understand their customers and where to find them online, a scraper could gather massive amounts of information for a service business helping it generate leads in minutes - this could be anything from simple wanted ads to huge amounts of contact information depending on the type of business and the scale.
Scraping is also a valuable tool for developing and honing that service to begin with. You can have access to all the market data you could ever need to find your niche and establish yourself. After all, all market research is consumer data. With a web scraper you have access to it on a mass scale.
Large companies spend an awful lot of time and money making sure they have the right people in the right jobs so they can operate at peak performance. Before that meant having someone on hand constantly looking through CVs to try and find the best performers before their competitors snapped them up, but now all of that information has moved online. Using a web scraper to harvest job market data from cv libraries and social networks like Linkedin gives headhunters a huge list of potential applicants. They can then examine the data further however they please, by discipline, location, salaries and more to essentially automate the process. Once they narrow the field enough they can proceed knowing they aren’t wasting their time interviewing unqualified applicants.
The reverse is true also - a savvy professional might use a scraper to collate job market information so they know what disciplines are valuable and what areas pay more or less. They could also monitor job postings, or look at turnover rates. The applications are endless.