In the early days of Internet commerce, conventional wisdom held that online shoppers were fickle bargain hunters and that the Internet would relentlessly drive down prices and profit margins. Pundits said the days of brand equity and consumer loyalty were numbered. The notion seemed all but confirmed when, in mid-1995, Andersen Consulting invented the first shopbot — an intelligent robotic agent that lists the cheapest merchandise first — and named it BargainFinder.But Amazon.com and other brand-name online retailers that don't play the ultradiscount game are challenging that notion. It's true that, of all Internet shoppers, the users of shopbots are the most price-sensitive. But even among those bargain seekers, the concept of brand still matters, according to a working paper by Erik Brynjolfsson, associate professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and codirector of the Center for eBusiness@MIT, and Michael D. Smith, assistant professor of management-information systems at Carnegie Mellon University.In “The Great Equalizer? Customer Choice Behavior at Internet Shopbots” (http://e-commerce.mit.edu/papers/tge), the authors analyze consumer buying patterns at a shopbot called EvenBetter.com, since renamed DealTime.com, which offers comparison shopping for a wide variety of goods, including books and electronic gadgets.