Get the Bike that Speaks to You
Summary: Once you know the kind of bike and the price range, only one thing matters: do you love riding it?
My middle son Jacob recently asked me about a number of gravel bikes in the $1000-1500 price range. In looking them over, they all had aluminum frames, carbon forks, and mechanical disk brakes. The other components differed a little from bike to bike but nothing stood out. All were from major manufacturers.
How to choose? I've bought a number of bikes over the years (I've only got three right now). I told Jacob that one thing made all the difference in choosing: the test ride. I've often been taken in by the specs on a bike, only to ride it and find that it felt dead. The bikes I've purchased spoke to me. They felt like they were alive, a part of me, and I wanted to ride them. Bottom line: buy the bike you fall in love with.
The implication of this is to buy from a local shop since you need to test ride and they have the bikes. Establishing a relationship with the shop is useful for service and advice too. They often will discount service on bikes they sold. Most bike shops have knowledgeable staff and can help you with everything from accessories to good riding trails. You might pay a bit more, but I think it's worth it.