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The CMA: getting the best from price comparison sites

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Do you head to price comparison sites when you’re looking for a deal? How do you know you’re getting a good price? Will Hayter from the Competition and Markets Authority talks through tips on getting the best from these sites.

We recently published a report on ‘digital comparison tools’ – price comparison and switching websites and apps. While we mostly found them to be a force for good we set out some ground rules for sites to follow. We also opened a competition law investigation into how one site has set up its contracts with insurers because we think this may lead to higher home insurance prices.

While we mostly found them to be a force for good we set out some ground rules for sites to follow. We also opened a competition law investigation into how one site has set up its contracts with insurers because we think this may lead to higher home insurance prices.

Price comparison sites

We’ve made it clear that we expect comparison sites to be Clear, Accurate, Responsible and Easy to use.

We also made a few suggestions for how people should use comparison sites to get the best out of them. I talked to various radio and TV shows about these, so the points below pick up on some of the questions that came up.

Comparison sites can save you time and money

No one wants to spend their evenings and weekends hunting around energy companies’ or insurers’ websites for the best deals. But it’s important that you do shop around because there are big savings to be had – sometimes as much as several hundred pounds per year.

Luckily comparison sites can help – their whole purpose is to bring lots of offers together in one place, help you compare and switch and sometimes they even offer rewards for using them.

Choose carefully between comparison sites, like you would any retailer

But it’s worth remembering that these sites are businesses –they need to make money, often through commissions, they charge the companies that appear on the sites. There’s nothing wrong with that but just choose carefully – like you would between supermarkets, or between any online retailers.

Not all sites are the same, so try more than one if you can

And when you choose, keep in mind that the sites are all different – they might include different suppliers, different offers, and use different ways of presenting the information or be clearer than others about how they protect your data and what control you have over its use. So try more than one if you can.

In our view, using one site is likely to be better than using none; but using two is even better, and that is still a much easier way of seeing 40 or 50 offers than going to each supplier directly.
Think about supermarkets for a moment: you might well have a favourite that’s cheaper, more convenient or has a better range. But you would probably base that on having tried a few in the past, and, if another was available or opened nearby you might well also try it out.

Check how the site has ordered results

Sites might order the results in different ways – by price, or by quality rating, or by some other measure. If you stick with the first ranking the site shows you, look to see if it explains what it’s based on; or even better, re-order or filter the results to suit what you need.

Your view

What’s your experience of comparison sites? Have you used them? Did you get what you needed? Do you know how the last site you used makes money? Did you find the site Clear, Accurate, Responsible and Easy to use?

Comments

The only one I use is Which?Switch for energy. For anything else I will either go direct to recommended providers online or for products, look at what an online search for prices brings up. I have a distrust of commercial comparison sites (not backed up by any evidence) that I may not see all the deals available.

I am wary of price comparison sites for various reasons, but may use them together with other sources of information. Problems that I have found include:

– Only some products or services are offered. This was a problem with using insurance brokers long before we had websites and comparison sites. Nevertheless, insurance brokers did offer some useful advice.

– Using a price comparison site may result in marketing email, even if you do not make use of a company, and that can be very tiresome.

Price comparison sites may not compare like with like. When shortlisting insurance companies we might think carefully about what different products and services offer – and ask questions – but simply using a price comparison site seems to encourage focus on price.

I think price comparison sites work best when deciding where to buy a printer or vacuum cleaner, or other items where exactly the same product is available from various sources.

“same product is available from various sources.” Providing all the available sources are given. I’d still look on the internet generally.

Beckling says:
20 October 2017

I am very wary of price comparison sites as the last time I used one for my electricity renewal I quoted to them, by mistake, a price slightly higher than the renewal price quoted by my current supplier. The price they quoted beat the price I quoted them but not the real renewal price.
When I pointed my error out to them they came up with a lower price again !! Is integrity any part of this industry’s make-up?

patmiddlengland says:
21 October 2017

Why is it that when I start shopping on mysupermarket website, the supermarket site I start on always comes out cheapest when I look at the comparison prices for all the others who can also fulfil the whole order?

bishbut says:
21 October 2017

Many are in too big a hurry to use more than one site even if they use one at all |As I have said before speed and maybe laziness rules the lives of many Get it over and done with quickly or I cannot be bothered to do any thing at all syndrome abounds in many

MMouse says:
21 October 2017

I no longer use comparison sites as I try to restrict the amount of personal information out there.

GERDY BOLTON says:
2 July 2018

Very good point!!! Darn, I have to put my name and email address here for this comment to be posted…. Oximoron?

As many of these sites take a commission on sales, they are, in effect, pushing up prices.

Fat Jack says:
21 October 2017

That’s true Ian. So in effect the comparison sites add another layer of wages etc to be paid. Mind you years ago we could have been paying more any way.

Martin Summers says:
23 October 2017

I used to use comparison sites but became fed up with being bombarded with e-mails afterwards. Will only use Which now for most of what I need.

bishbut says:
24 October 2017

Unsubscribe and remove the sites off your computer add them only when you want to use them

Gill says:
27 October 2017

I’just saved around £170 on my car insurance renewal by checking what’s offered by companies not on the comparison websites. I found three quotes waaaaaaaaaay cheaper than what either my existing company or those on the comparsion sites were offering.