Price Comparison Sites: winners or losers?
Is Price Comparison as open and transparent as it should be?
There has been recent attention directed at price comparison sites. Is the consumer really getting true value for money, or is it simply yet another marketing channel. And “should the buyer beware”, or should the comparison sites make it clear who they favour, who they compare and most importantly why. Is it to meet an agreement, or does the site truly believe they have a ‘select’ segment of the market that offers consumers something different. If we were to sum up what consumers’ want, it would be transparency.
The price comparison concept is not new and the internet version simply an extension of brokerages that have existed for centuries. The insurance broker market is a good example, but the internet has created a whole new industry within sectors estimated to be worth some one billion pounds a year. Now when looking for energy providers, holiday and car insurance we are increasingly turning to these sites to provide choice and value for money.
The question is, despite the spike in popularity, are they reliable and do they work.
Professor Catherine Waddams, Centre for Competition Policy at the University of East Anglia said in a recent report:
When we look at different websites, some of them show all of the providers, some of them show only some. I expect that is to do with the incentives they get from switching people to different companies.
In short, it’s all to do with Coverage, Neutrality and Trust.
Under the old model of going direct (the least coverage), we knew what we were getting into. If we went to a broker, most had a ‘stable’ of companies they dealt with, but the net was being cast wider. The internet versions give an impression that they are covering if not all, most of the market.
The fact is, most comparison sites have commercial arrangements with the companies they use. But again, what is the expectation from the customer, will these commercial arrangements effect the neutrality of the verdict? yes we expect a commission to be paid to the comparison site to reward them for their effort in aggregating the the data and adding value to the process; but we don’t expect them to favour individual companies where preferential arrangements exist.
So What About SailChecker.com – Our View
SailChecker.com is the first company to try and use new technology to benefit the customer and break open the Yacht Charter Market, sailing holidays and adventure related activities. We welcomed the recent spotlight on comparison sites as it gave us a chance to run a “School Report”. So here it is:
Coverage. We estimate that our technology has access to all the major broker portals giving us an immediate view of 90% of the charter market and 99% of the deals that appear on other charter company websites. Anyone disputing these figures may point to the intangible and difficult to track ‘Independents Operators’ who may have chosen to stay outside the broker portals; but our own internal database is growing fast.
Impartiality. No company SailChecker deals with has any kind of preferential treatment. We do, form time to time, allow guest blogging, but we have a strict policy the editorial value it offers to our readers and we do not charge.
Trust. To gain this, you need to be as transparent as possible. For instance brokers will often withhold the name of the quoted company in fear that the customer will go direct. At SailChecker we reveal the company we are suggesting at n early stage. This is because we really believe we can add value to the process over booking direct.
The Big Issue
The Comparison Site Market has now become so lucrative, that products are being “designed” for the platform in a stripped out format – a sure-fire race to the bottom. We see it all the time with consumers being sold inadequate levels of insurance to ensure the product leads the searches. Thus we still have to rely on consumer power to insist on not just the cheapest, but the best value for money.
We believe that as the cracks open in the Price Comparison sector, a new breed of site will emerge, particularly in niche areas like sailing. Here at SailChecker.com we are attempting to blend the advantages of the old model of a consultative broker which adds value from end to end (e.g. supporting you with an insurance claim – missing with a Price Comparison Booking), with the advantages of modern technology to scour the market for the best choice and the best deals.
We’d love to know more about what you think. Do consumers have a responsibility to be “aware” or should price comparison sites need to do more to be transparent?