Are we falling out of love with price comparison sites?

Most of us use price comparison sites these days - but not many of us actually seem to trust them very much.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 08 Dec 2014
Or so says a survey by consumer group Which?: its poll of 1703 people found that three-quarters regularly used sites like moneysupermarket, comparethemarket, gocompare and so on - but less than half were actually satisfied with the service they'd received. People are increasingly worried that far from being an independent arbiter, these sites are just pushing them towards whichever deal pays the biggest commission. So, is it time for comparison sites to raise their game?

These sites have enjoyed rapid growth in recent years, as consumers seek easier ways to navigate their way through the mass of data available whenever they need to remortgage their house, insure their car or change their energy supplier. The sites like to portray themselves as providing an easy portal for us to look at all the available options and compare like with like. But in reality, it's not quite that simple. Their business model usually involves them getting commission when we click through to a particular offer, so there's a danger of a conflict of interest. And since, as a result, some suppliers don't advertise on these sites at all, their list isn't usually an exhaustive one.

All of which, it seems, is starting to turn customers off. Only 46% said they were satisfied with the service they'd received, and for some sites this figure was just 38%. When you're getting lower approval ratings than the banks, you know you're in bother. It sounds like many people are suspicious that they're just being pushed towards the deal that pays the  best commission - as a result of which, more than half ended up buying directly from the provider instead. In fact, just 21% said they trusted these sites to always find the best price available.

We suppose the cynic might point out that people used to rely on Which? for this kind of product comparison, so the consumer group has rather a vested interest here. But we suspect their findings will ring true for many people. And it's certainly hard to argue with its central conclusion: that these sites 'really need to a better job of keeping their customers happy'.

On the plus side, they'll no doubt be delighted by the kind of customer penetration rates they're getting. Whether it's those loveable meerkats, or that very annoying opera singer, these sites are very much front of mind for most of us these days. And perhaps there's a business opportunity here? These sites have been successful because they encourage suppliers to be more open, transparent and competitive in their approach. Perhaps a comparison site of comparison sites would have the same effect on this sector?

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