10 tips to using comparison sites
Price comparison websites like Finder.com.au, Canstar.com.au, iSelect.com.au, Webjet.com.au and EnergyWatch.com.au can be really helpful when you’re shopping around for flights, credit cards, energy providers and healthcare providers. (Here’s more.) While they save us time and money, they can also be misleading if they fail to disclosure commercial interests or provide all the information we need to make informed decisions.
Tips for using price comparison websites
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says that while comparison websites (which it refers to as comparator websites) can help us avoid “choice paralysis”, it says we need to be mindful of the following:
- Know what is being compared. Comparator websites may not compare all the offers or products in the market so check what’s available across a range of sites.
- Find out if there’s a commercial relationship. Comparator website operators may have commercial relationships with or receive financial inducements from listed businesses that can influence recommendations.
- Identify the site owner. Sometimes a comparator website is owned and operated by the same business that owns the products being compared. Check that the website tells you the identity of the business that owns and operates it.
- Work out what you need. Before you start searching, work out what non-price factors are important to you. When searching, make sure the search fields are tailored to meet your needs. Where the option is provided, consider ranking by ‘benefits’ or ‘value’ rather than by ‘price’.
- Check offer availability. Comparator website operators allow service providers to add or remove offers in a number of ways (e.g. placing restrictions on how many products can be sold in a month). A product that was available yesterday may no longer be available today so check whether the offer is available on the service provider’s website.
- Double-check what’s covered. Product classification can vary between service providers (e.g. reconstructive surgery may also be classified as cosmetic surgery). When you receive your results, take a closer look at what is and is not covered. You may need to check the service providers’ own websites for the full details.
- Work out the total cost. Be aware that these websites may compare the headline price only, with additional fees and charges only disclosed further down the track. The lowest headline price may not always equate to the lowest final price.
- Keep a record of phone calls. If you speak to a call centre operator, make sure you follow the above tips, don’t be pressured into making a quick decision, and ask for written confirmation of any offers.
- Lodging a consumer complaint. While using comparison websites can be a convenient way to see what options are available to you, not everything is what is seems. It may not be immediately apparent that some websites have a vested interest in the issue/provider being compared, while others blatantly provide false or misleading claims. If you think you’ve been deceived by a comparison website, you can lodge a complaint with the ACCC.