Office of Fair Trading
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OFT advises price comparison websites how clearer information can improve consumer trust
The OFT has written to 100 leading price comparison websites asking them to ensure they are providing clear information to consumers, after a review published recently by the OFT suggested that some sites could do more to improve trust amongst the public.
The review says that in general, price comparison websites have represented a major step forward for consumers, enabling them to secure better value when buying goods and services, but that some people are missing out on potential savings because of a lack of trust. The review also says that the role of such sites is likely to become even more important in the future as online sales continue to grow and initiatives such as the Government's 'midata' project put more information in consumers' hands.
As part of its review, the OFT conducted a websweep of 55 price comparison sites which found that a number of sites could improve their privacy policies and their complaints and redress processes. It also identified scope for some sites to provide greater clarity about the way search results are presented, and clear identification of the business operating the website.
In order to help consumers make the best use of price comparison sites, and to assist those who do not currently use them, the OFT has joined forces with other government departments, sector regulators and consumer groups to develop six 'top tips'. It has also released two new information films which can be viewed on the OFT's YouTube channel. The OFT's top tips are:
Protect your data
- If you do not want your personal information to be passed to other companies, check to see if there is the ability to 'opt out' on the website, for example by ticking a box to say that you do not give your consent for your information to be shared.
Make the comparison which is most helpful to you. Check if your results are presented by relevance, price, or popularity and what the website says about how often it updates its information on prices and availability of goods.
Use a number of different sites. Expressions like 'we've found the best deal' or 'we've searched the market' don't guarantee you are seeing every available offer in the market, so always check out what is on offer on a number of different sites.
Know who you are doing business with. Check whether the site tells you the identity of the business (not just the name of the website) and their business address. By law they have to do so.
Do your homework. If you can, use an accredited site as they have met certain standards for accreditation. Some websites comparing energy products are accredited by Consumer Focus and some telecoms comparison websites are accredited by Ofcom. Some financial services websites are compared by the Government backed Money Advice Service.
Problem or complaint? Citizens Advice can help Some sites may tell you that they are not liable if they make mistakes or mislead you; this may not in fact be the case. If you want to complain but aren't sure how, Citizens Advice can help you to direct your complaint to the relevant person. Visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06
The OFT's 2007 market study into internet shopping estimated that if consumers used price comparison websites as effectively as they could they would stand to gain additional savings of £150m - £240m per year.
Clive Maxwell, OFT Chief Executive, said:
'Price comparison websites help busy shoppers find a good deal, but people might not realise that by being a bit savvier they can get even more out of these websites.
'Not all price comparison websites have the same standards and we are working closely with the Government and regulators to ensure that consumers are empowered to make informed choices. We hope this will improve trust and confidence among consumers who do not currently use price comparison websites, and who may be missing out on significant savings as a result.
'As companies release more data back to consumers under the Government's 'midata' initiative, there will be new opportunities for people to get better value using price comparison sites, so it's important that issues around consumer trust are tackled now.'
Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson said,
'Price comparison websites have played a huge role in empowering consumers to make better, more informed choices. When a consumer uses these popular and well known sites they believe they are being savvy shoppers, and it's important that their trust is well-founded.
'I welcome the work that the OFT has done to review this area and to make sure that consumers really are getting the best deals they can. With our recent 'midata' programme, consumers will be able to get the accurate data on their buying habits needed for quality comparison sites to help them save money.'
The 'top tips' have been developed in partnership with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Information Commissioner's Office, the Advertising Standards Authority, sector regulators and Citizens Advice.
The OFT is not suggesting that any of the 100 businesses to which it has written is in breach of any legislation.