Do comparison websites seems to good to be true?
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Do comparison websites seems to good to be true?

Newport : United Kingdom | Nov 30, 2009 at 10:37 AM PST
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Do comparison websites seems to be good to be true?

Financial comparison websites have multiplied almost as fact as hormonally charged rabibts in recent years as copycat entrepreneurs all rush to get a slice of this lucrative market.

There's no doubt they've proved a money spinner for their founders: the industry is now worth more than £1 billion, with the Office of Fair Trading, estimating that 60 % UK interent users turned to a financial comparison site before parting with their cash.

As if further proof was needed, moneysupermarket.com has grown into a FTSE 250 listed company ovr the past 10 years with revenue of £179 million. This is all very well for the companies but how do they measure up for consumers?

In theory, this jostling market place should lead to more choice, lower bills & ultimately a healthier bank account for web savvy bargain huters. Reviews from fellow users, money saving newsletter and the prospect of financial rewards such as vouchers have only helped to increase their their popularity.

In reality, however, navigating the minefield of comparison websites can still require lashings of patience and an eagle eye to make sure you're getting the product you actuallly want at the lowest price with no unexpected hidden charges lurking in the background.

It's not that comparison websites don't have their uses- no one wants to feel a cloud of mind numbing boredom descend as they input their personal details for car insurance for the 17th time in an afternoon, but they're still far from being a one stop shop.

No one site covers all financial service providers so it pays to check a handful to get a broader view of the market and the cheapest price. However, consumers must give exactly the same reponses for each of the questions in order to get an accurate comparison, changing just one can skew th results significantly.

There are also lingering doubts over the whole impartially question. Some of the biggest names in game are owned by insurance groups- for example, confused.com is part of the admiral group while comparethemarket.com is owned by the budget insurance group- but these maintain a complete independant service and offer services from a wide range of providers. Many also have exclusive deals with suppliers to ensure they're not imply cut from a loop as the consumer goes straight to the provider.

This lack transparency over pricing and privacy makes the industry more than a touch bewildering for the average internet shopper.

The Comparison Consortium (Coco) tried to address these concerns with a new voluntary code of conduct earlier this year- although big players including Uswitch, confused.com, and gocompare refused to back it.

However, around a dozen sites comparing energy providers have also signed up to the Consumer Focus Confidence Code- a mark of impartial and accurate information which goes some way to building fledgling lvls of trust.

Despite the negatives, comparison websites are still a useful consumer tool with a loyal bank of aficionados and can produce sgnificant savings.

"Moneysupermarket.com was visited 120 million times by customers last year. On average we saved our customers £157 on their motor insurance and £174 on thier utilities bills among many other savings." Ian Williams, director of communications at Moneysupermarket, told MSN money.

"There is no question that customers who use Moneysupermarket.com to shop around and compare prodcuts do find great deals and make big savings."

With the market place always evolving, it's the big name players with the huge advertising budgets who thrive. Accountants Deloitte predict that the number of price comparison websites will drop to just five in the next couple of years as underwriting losses in the car insurance market take out the minnows.

However, that's not stopping new players from entering the market: they just have to dangle ever tastier carrots in front of the bargain sniffing noses of the seasoned shopper.

Argos is the latest to join the fray with it's compare service covering the full financial service spectrum from insurance through to credit cards and utilities. Shoppers who buy car insurance will receive £30 worth of Argos vouchers or £15 for forking out on home insurance.

While there's nothing like the prospect of free money to reel in cash- strapped shoppers, just how many bites remain to be seen. Indeed, comparison sites may have their own agendas but they also have their uses in the battle against sky- high bills.

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edison92 is based in Slough, England, United Kingdom, and is a Stringer for Allvoices.
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