Friday, 28 November 2014 15:25

ACCC: Comparing the comparators in a new report Featured

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The ACCC could temporarily rename itself the Australian Comparing Comparator Commission with a new report on the online comparator industry in Australia.

Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission, the ACCC, is the compere for its new report into the local comparison shopping/comparator website industry.

It also finally answers the age-old question: who compares the comparators, with the comparison industry well under the ACCC’s timely watch by its watchmen and women.

The report naturally ‘examines how the industry operates, and identifies challenges and benefits for both consumers and businesses.’

The 20+ page free report is entitled ‘The comparator website industry in Australia’, and can be freely downloaded from this page in PDF format, in Word format, with additional accessibility features and separately can be even read out loud.

ACCC Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard said: “Comparator websites can drive competition and deliver significant savings and other benefits to consumers, but any new industry may have a few bad apples.

“Emerging issues in the online marketplace are an ACCC priority, and players in the comparator website industry are on notice that we are watching. Anyone that comes across concerning conduct within the industry is encouraged to report it to the ACCC.”

After all, you do want to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges, peaches, mangoes, Dells, HPs or anything else that isn’t an apple.

The report came into being because previous consumer and business complaints had led to the ACCC having previously taken action against comparator websites, with an example being ‘Compare the Market Pty Ltd’ paying a $10,200 penalty earlier this year ‘alleged misleading health insurance advertising’, as well as fining EnergyWatch over $2 million in penalties

Rickard added that: “Comparator websites can assist consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions when comparing what are often quite complex products, and can promote healthy competition by assisting small or new service providers to compete more effectively.

“However, the ACCC is concerned that poor conduct by some industry participants may undermine these benefits and mislead consumers. Lack of transparency is central to these concerns – both in terms of ‘front-of-shop’ and ‘out-the-back’ activities.”

The watchful watchmen and women of the ACCC have been concerned over a ‘lack of transparency’ in regards to the:

- extent of the comparison service, including market coverage
- savings achieved by using the comparison service
- comparison services being unbiased, impartial or independent
- value rankings
- undisclosed commercial relationships affecting recommendations to consumers
- content and quality assurance of product information.

In creating its comparatively good report, the ACCC says it ‘consulted with over 20 stakeholders including industry, other regulators and consumer groups, and utilised topical research.’

To ensure the ACCC keeps the pressure up on the meerkats and iSelective others, it notes that it ‘will be releasing best practice guidelines to assist comparator website operators and businesses to comply with Australia’s competition and consumer protection laws’ and will ‘also provide consumer guidance on how to check that they are comparing apples with apples.’

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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