Price comparison sites are having a hard time of it. Since 2014, there has been a big question mark against these so-called ‘consumer champions’. Here are five moments where it all went wrong for the Meerkat and his pals.
1. October 2014: Comparison sites caught hiding the cheapest energy deals on their website
Together with The Sun, the Big Deal published evidence that the Big Five comparison sites hid the best deals from consumers. “But why?” wailed a crestfallen British public, anxiously clutching their free Meerkat dolls. Simples: because the sites don’t get paid by every energy supplier on their site. So they really want you to take deals from suppliers that do pay them.
And if that means hiding the deals from the cheapest energy supplier, they’ll do it.
2. February 2015: Busted lying about the cheapest energy deals over the phone.
Not even four months after comparison sites had been slammed for hiding the best deals on their website, it emerged they were now doing the same thing over the dog and bone.
“Is that the cheapest energy deal for me?” asked a plucky mystery caller.
“Absolutely” said the comparison site salesmen, ignoring the cheaper deals, instead pushing a deal that earned his company a commission.”
“You’re completely sure? Cross your heart and hope to die? Promise?”
“We promise” they replied, fingers crossed behind their backs in the call centres.
3. February 2015: Comparison sites barbecued by the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee
“Is it fair to hide the best deal from consumers?” asked committee chair, Tim Yeo MP, in his opening question.
“Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm” replied Moneysupermarket chief, Peter Plumb. Yes that is his real name.
4. June 2015: Comparison sites accused of fixing prices
Ofgem – the energy regulator – sensationally launched an investigation into uSwitch and Moneysupermarket over price fixing claims. The stock market recoiled in shock. Moneysupermarket’s share price fell by 9% before lunchtime, while uSwitch’s parent company, Zoopla, saw their share price collapse by 5.6%. Poor Zoopla. Having just bought uSwitch for £160m, they must have felt they were sold a pup. A pup next to a giant, undisclosed pile of poo.
The investigation has since been called off, revealing nothing, but this was another hairy moment for the comparison sites.
5. June 2016: Comparison sites persuade the competition watchdog that they should be able to hide deals forever.
To the utter horror of many newspapers, the Competition and Markets Authority’s two year investigation into the energy industry led to zero punishment for the big energy suppliers and a bizarre gift to comparison sites. In the future, they should be allowed to hide the best deals from consumers, the body said. Their business model depends on it.
Why is a government body propping up private companies? Has the fat opera singer become ‘too big to fail’? We think the British public deserve better.
The age of the comparison site is coming to an end.