7 minute read:
The Comparison Site Trap…
When we want to book a holiday, sort out a new mobile phone contract, re-new our car insurance, or maybe switch energy suppliers, we all want to save money, so we immediately go online and inevitably head for the comparison sites.
Invariably, after starting our ‘search’ using Google or Yahoo etc, more and more now, we also are often guided toward third-party sourcing sites like; Trust a Trader, uSwitch, Rated People, goCompare, Check A Trade, etc…. you get the picture. These sites claim to do all the hard work for you, they also claim to take the risk out of selecting your provider etc.
Now all this is very quick and convenient, but when you want to save money on your car insurance, or switch energy supplier, or indeed hire the services of a Photographer, is it ultimately the best way to select the provider you want at the best price?
In my assessment, the answer has to be, no (for most people at least – read on).*
There are a few reasons for me saying that it’s not the best way to for most people.
Firstly, comparison sites and third-party sourcing sites that try to convince us that they’re on our side, and saving us millions of pounds, actually make millions of pounds in profit for themselves, every year. Where does that profit come from? (I imagine you may ask!).
If I search for something, I want to know that I’m casting a wide net initially, and that all viable companies that offer what I’m looking for are included in my search results. Then I will narrow my search based upon the merits I apply, like quality, cost, delivery performance, customer satisfaction reviews, locality of supply etc… However, no comparison sites offer this, they all exclude companies that are ‘not in their club’, so you don’t even get the chance to consider them.
This means that our ‘trusted’ comparison sites are actually limiting the choice they’re making available to us!
Costing Us Money, Not Saving Us Money!
So, what if one of the companies that are not included, actually offer a better service and a competitive price? (I imagine you ask!).
By asking this question, we soon find ourselves in that ‘murky’ area where the best deals are potentially being kept from us, in favour of those companies that have paid their subscription and commission payments to the comparison company running the site. Yes, if you weren’t sure how it all works, the companies that are presented to you in the comparison sites, are those that have PAID to be there (either directly or through a commission type arrangement). That one of the main ways the comparison companies make their millions, along with their associated advertising revenue, and the harvesting of our data.
Once again, I imagine you may consider, who ultimately pays for all this? Well, guess who! All these payments that the companies make to the comparison sites (again, either directly or through commission), and all their associated costs are passed on to the Customers, you and I, in the bills we pay for their services.
So the ‘so called best deals’ that come to the top of the list are potentially more expensive than the real genuine best deals that are not being presented to you by the comparison sites.
You may for example be aware that one of the major insurance providers in the UK, Direct Line, have been running an ad campaign for many years, the central message being the fact that they DON’T feature on comparison sites, and they claim, their best deals can only be achieved by dealing direct. This advertising strategy has also been adopted by other Companies, so it obviously has some merit.
Paying For Convenience
If you have more money than time, or you are aware of the way comparison sites operate and can’t be bothered to dig deeper, and you’re comfortable with all that….then you’ve fell into the comparison site trap, and maybe that’s ok for you.*
If you put yourself in this category, then you are paying for convenience, and we all do that from time to time.
How Do I Access The ‘Hidden’ Companies?
To access the companies that are not included in third-party and comparison sites, you just have to be prepared to do a little more research. In other words, if you really want to save money, if you want to be sure of actually getting the best deal, you need to scratch beneath the surface and look further than just once source, i.e. be prepared to look at more than just one comparison site.
Importantly, I am not saying comparison sites should not be used. Comparison sites can often be a good first port of call, to establish an initial benchmark. However, they shouldn’t be the only place you look.
Another point to note is that some comparison sites do now have an option, (usually a tick box that is not always obviously positioned), to show ‘all’ companies including the ones that the comparison site does not recommend. I have found this sometimes includes a subsequent carefully worded warning regarding this fact, almost as if you are being warned off!
Notice I said earlier comparison ‘sites’…..plural. Don’t just use one, instead, compare the suggested providers from different comparison sites. Importantly, individual searches for specific local providers will always offer up numerous different competitive companies that didn’t appear on the comparison site. The key is to search, not just on the offering you require, but the locality from where you require it.
Companies that do not subscribe to comparison sites and third party sourcing sites, do not have that additional cost. They do not have a chunk of their earnings netted off in return for the comparison site ‘winning’ them the work. So they do not have the additional costs that would have to be passed on to the Customer…ultimately giving them the potential opportunity to be more competitive.
The internet is completely awash with comparison sites. We have to ask ourselves, now that there are comparison sites emerging that are comparing comparison sites, were is it all going to end?!
Read The Reviews
Always, always, always read the reviews for any company that you are not familiar with…..BUT…..don’t just take them at face value, try to use your own judgement in interpreting the reviews.
For example, if a relatively recently established company has just a handful of FANTASTIC reviews, it is just possible that they have written them themselves!….but not necessarily. Similarly, if an established company has a track record of good reviews, and just recently some AWFUL reviews, it could just be that one disgruntled customer or ex employee has got it in for them and trying to damage their reputation…..but again not necessarily….It could actually be that the company has changed hands and standards are not what they were.
Just use the reviews as one of numerous sources of information to give you a more complete picture.
Word of Mouth
More important than written online reviews in my assessment, is a genuine word of mouth recommendation.
If you check out social media, there is a massive amount of material either recommending or slating companies for being FANTASTIC or AWFUL! As I mentioned, just tread carefully with these also.
Search on the internet, but keep it local, you can often save money by avoiding bigger companies in favour of smaller local companies with lower overheads.
If you live in a close-knit community, local providers are often a good bet because they likely depend upon good local P.R. Even better than using the internet sometimes is if you ‘put the feelers out’ amongst friends, family, neighbours etc, you can often find someone who has just employed a great Plumber, or just saved a load of money by switching their internet service provider, or just seen some great work from a local Photographer following a friends wedding etc.
If someone, you know is prepared to actually recommend a provider to you and introduce you, that counts for a lot.
See Examples Of Their Work
I recently enquired about a builder to do a small job at home, and through discussions with friends and neighbours in the local community, I have received a number of recommendations from people who had recently had work done. I have since met with three builders, discussed my requirements, and been to visit some of their work in progress. This has been a great opportunity for me to assess the quality of their work, their organisation skills, their attention to detail, their attitude to work, their approach to health & safety, their ability to stay on budget and on time etc. All these things are every bit as important as price, in the selection of getting the right person to do the job.
At the time of writing this, I haven’t selected a builder yet, but it will most definitely be one of these three.
The key thing to bear in mind here also is, none of this shortlist of providers even have a website or a facebook page, let alone a presence on a comparison site! If you want to save money, do a little bit of homework!
As with most things, there is often the odd exception to the rule. I am aware of one exception to the comparison site saga. One business finder website that DOES NOT CHARGE it’s subscibers and is completely free, therefore there is no cost to be passed on to Customers. That site is FreeIndex. There may well be others, but I’m not aware of them.
Tell us about your experience whether it is employing a Builder, switching energy supplier, or selecting a Photographer! Let us know your experiences of comparison sites, good or bad. Use the form below to comment or share your experience.
Thanks for reading. More blog posts coming soon. Cheers cheers.
Please note: I welcome your comments and contributions to my blog, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I always publish and respond to your contributions. Personal contact details are not made public. I moderate any contributions as appropriate, only to ensure they are not offensive or in poor taste, I do not alter the actual message itself.